Sermon Pentecost year B
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the three great festivals of the Church. But it is the one without the reindeer and the bunnies, so the church gets to celebrate it without all that distraction. Although it sometimes falls on Mother’s Day, or graduation day, or Memorial Day like it does this year, the rest of the world still ignores it and leaves it to the church.
On the day of Pentecost we pray that the Holy Spirit will come to us in new ways and teach us and lead us and guide us. Do we really pay attention to what we are praying for here? Do we really mean what we are saying?
All three of our lessons focus on the Holy Spirit in their own distinct way. But they all have one thing in common when they talk about the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, things change!
The reading from Acts completely obliterates the idea that Jesus just came for the Jewish people in Palestine. From now on, the gospel message is for everyone, from everywhere. There are no limits. People from all over the known world are present and hear the good news.
One New Testament scholar suggests that the list of nations in Acts is there because of the question that the disciples asked Jesus just before the ascension. You remember they asked him if now was the time he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus answered by saying they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.
Restore the kingdom to Israel? What the Holy Spirit does is so huge that it makes the question irrelevant. The gospel is for everyone in the whole world. When the Holy Spirit comes, things really change.
In the reading from Romans, Paul says the Holy Spirit comes to help us. The Spirit comes to help us name those things that are too deep for words. Again, he says the Spirit comes for the whole world, all of creation, not just those of us who are believers. The whole world groans and struggles as together we wait and hope for the future.
In the gospel lesson, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter or Advocate. The Advocate comes to guide us into truth. The Advocate will speak God’s truth to the world and shine the light on sin and righteousness and judgment. The Advocate will witness to the gospel of Jesus and give the disciples the power to witness as well.
In all these stories, the coming of the Holy Spirit disrupts life as we know it. In all these stories, the Holy Spirit comes, and things change.
It has been said that no one likes change except maybe wet babies. We also don’t like it when we feel we have lost control. We all like to be in control. Especially, if things are going to change, we feel a lot better if we feel we can have some control.
We pray for the Holy Spirit to come, but do we really mean it? I mean, we don’t actually say, “come Holy Spirit, and leave things exactly the way they are.” But we may secretly want that, and often that is how we act. We often resist meaningful change in favor of the way things have always been done.
And when we say, “the way things have always been done” we mean, “the way they have been done in recent memory” which means, “the way I have gotten used to them being done” and “the way I like things done.”
This is not to say that tradition is bad. Tradition can be very good. And I believe in the maxim that says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I don’t believe that tradition is just a matter of what we are comfortable with or our personal taste. We do things in certain ways because we know those ways have worked for us many times in the past. We trust the things that have worked for us.
The challenge for us in the church today is that the ways we have been doing some things for years are working for smaller and smaller numbers of people. Some of our tried and true practices are not working at all for younger generations of people.
That means it is time to ask where the Holy Spirit is leading us and what new things God is calling us to do. It means it is time for creativity and innovation and new ideas. It is time to explore and experiment and see what works today.
Just as the Holy Spirit was not limited to the Jewish people of Palestine in the first century, the Holy Spirit is not limited to ideas we have used before in the church.
When the Holy Spirit comes, things change.
When we pray for the Holy Spirit to come, we need to pray for both creativity and courage. Creativity helps us recognize new ideas. Courage helps us be open to change when what we really want to say is, “we have never done it that way before.”
Creativity is not so much about having original ideas, it is about using the things we learn in new ways. I read a wonderful article last week called Ten Things the Church can learn from the Apple Store. Although, there are many ways that we should not compare the church to a retail store, there are some things we can still learn from them.
The number one thing was look for ways to enrich people’s lives. That will make them come back. How do we enrich people’s lives here? What things are we doing that make your life better? How can you share that message?
When the Holy Spirit comes, we will dream dreams and see visions. We will stop focusing on “what is” and start dreaming about “what might be”.
What do you hope and dream about when you feel the Spirit moving through this congregation? What visions of exciting new possibilities do you have?
Remember you don’t have to come up with all the new ideas on your own. We can borrow ideas from others and share with each other. The Spirit does not only move through the existing structures of the church.
There are two things to do when you find yourself facing change in the church. The first is to honor the tradition of the past. Remember and thank God for all the ways the tradition has nurtured your faith.
The second thing is to ask the question about whether the tradition is working for your children and your grandchildren. If it is, thank God for it. If it is not, ask what new thing God might be doing in the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit comes, things change. But the Holy Spirit we celebrate on Pentecost doesn’t just change things. The Holy Spirit gives us the will to dream of new things and the strength and compassion to do them. Thanks be to God. Amen.