Monday, May 28, 2012

SERMON: Jesus Sends the Spirit

Date: The Feast of Pentecost (May 27, 2012)
At: St. Andrew's Soham
Text: John15.26-27; 16.4b-15

I am afraid there is something desperately wrong with my washer/dryer. When my wife Monique and I moved to Cambridge about eight months ago, we knew we needed to buy one. We also knew that we couldn’t afford a new one. So, when some friends took us to a second-hand shop, and we saw an older washer/dryer for a reasonable price, we made sure to bring it home with us.

Being Americans, we didn’t have much experience with washer/dryer units. We learned very quickly that using the word “dryer” in relationship to our washer/dryer was ironic at best. It did not dry clothes, even if I set the dryer to run for 60 or 90 minutes. As a result, every surface in our house became a place to dry our laundry.

But, then one day, it happened. I did everything as normal but this time when I pulled my clothes out after the dry cycle, they were dry! My first suspicion was that the clothes hadn’t been washed in the first place. But no, they had. Over the course of the next week, we realized that, yes, if we selected which clothes went in, we could dry them. No problems.

Let me reiterate, I am afraid that there is something desperately wrong with my washer/dryer. It is drying my clothes.


Today is the Feast of Pentecost, the great day we remember the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, the day when 3,000 people were added to their number. A massive event, often taken out of context. For the context we need, we’ll have to go back forty days or so, to Maundy Thursday, the setting of today’s Gospel passage.

The Eleven sit with Jesus in the upper room. He has washed their feet, and Judas has left, presumably to buy something for the festival or to give some money to the poor. With Judas gone, Jesus begins to teach and pray, giving them a new commandment and offering them to the Father in prayer. And in the middle of this teaching and praying, he starts to talk about his departure.

Jesus says, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me….” Peter winces. Andrew looks away. The rest are somewhere in between. Pain radiates like waves in the room. And Jesus knows it. “Sorrow has filled your hearts,” he says in response.

And then, compounding the sorrow, Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Again, the wince. Peter moves as if he is going to say something, something brash like “If you die, I’ll die with you.” But, he’s been told off already tonight, twice, so he stays still. Jesus is going away, and they are not ready. The condemnation stings. They cannot bear all the wisdom that Jesus wants to give them, and Jesus is going away, or so he says, and all he promises is an Advocate, the Spirit of truth? Well, even if that did mean something, what would it mean? How would they know the Spirit was with them? Jesus continues on, teaching and praying. But, the disciples aren’t ready for Jesus to leave.


As you and I have walked this liturgical journey between Easter and Pentecost, I have to admit that I am not ready for Jesus to leave, either. I am not ready for the Alleluias to disappear again. I am not ready to be without the stories of the Risen Jesus walking amidst the disciples. I am not ready for the long, demanding stretches of green Sundays that lie ahead.

We are entering “ordinary time,” as the liturgists call it, the big fly-over zone between Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent. It is, I think, much easier to be spiritual on the high festival days, when the incense comes out and we focus on this or that important event in the history of God’s work with us in Christ. All too often, I feel like the green bits of the liturgical year are like my dryer: spinning but not producing any heat, keeping things moving just enough so the wrinkles don’t set in, holding place, nothing more.

Perhaps more than anything, I’m not ready because I have a hard time knowing what it means to live in the life of the Spirit. I’m not ready for today. I’m not ready for Eastertide to end. I, like the disciples, am not ready for Jesus to leave.


In the midst of the disciples’ consternation, Jesus makes a remarkable promise: He will send the Spirit. “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.” Without his departure, he cannot go to the place where the Advocate is. Without his departure, he cannot send the Spirit. But, he promises he will.

The Spirit will guide you into all truth, Jesus says, and “will declare to you the things that are to come.” Just like the disciples were guided into truth by Jesus’ teaching, the Spirit will continue to guide them. But, and this is important, the Spirit will only speak what he hears. “He will glorify me,” Jesus says, “because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” What the Father is in all his glory, he has given to Jesus. What Jesus is in all his glory, he will give to the Spirit to give to the Apostles. The Holy Spirit isn’t just the Spirit of Jesus’ Father. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ Spirit as well. So, when the apostles fear that they are alone, that Jesus has abandoned them, they can know this one thing: Jesus has not left them. He will send his Spirit.


For those of us sitting here in the 21st century, it is quite normal to talk about someone being with us “in spirit.” That often means that we have a sense of their presence, that they live on in our memories, that they are felt by us to be there, even if they are not. We might call that “remembered presence.” But, remembered presence is not what the Church talks about when it says that Jesus is with us “in Spirit.” The Church teaches that Jesus is personally present among us. He brings himself personally and powerfully into our midst by the Holy Spirit.

But, how would we know this personal presence of Jesus? Is it a feeling that we have, or is there something we can point to and say – there is evidence of Jesus’ personal presence? The Catechism of the Episcopal Church answers this question like this: “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” In other words, we can know the Spirit of God is with us when things start going suddenly right.

We human beings were created to live in love and harmony with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and with the earth. When the Spirit of God comes, we confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord and from that confession flows an opportunity to live life in a way that is truly human again. But, because it is not the normal way we human beings live, it can come as a shock. It can look like something is desperately wrong. Like I worry about my dryer’s health because it has suddenly started to work, we can get worried that this kind of life, this spiritual life, means that something has gone horribly wrong.

But, no. This kind of loving and harmonious life, when it slips into our world by Jesus’ personal presence in the Holy Spirit, is the way we are meant to live. It is hard work, indeed, and we are given the vast expanse of green Sundays ahead of us, where nothing particularly interesting happens, to practice and live this life of the Spirit. We all now have an opportunity to live in love and harmony with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and the earth if we will but listen to what the Holy Spirit will teach us. Pray and listen. With whom do you live in the least love and harmony? God? Yourself? Neighbor? Earth? Pray and listen and ask. The Spirit will show you the place of need and will show you what must be done next. As you open your life to Christ in his Spirit, the green Sundays ahead will turn into a time of pruning, yes, but also of joyful growth. Because when the Holy Spirit comes, things start to go suddenly and wonderfully right. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Photo by Miguel Saavedra