Text: John 15:26-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
26 “When the Advocate[a] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:4-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
The Work of the Spirit
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. AMEN.
God is at work among us!
Today is proof, abundant proof of that. We have recognized Jayne, who ministers tirelessly to our children – that is a clear reflection of God’s work among us. We have recognized Erik, to whom God has given great talents and who has blessed him throughout his life and who will continue to bless him in the future – that shows that God is at work among us. And we have welcomed, with joy and humble hearts, three new members into our fellowship – most definitely a sign that God is at work at St. John’s and wills that that work here should continue.
We have a lot to be thankful for today.
So today is Pentecost Sunday. We recognize Pentecost as the “birthday of the Christian Church.” We’ve heard that so many times that its significance no longer has much of an impact on us.
Why, then, do we call this day the “birthday of the Christian Church”? It goes beyond the special effects of that rushing wind and even the tongues of flame that came down upon each of them; beyond even the miracle of these unlettered men suddenly speaking in languages they’d never learned or perhaps even heard.
It goes back to the end of Luke’s Gospel – Luke, of course, wrote both the Gospel named for him as well as Acts. At the end of his Gospel, Luke reports that Jesus orders his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, came. He didn’t say “scatter to the four winds, and the Spirit will find you wherever you are.” He told them to stick together – and so they did, with the remarkable results that we read about.
So we can say that this event marks the beginning of the church because the church is a gathered community of believers. Yes, it is possible to be a Christian all by your lonesome; but our faith finds its deepest expression in community. We read about how our ancestors in the faith gathered together, most often in homes, and, later, in catacombs or other out-of-the-way places for fear of persecution. We might modify the phrase “there’s safety in numbers” to “there’s strength and encouragement in numbers” when it comes to early Christians.
But the point is that what they did, they did together, in community. And here we are, two thousand years later, also meeting in our “one place,” sharing with another the fellowship that comes directly from Jesus, living out his call to us, and feeling the encouragement and the strength that comes to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is why – and I say without a hint of sarcasm – every coffee hour, every church potluck, every Council meeting, in short, every time two or three of us gather in Jesus’ name, it is a holy thing. When we gather, we are right there with those disciples and all other Christians throughout history who have done the same things we do today.
That is also why today – Pentecost – is the perfect day on which to welcome new members into our fellowship, that they, too, might experience here in this place, among us, the same gift of the Holy Spirit that we do; that they, too, might feel in times of sorrow and heartache the gentle hand on the shoulder and the words of encouragement from any one of us that help them to carry on; that they, too, in times of joy and celebration, might feel that joy increased by sharing it with us; that they, too, will feel the truth of Jesus’ words that we are indeed friends of his.
That is also why, when one of our number, like Erik, strikes out into the world, it is with our blessing and with our promise that we are still with him in thought and prayer, wherever he might go, whatever he might do, and whatever might befall him.
All of that is why we call today the birthday of the church. We’re all in this together, and it is pretty wonderful.
The work of the Holy Spirit continues right up to this very day, and right here at St. John’s. Every one of us is here today because somewhere, sometime, the Holy Spirit moved people to action – the founders of our church, our great-grandparents, in some cases, or our grandparents, or our parents, or us to come here and be counted, just as the Holy Spirit has done for Tammy, Jeff, and Jerry. The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit is the reality of our lives just as much as it was for Apostles.
Pastor Scott Hoeze of Calvin Seminary writes: “Jesus makes clear that the Holy Spirit would become the conduit through which would flow all the energy and riches of God. The Spirit would become the jumper cables to re-infuse us with the Father’s energy whenever the Church’s batteries ran down. The Spirit would become the cosmic water main through which the cleansing tide of baptism would flow to wash away sin. The Spirit would become the ultimate radio beacon who would broadcast the truths of Jesus, letting all of us who have been fitted with the right antennae learn on a constant basis the implications of the gospel for our lives. Use whatever image you want, but it is clear that the Holy Spirit has been the Church’s living connection to God ever since the great day of Pentecost.”
Two thousand years ago, that day of Pentecost marked a turning point in the lives of the disciples. From that day on, they were no longer disciples, but were now known as Apostles. Their focus was no longer on looking back at what Jesus had done, but forward to what Jesus would do through them, guided by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ words in this passage are very direct. Nowhere else does Jesus speak directly about himself with the pronoun “I.” Nowhere else does he speak so directly to his followers as “you.” And, make no mistake, he is speaking these words directly to us. “You also are witnesses…I have told these things to you…so that you may remember I told you of them.” He tells us directly that we’re not left to our own devices, God has acted in the world, and God’s love has really and truly changed it for the better! That might seem hard to believe, but just try to imagine for a moment what the world would be like if people like us weren’t around!
People like us. In all times and in all places, God has chosen people just like us to be his agents. People who have flaws. People who make mistakes. People who have fears. People who doubt. Jesus does not call perfect people; he makes perfect those whom he calls. He does so by first cleansing them in the waters of baptism and then by giving them the Holy Spirit to guide them, counsel them, sustain them, and, yes, challenge them, too.
We are all members of a “mutual ministry committee” – equipped by the Holy Spirit sent from Jesus to not just tell, but show the world that there is a better way to live than what the world offers. The Holy Spirit gives us the strength, the power, and sometimes even the words that make all the difference in a person’s life – words like “God loves you no matter what”; words like “God forgives you”; words like “God gives you eternal life” – these are words that our world desperately needs to hear, and we, equipped by the Holy Spirit, are the ones uniquely able to say them.
So today, Sisters and Brothers, let’s feel the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us, warming our souls like a volcano! Let us rise up on this day and again go forth into our world, loving others as Christ loves us, preaching the Good News with our lives as well as our words.
For God is at work among us!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
 Hoeze, Scott, “Pentecost B: Comments and Observations,” http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/pentecost-b/