Acts 2 & John 14:8-17
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 9, 2019 – Pentecost
When the Holy Spirit comes upon believers, a watching world will shake its head in bewilderment and exclaim, “How they carry on!”
Spirit-filled believers do carry on. They are so madly in love with Jesus and so eager for others to know Him – that to many they look crazy or drunk, as some thought that first Pentecost.
In truth, they are carried away by a great grace, by a power beyond their own – carried aloft on a current of a holy wind breathed out from the mouth of Christ.
According to the Bible, the true spiritual life comes, not as a human achievement, but as an undeserved gift from above. Our only contribution is to apply whatever meager strength we have to avail of God’s supreme strength. We enter the true spiritual life by being lifted above our limitations, by soaring as eagles soar.
Eagles get off the ground by flapping their wings; but, once aloft, they fly high and far just by holding their outstretched wings steady to catch the updrafts of heated air called thermals and riding them upward and onward. As eagles make use of the elevating power of thermals, they soar with next to no exertion, while almost at rest.
To get our spiritual life going, we typically have to flap our wings some. We have to get ourselves to church, and get ourselves into personal devotional disciplines such as prayer and service. But we put in those modest efforts only to be caught up in a far greater divine effort that can bring about what we cannot.
The evening of Easter Day, Jesus gave some of His followers a foretaste of what He would give many more of them on Pentecost. Easter evening, Jesus appeared without warning in the midst of fear-stricken disciples. After assuring them that He was not a ghost and was in fact really there, and that He had come back to them to bring them “peace”, Jesus gave them a job. It was the job He had begun and was now passing on to them, an event about which He’d prayed just a couple of days before when, according to John 17:18, He said to the heavenly Father: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” In today’s Bible lesson He repeats that great commission, telling His disciples directly: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
In sending them on that mission, Jesus did not throw them back on their own resources, but instructed them to fall into the arms of grace and to be carried along by God’s wind, breath, life, Spirit – all of which the biblical word there means. As soon as Jesus announced their job assignment, He breathed on them and told them to “receive the Holy Spirit”. That is, immediately upon giving them their purpose, He gave them His power. He enabled what He had enjoined. He blew into their souls the divine Spirit who would carry them as they carried on His mission.
And what was His mission? To show people the love of God and thereby the possibility of their being forgiven, accepted and elevated in His grace.
If in the Spirit we carry on Jesus’ mission, we will bring people before His grace; and our declaring their forgiveness upon their repentance will be telling the truth. If however we don’t carry on His mission, we keep them in the dark about His grace; and our noting the retention of their sin will be telling the truth. We don’t determine whose sins are forgiven or whose sins are retained; but we have a responsibility to let people know where things stand and to open up for them spiritual opportunities they can choose to avail of – or not – as they choose. Our mission is to let others know about the possibilities for deliverance from guilt, frustration and despair.
For the gospel-writer John, sin results in moral wrongdoing, but it arises from something else: a willful failure to open one’s eyes and see the God who out of love offers everyone a wonderful life-transformation. Sin “remains”, John quotes Jesus in chapter nine of his Gospel, with those who refuse to recognize what is right before their eyes, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
It is the mission of the followers of the Lamb to make the grace of Him visible and to give people reason to take a second look at what’s there for them in Him. We often do that by saying the words the Spirit gives us to say; but we always do that by treating others as He would: with kindness, fairness and respect.
To fulfill the mission on which Jesus sends us, and to be able to reveal what the Lamb can do, we need to do some plain old wing-flapping, for that puts us in position to catch the wind of His Spirit and to soar on His uplifting power into higher living and bearing witness. To make use of the power there for us, we have to do common, everyday things – steadfastly. We have to just listen at first to the sceptics and seekers around us, that we might earn with them the right to speak up about the hope that is in us. We have to pay attention to how they talk and think, that we might share the good news of Jesus, not in churchy clichés they have to decode, but in languages and tongues they comprehend. We have to study their lives to learn what matters to them that we might show the relevance of Jesus to their concerns. We have to put ourselves out a bit, invite them to check out Jesus and wait on them to decide what to do, so that, if they finally do decide to give Jesus a second look, they will do so with open minds and receptive hearts.
We have to do those ordinary, everyday things with persistent faithfulness – and with the faith that, if we allow Him, the Holy Spirit will suffuse our meager efforts of loving witness with divine, supernatural power.
It is something like, believe it or not, how my ability to type has grown.
When I first started to type, I pounded on an old manual typewriter. I had to hit the keys hard, or only faint letters would show up on the paper. It was laborious, and the forceful hitting of the keys would slow my fingers down. It was inefficient.
Then along came electric typewriters, and I took a giant leap forward in my productivity. I could just brush a key and it would make a nice letter on the paper. My fingers just flew over the keyboard.
Now I type on a computer. It anticipates what next I want to type so I can produce a long word with just a couple of taps. It auto-corrects my typos. It makes revising a sentence a breeze. Though I work as hard as ever on a keyboard, I now accomplish far more typing than I ever did before. It’s not that I have gotten better; it’s just that I have gotten better help for my typing.
To avail of the Spirit’s power is to better help for our living and bearing witness. The Spirit installs a major upgrade in our capacity to have impact in the mission Jesus sent us out to fulfill. The Spirit enlivens and elevates our efforts of love that we might achieve more than we ever could by ourselves. Let us then allow the Spirit to carry us on as we carry on in the mission of Jesus! Let us pray.