Acts 2: 1-21; John 15:26–27; 16:4b–15
Today the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to all people. Jesus had promised it to the disciples the night before he was arrested. He told the disciples that he would send the Advocate to them, a sort of divine defense attorney. The Advocate will present our case before God and make us right with God, and in the process God will be glorified.
In John’s Gospel, on the day of his resurrection, Jesus visits the disciples in the locked guest room. He quietly speaks with them, and breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit. In the other Gospels, Jesus meets with the disciples and tells them to wait for the Power from on High, which will descend upon them.
For 40 days after his death and resurrection, Jesus appears at random moments to the believers. Then he ascends to heaven, to join the Father once more. Ten days later, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to the disciples, just as he had promised.
The timing is 50 days after Passover, the Festival of First Fruits, a harvest festival. The city is filled to overflowing with Jewish people from all over the region, Asia Minor, Egypt, Libya, and Arabia, islands in the Mediterranean. They are Diaspora Jews, Jewish people who for various reasons have moved from Israel to other areas. They have been there long enough to speak the local languages, Greek, Farsi, Arabic, for example, instead of Aramaic.
This was not a subtle event, with the Spirit suddenly showing up in the room, and visiting just the disciples. This time, it’s a holy wind, blowing hard and hot into the room and beyond, into the people gathered in the street outside the disciples’ hiding place.
The disciples go into the street and engage with the people. The disciples speak Aramaic, but the people hear in whatever language they speak. The message is about Jesus, who taught, preached, healed, raised from the dead, and has now been resurrected and is present through this holy Wind and Fire.
Peter explains what is happening by relating it to a prophecy from Joel, which says the Spirit would appear and wonderful things would happen. Those wonderful things are just what they see happening right now, in their very midst.
As a result of this experience and Peter’s sermon explaining the event, many people became believers and were baptized.
… There is a tendency to believe that this coming of the Holy Spirit was a one-time event, and that it will never happen again. But I have been in places when I knew the Spirit was present and active.
I have said a simple prayer with a homebound person and looked up to see tears streaming down their faces. I have seen the Spirit move people and groups to make decisions they knew they could not do alone. I have heard the Spirit remind me that many, many others were praying for me, and I could get through the challenge I was facing with the Spirit’s help. I have been in Gatherings of thousands of women, and tens of thousands of youth, and known the Spirit was present because I could feel the Spirit’s energy in the room.
This past week, a Spirit-driven doctor died. Dr. Tawfiq Nasser was the CEO of Augusta Victoria hospital, located on the Mount of Olives, and a Lutheran ministry. Dr Nasser has led the hospital to be a center for oncology and kidney and liver disease. He wanted Augusta Victoria Hospital to be a community of healing for all Palestinians. Diane and Mike and I felt the Spirit there, as we learned that it is a hospital, a medical training center, and a job training center. Dr Nasser will be missed, but I am certain the Spirit will lead someone else to take the Hospital to the next level of healing in the community.
As a Lutheran Pastor, I probably talk more about the Spirit than many other Lutheran pastors do. I talk about the Spirit so much because the Spirit is the conduit, the phone line, the wi-fi connection between God and us, and between you and me. It’s the Spirit’s energy we feel when a song or a reading or a sermon moves us, speaks to us, and challenges us to change our lives in some way. The Spirit is always present, and is always inviting, pushing, pulling, and dragging us into new things, new experiences, new ways of seeing God’s world and God’s children.
Today, the special focus of the Spirit is on these four youth sitting in the second row together. Miranda will be baptized, and then she will be joined by Emilio, Dominic, and Kelly as they confirm their faith together.
Two years ago, I rejoiced as other youth were gathered here in the same way, for their own confirmation Day. At the same time, I grieved, because there were no more youth to teach, to get to know and love. I had taught my last confirmation class.
Then, over the summer, two families with youth came to Hope. Suddenly, I was teaching Confirmation class again. Last fall, Miranda came, at the insistence of Aida. “If you are going to date my son, you are going to go to church and to confirmation class!” Aida says the Spirit told her to say that.
I firmly believe the Holy Spirit felt my grief and answered my prayer. The Holy Spirit also spoke to the three families represented in these youth and sent them here.
I’d like to say a few things about these four young men and women.
Emilio impresses us with his voice, and the way he can read with such emotion that we really understand what he is saying. The way he analyzes things will make him good at psychoanalyzing people, as he trains to be a psychologist.
It’s a class joke that I call Dominic “Emilio” even as I look at him and know his name. Dominic loves skateboarding especially the longboard. He is fascinated by sea otters and longs to go to study them in person in the northwestern states where they live.
Kelly is artistic, concerned about people and the earth. Kelly, as we also know, loves to play with hair – hair color, hair style – as we see every week. She hopes to use her gifts in service to others, for example by giving free haircuts to homeless persons.
Miranda is brave. A very shy and private person, she has blossomed here. Sent into a class with three other youth, she has found her way and her voice. We have recently heard her public voice, as she takes her turn as the assisting minister for the day, leading us in prayer. She will continue to grow with the Spirit’s guidance.
The Spirit is never finished with any of us, always calling us into new adventures, as individuals and as communities of faith. We help each other along, seeking God’s will.
As a congregation, welcome these four youth who are now full members in the congregation, able to vote, serve on council and committees, and use their gifts in service to Jesus just as all of you do. Invite them, nurture them, be patient with them, and love them.
Please pray with me. Holy Spirit, descend on us today, fill us with your passion and fire and send us out into the world to call others to know you, too. Amen