Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where Would We Be...

Sermon for Pentecost, based on Acts 2:1-21Romans 8:22-27, and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Where would we be without words? Language is such an innate part of human culture. All over the world, all throughout time, people have used language to communicate with one another. Many societies have had a written language, but all have a spoken language. There are even sign languages for the deaf and Braille for the blind. Without language we would be lost.

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country where the predominate language is not your own? It can be very disorienting and confusing when you cannot read all the signs, the menus, or even ask simple questions. Thankfully we have translation dictionaries, (such as English to Spanish), and also translation software to help us bridge the gap between two languages.

There is something else that enables communication by bridging gaps, and that is the Holy Spirit. Think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of God to Human translation being. The Holy Spirit enables communication with other people and with God by means of bridging gaps and also by illuminating the truth.

I’ll start with how the  Holy Spirit helps to bridge gaps in communication. One example of this is in our lesson today from Acts, where the  Holy Spirit enables communication with other people that would normally be difficult. The disciples were Galileans, yet people from other parts of the world could understand what the disciples were saying. The disciples were not having a casual conversation; the text tells us that they were “speaking about God’s deeds of power.” The disciples were sharing their testimony about Jesus Christ and the  Holy Spirit  made it easier to do so.

The  Holy Spirit  isn't just about translation, but the  Holy Spirit  also suggests the right words to say. In Luke 12:11-12 Jesus told his disciples: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say;for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’” The  Holy Spirit  will teach you what to say. Jesus knew that his disciples would face criticism and persecution when he sent them out into the world to share the good news. Jesus also knew that with the  Holy Spirit ’s power, the disciples would find the right words to say at the right time.

The  Holy Spirit  also enables communication with God. We see this power evident when we pray. The  Holy Spirit  prods us in the right direction about what to pray for and how to feel. The  Holy Spirit  comforts and consoles in times of trouble, encourages us when we need support, admonishes and corrects us when we have erred, humbles us when we are self-absorbed, and all in all puts us in the right frame of mind.

Sometimes we are at a lost for words. Things are so overwhelming, either in a negative or positive way, and we cannot find the right words for prayer. Paul writes that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) The  Holy Spirit  “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” For all the good that words and language do in communication, there are times when words fail. There are times when we cannot even begin to say all that we need to say to God. There are times when we are even unaware of all that we need to say.  And in those times, we have the  Holy Spirit . A sigh can express what cannot be put into words.

The  Holy Spirit  can reach those truths that are too complicated or too painful to put into words, because the  Holy Spirit  is the Spirit of truth.

Jesus told his disciples in John’s Gospel that he would send the Spirit of Truth to testify to the disciples on Jesus’ behalf, and that the disciples were then to testify to the world.

Jesus said “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.” (John 16:13) The  Holy Spirit , as part of the Triune God, is able to communicate directly from God. The  Holy Spirit  did assist the disciples in testifying to the truth they already knew, what they had experienced with Jesus and learned from his teachings. The  Holy Spirit  also assisted the disciples by sharing further knowledge and insight once Jesus was no longer there to do so.

Jesus told his disciples that the  Holy Spirit  would “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) These are important topics that human beings have pretty set opinions on. We all have our mindset about what we would classify as a sin, what it takes to be righteous, and who should be judged in what way. The  Holy Spirit  proves the world wrong in many of its attitudes and preconceptions by sharing what is true and real.

Just because words are used, doesn't mean that the truth is being communicated. Consider advertisements. The other day I heard a story that someone taught their children to play a game when they see an ad on TV, and the name of this game is “spot the lie.” We all know that ads are trying to persuade us to buy a product or service, and that they will bend the truth to do so. Pretty pictures and fancy words can mislead and trick us.

It is not just advertisers and salespeople that are being less than perfectly honest with us – we also have politicians, religious leaders, scam-artists, people of all sorts and all trades who give us half-truths and full-blown lies. We are in great need of the truth in this world, and people who are not afraid to tell it.

The  Holy Spirit , as the Spirit of truth, enables us to see the truth and perhaps even more importantly to tell the truth. This is an ability that is open to everyone, for the  Holy Spirit  is a free gift from God.

In our lesson from Acts, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)

The Spirit will be poured out upon all, and indeed the Spirit IS poured out upon all – male and female, young and old, even people with no authority or status like a slave. All of the ways that we human beings distinguish ourselves from one another are not important to God. God offers the Spirit to all.

Joel’s vision refers to the Spirit granting the gift of prophesy. We might think of prophesy as an ability to foretell the future and although that can be involved that is not really what prophesy is about. Prophesy is a gift of being a messenger, of receiving and sharing a message from God. This can be a message of blessing, encouragement, warning, judgment, or hope. Whatever the tone or content the message may have, it is a message of truth to a world that needs it. It all comes back to the issue of communication – the  Holy Spirit  enables communication between us and God and us and other people by bridging gaps in language and illuminating the truth.

Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. We remember the gift of the  Holy Spirit  to those first disciples, which marked the beginning of the Church. We also celebrate the gift of the  Holy Spirit  to us today. Once we have accepted the gift of the  Holy Spirit , we are entrusted to the same mission that those first disciples had, to testify to the truth and to tell others the good news about Jesus Christ. Just as they were empowered by the  Holy Spirit, we are empowered as well.

We might not always feel so empowered. We might not be confident in what to say. We might feel lost without the right words, or hindered by inadequate language. I did start my sermon by asking where would we be without words and by answering that we would be lost without language. A better question would be: where would we be without the Holy Spirit to guide us? We would be lost indeed. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is a free gift of God open to all people. We are not lost if we have the  Holy Spirit  - guiding us into truth, comforting us, strengthening us, challenging us – with words and with sighs too deep for mere words.

Thank God for this wonderful gift, I pray we use it well.
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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.