Empowerment is the Lord’s doing
- Acts 2:1-21 Empowered by the Holy Spirit
- Romans 8: 14-17 Led by the Spirit as children of God
- John 14: 8-17, 25-27 Believe and live….in the Spirit of truth Revelation to John
Acts 2:1-21 Empowered by the Holy Spirit
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages,
as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:1-4
What a day that was! It was a day that has become central to the life of the church ever since that amazing first Pentecost encounter. Imagine the visual and visceral impact of that day when God breathed a rush of wind blowing tongues of flame into the room where they were all gathered. It must have been a great infusion of hope and confusion of voices they encountered on that first Pentecost.
Surely it gave them inspiration and confirmation of Jesus’ earlier words that when he leaves God would send the promised Holy Spirit as their Advocate so that they will live with faith without fear.
It was a dramatic if not traumatic Pentecost. No, they were not drunk on new wine. It was only nine o’clock in the morning! They were filled with the breath and fire of the Holy Spirit. They would never be alone again. They would never be the same again. Jesus was present with them in this new way as the Holy Spirit. They can live in faith without fear . That is Luke’s account of the first Pentecost.
Romans 8:14-17 Led by the Spirit of God
On this Pentecost we also listen to the Apostle Paul assuring the Roman Christians that to be led by the Spirit of God is to be a child of God. It is a spirit of adoption whereby we are grafted into God’s family and are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear ,
but you have received a spirit of adoption.
When we cry, “Abba!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ
if, in fact, we suffer with Christ
so that we may also be glorified with Christ . Romans 8:15-17
God’s children are filled and led by the Spirit,
so that we are not blinded by fear or silence,
when we suffer with Christ and cry out to God.
John 14: 8-17, 25-27
This Pentecost Sunday we also hear John’s Gospel as we have throughout our Easter season worship. John tells us how Jesus teaches us something life-changing and faith-forming. How or even whether we are changed and formed by Jesus depends on our hearing Jesus claim his unity with God and promise of the Spirit of truth. This Spirit of truth is not the world’s spirit. It is God’s Spirit that is manifested as love for God and keeping God’s commandments. Not only does Jesus abide in God but Jesus abides in us.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask [God] who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive,
because it neither sees nor knows [this Spirit].
You know [the Spirit who] abides with you and will be in you.
I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom [God] will send in my name,
will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 15-17, 25-27
Jesus clinches his promise of the Spirit of truth with this great pledge of peace. It is a peace that God not the world gives. It is a peace that casts out fear.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not let them be afraid (14:27).
Jesus never promised that it would be easy but Jesus promised not to abandon us. Jesus is now our Advocate — the Spirit of truth and peace that makes love with God without fear possible.
Paul in Romans tells us we need not fall back on fear. Jesus in John tells us not to be afraid. Why? God is with us in Christ as the Holy Spirit! That is the promise we live by.
Revelation & Memorial Day – The Lamb’s Power or Empire’s Power
Hold God’s promise in Christ through the Holy Spirit in your heart and mind for a moment as we turn to one more scripture this morning. Let me ask a question as a way into this scripture. Have you ever noticed the symbol on the lower right corner of our Hymnal ? What is that symbol? Why would we have a lamb of all God’s creatures on the cover of our Hymnal: A Worship Book ?
We are given an explanation inside the cover of the Hymnal on the copyright page. “The lamb in the midst of briars is a traditional Anabaptist symbol. It illustrates the suffering Lamb of God, who calls the faithful to obedient service.”
John Howard Yoder’s seminal book, The Politics of Jesus , has the subtitle “Our Victorious Lamb” and inside Vicit (conquer) Agnus (lamb) Noster (The Lamb has conquered, let us follow the Lamb).
Why an image of a lamb? How foolish can we be to follow the Lamb or to believe that a lamb shall prevail in a ruthless world! How in the world will a Lamb bring peace and keep us from fear?
Throughout Eastertide I have been pondering the anomaly that this year Pentecost Sunday falls on Memorial Day weekend. I wasn’t wondering how to celebrate Pentecost Sunday on this first summer holiday weekend that beckons many of us to enjoy God’s creation in places other than Pentecost worship. I was wondering how to celebrate Pentecost on a Sunday that memorializes the Beast’s war over the Lamb’s war.
For the Sundays of our Eastertide worship we heard John’s voice and vision in the book of Revelation as well as in the Gospel. So on this Memorial Day Pentecost I want to sum up John’s Revelation with a brief word about “The Lamb’s Power and Modern America.” For this summary slice of Revelation I am greatly indebted to a dear friend and Mennonite theologian, Ted Grimsrud, who teaches at Eastern Mennonite University.
Ted begins, “Amid claims of a power shift resulting from the Democrats taking control of the U. S. House and the Senate, it is worth looking at what Revelation says about power… John has just seen an awe-inspiring vision of the throne of God and the entire animate creation worshiping the one on the throne. Then a shadow falls. John sees a scroll in the right hand of the one on the throne symbolizing the fulfillment of history.” (Rev 4 & 5)
John is confronted by the great question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seal?” The answer is that no one in heaven or on earth is able to open the scroll and see it. So John weeps bitterly because no can open and see the scroll.
Then John is told not to weep because there is one who can open the scroll. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered and can open the scroll.
Presumably John’s tears turn to joy at this revelation that a mighty king will arise and open the scroll by force. Isn’t that always our expectation? History will be opened by the one who has the fire-power of force to control events and open the scroll of history.
Instead John is shocked by what he sees. It is not see a warrior king that John sees, but “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” As shocking as the slaughtered Lamb, John also sees creatures and elders, and ultimately all creation, worship the Lamb as the one with power to open the scroll. “The book of Revelation as a whole conveys a similar view of power. The Lamb, who conquers with suffering love, is crowned as king, named ‘the ruler of kings of the earth.'”
The counter image of the Lamb in John’s Revelation is the Beast. This Beast is Empire, earlier the Babylonian Empire then the Roman Empire and whatever Empires choose the Beast’s warring way. The Beast always conquers with brute force – whether by sword and shield or gun and bomb. “But in the end [the Beast always] fails. History is littered with the corpses of kings and empires who have assumed that the Beast’s power is ultimate.”
Lest we too quickly apply the image of the Beast in its grandiose projections and self-defeating power to the Republican Party and losses suffered in last fall’s election, John’s Revelation confronts us with a deeper critique than that. Do Democratic leaders really repudiate the Beast of Empire while Republicans glory in the Beast?
Often poets and songwriters, even those not trying to be biblical, reveal Revelation’s truth and unveil the false beast of Empire. Neil Young has a powerful album for this war called Living With War . In an earlier song, Neil Young pulled off our Empire blinders by singing about “A kinder, gentler machine-gun hand .” Are any of our leaders striving to offer anything more than for Empire to have “A kinder, gentler machine-gun hand ?” ( “Rockin’ in the Free World,” 1989 album, Freedom, re: Bush ‘s “thousand points of light.” http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/neilyoung/rockininthefreeworld.html )
“Revelation does not primarily concern itself with a critique of Empire – though that critique is sharp, profound and important. The critique of Empire and of trust in Beast-like power serves a deeper concern [in the Revelation to] John. John challenges [hearers] to follow the Lamb as an alternative to following the Beast. John cares most of all about [our] embodying in [our] common life the virtues that characterized Jesus’ own life and teaching….Following the Lamb promises to have world-transforming consequences. The power of the beast ultimately is not very powerful. Those who trust in it will inevitably go down. The power that truly serves life, the power that opens the scroll, is the power of love” that casts out fear.
This is the Spirit of truth that God in Christ breathes upon us this Pentecost Sunday.
May the Spirit of Truth be with you on this Pentecost Sunday and forever!