John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
[Jesus said,] 26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from God, the Spirit of truth who comes from God, the Spirit will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to the One 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 for your benefit that I go away, because if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send the Spirit to you. 8 And having come, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because the world does not trust in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to God and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the rulers of this world have 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, you will be guided into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak on the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 The Spirit will glorify me, taking what is mine and declaring it to you. 15 All that God has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Stir in us. Move in and among us.
Unstop our ears.
And help us to listen.
Help us pay attention to
The ways you are calling us.
And move us to respond.
Guide us. And sustain us.
Good morning, church. It’s so wonderful to be with you on this Pentecost Sunday.
More than any other time of year, Pentecost is when we explicitly focus on the Holy Spirit rushing in and drawing people together across lines of difference, and we explore what it means to live as people who are knit together across our differences and propelled out into the world to be the forces of loving change in a world that often gets hung up on these differences.
Different is certainly a perfect word to describe what we’ve collectively experienced over the past 14 months. You might have a few choice other words to describe them, maybe a few four-letter ones…but different is certainly what it’s felt like trying to be the church over these past months—different or whatever the opposite of the way we’ve done things before is.
This pandemic has thrust us, has thrust the church, light-years beyond the way we’ve done things before. We are different because of this pandemic.
I’m preaching this morning and coming to y’all from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I’ve been on vacation this past week, our first time away in 18 months, and while I probably could have preached from the pulpit for our prerecorded worship service, the backdrop just seemed too perfect to pass up. (I mean…are you kidding…?!?? Just try not to be too distracted for the rest of the sermon…)
But this sermon preached from Tennessee, to wherever you find yourself this morning, actually highlights something that I think is a really important takeaway for me from the past more than a year…the Holy Spirit has a way of working through seemingly impossible circumstances to continue to draw us together as God’s people, across space and time and distances, continues to speak a word for us to hear, and continues calling us out and beyond from where we are into who and where God is calling us.
The Spirit is moving and calling and guiding us…if we have ears to hear.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
“Amazed and astonished, those gathered asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? So how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’…‘In our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.’”
“They were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”
What incredible witness or testimony might we be missing or closing our ears to because we’re failing to recognize it as the movement and language of the Holy Spirit?
Whenever I want to particularly focus on something, whenever I’d like to be uninterrupted, and whenever I’d like to be free from outside distractions, I have this ritual I do. I go over to my bag and pull out my headphones. I connect them to my phone, and open up the third folder on the top row of the second page of my phone, and open the first app in that folder.
Many of you probably have a similar habit. I’m sure a lot of you like to listen to music when you’re trying to focus, whether it’s classical or pop or metal… I’m a weird one. I find when I listen to music, I’m much too tempted to sing along or pay too close attention to the lyrics…it’s more of a distraction than a help. I pump my ears with white noise. I know…weirdo…
One of the things I would sometimes do before the pandemic is go read or write at Starbucks. I like the smell of roasted beans and I happen to think their coffee’s pretty good. The thing about Starbucks, though, is that a lot of other people like Starbucks, too, so there’s usually a lot to be distracted by. So I’d find a place in a corner, pop in the headphones, pipe in the static noise, and get to work.
But this is not necessarily a helpful posture if I want to listen to what someone might be saying to me, or be more attentive to the world and the people around me.
I can’t be so hyper-focused on me and what’s in front of me and what I have to do if I want to be able to hear and pay attention to what the people around me, my literal neighbors, are saying to me as we’re engaging in conversation.
If I want to hear what’s being said, I can’t plug my ears and drown out those sounds. I have to listen, engage in conversation, cultivate relationships, hear what’s being said, understand what’s being expressed, and then find my place within that concern and formulate my posture within the response.
We can’t hear what’s being asked of us and respond in the ways we’re being called with our ears plugged, drowning out other voices, and hyper-focused on me and what’s in front of me.
In order to hear the urging of the Spirit and follow where we’re being called, we must listen with open ears and hearts turned outward toward the needs of others and their well-being.
For 14 months we’ve had to trust that the Holy Spirit is indeed active and moving and drawing us together across time and space, from the relative safety of our homes to slowly starting to dip our toes back into whatever this new normal is. And we must continue to trust in that same movement of the Spirit, maybe even more so now. Look, things are improving, things are getting better…but there are still many parts of the world being ravaged by this virus…even here at home, the most vulnerable among us don’t have a vaccine approved for them yet. We must continue to be the church that cares for the most vulnerable…and not only that cares for them, but we must be a church that centers their needs, that makes sacrifices for what we want, or how we wish things would be so that those that are most vulnerable can experience God’s goodness and the abundant life of the Spirit just as freely and safely and unhindered as the rest of us who are fortunate enough to have received our vaccine. And that might mean that things continue to look different for a time.
And that’s ok.
One thing we’ve learned over the past more than a year is that we can be ok with different. We can learn from different. We can let different teach us. And maybe we learn that we are blessed by different.
And church, we must not lose sight of what we’ve learned over this past more than a year.
We’ve heard the word of God in new and unique ways. And we must continue to explore what that means for us as a community of faith going forward from here. How will we engage those who have found a welcoming and affirming virtual community during this time? How will we invite people to hear and experience God’s radically inclusive love from wherever they find themselves, whether here in Missouri City and Sugar Land, or in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, or across this country, or even across the globe?
We have an opportunity, church, to continue being moved and shaped and led by the Holy Spirit. We can continue inviting new voices among us, so that we would learn from them. We can continue working toward God’s magnificent vision of a beautiful diversity where differences aren’t treated suspiciously, but rather invited and welcomed and celebrated and affirmed and centered.
Unplug your ears, church.
Listen to the marvelous cacophony the Spirit is speaking.
Be blown about by the rushing movement of the Spirit.
And be stirred to lend your own voice to that chorus of voices.
Unable to contain your witness of where God’s mighty acts have changed and transformed your life.
It’s a witness our world needs to hear.
It’s a witness we need to hear.