Using the Breath

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Come as the Fire and burn

Come as the Light and reveal

Come as the Wind and cleanse

Convict, Convert,  and Consecrate us, until we’re wholly thine

 

This morning, we get a second crack at Easter.

Really, we get an Easter-do-over every Sunday; that’s why we do a lot of the same things every week at church and say the same sorts of prayers and come up for communion and blessings — because every seven days we need to be reminded of the truth of Easter all over again.

Our Gospel passage today, taken from the testimony of John, is Jesus giving a sort of instruction manual of the Holy Spirit. A few chapters later, Jesus breathes on his disciples *HAAAA* on Easter Day and declares to them, “receive the Holy Spirit.” Of course we’re celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit today, not on Easter day, and there’s good reason for that, though I don’t know that John is wrong to recount his order of events.

Other New Testament writers connect the coming of the Holy Spirit with Pentecost, which is a religious feast in both the Jewish and Christian calendars. It was originally a commemoration of God giving the Ten Commandments at Sinai, you might think of it as God presenting his people with equipment for the good life; later, it took on the meaning, too, of a thanksgiving for a successful harvest, and the divine protection and blessing that food safety signifies.

These meanings then draw close parallels to God pouring out the gift of the Holy Spirit on all people, echoes of good, healthy boundaries, of nourishment for the work ahead, and even, like I mentioned last week, the assertion that Easter and God’s light overcomes darkness and testing of Lent.

With all this meaning whirling around us, I want to focus this morning on Jesus’s directions surrounding the gift and power of the Holy Spirit.

Here in the Gospel of John, we’re situated in the last three days of Jesus’s life, even though we’re hardly ¾ of the way through the book. Jesus shares these words as he is gathered around the table at the Last Supper with his disciples, where he institutes Holy Communion, which we’ll undertake to celebrate again in a few minutes.

So if you would, imagine yourself seated with Jesus at this table, and keep in the back of your mind and heart what you know very well is facing Jesus the next day — his death of shame and defeat on the cross, brought on him by the betrayal of one of y’all’s best friends, our fellow disciple, Judas, all for a little bag of coin.

Keep in your mind, too, what awaits our brother, Peter, in the coming hours, as he will face questions about who he believes in and trusts, whether he’s been a witness to all these events, and whether — most importantly of all — he would stake his life on the truth of what he’s seen and heard and even practiced himself.

Come, take a seat at the table.

Brothers and Sisters. Jesus says, “You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Whenever it was that your own journey with God began, whenever it was that you first started to think of the divine coming along next to you, God has never been far from your elbow or your heart, not even for a moment from your very conception.

God stays close to you because of his great love for you. Indeed, Jesus himself doesn’t only give testimony to this truth, Jesus is the flesh-and-blood evidence of this truth. Jesus is God come into the middle of humanity, unable to stay away, and further, the Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of God in and through and with each human heart.

Not every human heart is soft toward, or will accept this transforming love, this abiding closeness. Evidence of that hard truth is shown through the betrayal of Jesus and his crucifixion. Just in between the verses assigned in the lectionary, the first verses of chapter 16, Jesus warns his disciples that there will be people in the days and months and years to come who will think of themselves as just and right to exclude and persecute and even to kill the followers of Jesus, those who are committed to the incarnational love of God. That’s what leads Jesus to tell us, “because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.”

It is the unadorned truth that following the way of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God made flesh in Jesus Christ, is not a bloodless, or easy, or painless way to choose, but I have come to believe, in the words of Peter, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life.” And so Jesus promises that God the Father and God the Son will not leave their beloved creation without help, without comfort, without nourishment, and strength, and courage, and breath to empower.

Further, when this Comforter, this Advocate, this Breath of Life comes, Jesus tells us next that the Holy Spirit, “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

The Holy Spirit, that Breath of Life active in each one of our souls, proves the world wrong “about sin, because they do not believe in [Jesus].” One of the ways that sin and the forces of evil and death seek to twist God’s good law, given at Sinai, is to say that any kind of law must be punitive, that any law-giver must somehow be searching to trip up everyone and smash them under its thumb.

This is not true of God, and in our most faithful moments as God’s good creation, we are able to enact and uphold laws that further the flourishing of life and community, rather than tear us apart. The United States is far from perfect in this respect, with some laws that divide and that promote death, though there are also laws which draw us together and support the flourishing of humanity as Jesus’s hands and feet in the world.

And so, the action of the Holy Spirit sparks greater conflict between the powers of light and the powers of darkness. Jesus says that he came not to bring peace, but a sword, and that is nowhere more clear than when God takes up humanity as a vessel of his great love, warring against the powers of division, of death, of injustice and of self-seeking safety.

Underlining Jesus’s message of comfort and love, but not of rosy-tinted-glasses and lollipops, the Holy Spirit

will prove the world wrong, too, about righteousness and judgement, these big words and even bigger ideals with great power in any society, and no less in our situation today.

True righteousness is measured by one’s love and treatment of one’s neighbors, and especially any person who has less power than you yourself enjoy. Righteousness is not accredited by success and achievement in the world’s rat race, but in noticing and lifting up the people who may fade into the background of our everyday life, in lending your voice to champion and amplify those who are not heard, and in listening closely and patiently to those who long to be understood. These are the activities that made Jesus infamous, this is the love that got Jesus killed. Righteousness for a Christian looks very much like defeat and disgrace and desolation.

And the reason that righteousness can look like desolation is that the conflict which the Holy Spirit brings to a head between followers of Jesus and the world doesn’t depend on some great future moment of extrication for Christians. The judgment in which the Holy Spirit proves the world wrong has already happened. In Jesus, our God moves through death, overcomes evil, defeats sin. On Easter morning, the judgement was over, the verdict had already come in, and darkness did not win. The world with its lies of security in wealth, or in skin color, or in education, or in virility, or in zip code is crushed under the weight of God’s great love.

So now, my brothers and sisters, we live in the moment after judgment, the moment when God has already poured out the great love of his Holy Spirit upon his sons and his daughters, the moment when the world groans in birth pangs, as our brother the Paul puts it. The travail is already over, even as we feel ourselves in its midst. And that is why Jesus ends by telling his disciples and by telling us, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

We understand and come to know what it is that Jesus is saying only as we walk through the birthpangs of this present time, as we experience the travail of evil’s death against the unquenchable fire of God’s love. This war that is waged between light and darkness, fighting in each of our hearts even this very morning, through this struggle God the Holy Spirit is able to reveal the strength and depth and full power of his love as we depend on him to carry us and nourish us as we cry out for endurance.

And so we are promised that, “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” All truth is made clear to each person as we submit to the sacrificial and life-giving love of God in Jesus Christ.

It is only through the transforming perspective of that love that we are able to make sense of all which God has already revealed to us in Scripture and in creation; it is only through the prism of Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, this Word incarnate, this Love incarnate, that we are given the gift of God’s perfect vision and his all-surpassing purposes.

So on this day of Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of Holy Spirit, this do-over of Easter, of which each and every Sunday, and indeed, my brothers and sisters, each and every single morning on which the sun rises, is an echo, let us find ourselves committed again to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who is Jesus Christ.

Will you join me in giving voice to our faith; in using the Breath of Life to speak the words truth, that fiery commitment which leads us to the cross, and indeed, are the words of eternal life.

Please stand; the Nicene Creed is found on page 358 in the Book of Common Prayer.

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