The Spirit has been in the world, and with us, long before the Day of Pentecost. Our Gospel reading is from a conversation most likely in the Upper Room during the week before Jesus was crucified.
Jesus was looking to the time when disciples in every age would wonder about his presence.
He promised that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would be sent by the Father.
Jesus and the disciples knew something was about to happen. All of them were in distress. The authorities were going to do something about Jesus.
The miracles and parables, those wonderful days in Galilee with adoring crowds – were all behind them. Since Jesus was God’s son, was this the time for him to say, “Dad, send in the marines?”
Most of us have been in similar situations when we felt certain God would intervene. Illness? Accident? Betrayal by a friend? Surely God cares enough about us to do what we ask.
If we had been in the upper room, would we have thought, “Surely God will not let Jesus die like a common criminal?”
Then if we had followed the crowd from one mock trial to another, up the hill to Calvary, surely God (we would have said to each other), surely God will not let Jesus be nailed to the cross.
With earthquake or storm or blinding light, God will surely take Jesus down and give him a throne in Jerusalem. But he didn’t.
Is anyone who has been caught in a situation so unthinkable, so terrible, so broken, and so undeserved, that you wanted to cry out, “If there is a God, surely he will take this burden away?”
Maybe the question should be asked the other way. “Is anyone here who has never cried out, “God, help me?”
So where was God? Silence. Not a word. The disciples must have wondered, too.
Finally, there was only putting the body of Jesus hastily in a borrowed tomb. Then they went off and were sad.
They had forgotten the earlier conversation in the upper room about Jesus sending the Spirit after he returned to the Father.
They had forgotten that Jesus had given them a benediction of peace. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. And, do not be afraid.” Was their God too small to meet their needs?
I read the classifieds nearly every day – somebody had puppies to give away. The ad said the puppies are free, and they were medium sized.
I suppose medium size puppies are halfway between large and small. But it’s a long way between a medium size dachshund and a medium size St. Bernard. The real question is, “How big will a medium sized puppy be in six months?”
Pentecost asks a similar question. Would we be satisfied with a medium size Spirit, and will the Spirit bring us a message of medium size comfort?
Nearly everybody I know needs a large size of something to solve personal problems. Had the disciples been in the presence of someone who could show them the Father, someone who could turn life around, someone who could heal broken lives?
Or was he a medium size imposter who could not deliver what he promised? Jesus gave them only a word and a promise.
He gave them the word of peace, and the promise they would not be alone. If we had been there, with dreams gone and hopes vanished, we could have wished for a great deal more.
His promise of peace seems so flimsy, so thin, so powerless.
When we contrast this conversation with the current age of spiritual technology, his words seem so undramatic. Spiritual technology is especially evident on TV.
The personality of the preacher is the point of interest, not an altar outfitted to celebrate the presence of Jesus Christ.
If the crowd is large enough, enthusiastic enough, if the music is appealing enough, and the preacher charismatic enough, then surely the Spirit will come.
In Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams he turned his cornfield into a ball diamond because he heard a voice, “If you build it, they will come.”
Sure enough, his heroes from the past did appear and played on the field, and I think spiritual technicians have the same idea that if we build the right stage, the Spirit will come.
When he comes, we’ll all have a nice warm fuzzy feeling while the problems fade away. What’s wrong with that idea is that it is simply wrong.
We’re not in control of when and how the Spirit will come, nor can we improve on the gifts he brings. When Jesus promised the Spirit to his disciples, they weren’t doing anything except meeting in fear.
They weren’t down on their knees, or raising their hands or singing pseudo-religious campfire songs or taking directions from a spiritual cheerleader. They were afraid.
When Jesus promised them the Spirit with nothing more than the declaration in words that he was giving them the Spirit, there is no record of their saying anything.
If we could have asked them, “How do you feel about receiving the Holy Spirit?” I doubt we would have heard any spectacular answers.
When Dr. Joe Sittler, one of our true church fathers, was asked how we are supposed to feel upon receiving the Spirit, he replied, “I have become convinced that those persons most filled with the Spirit are those who are least conscious of it.
“All they know is that they wish to serve Jesus Christ, and they call themselves unprofitable servants. Being filled with the Spirit is often a different thing than feeling filled with the Spirit.” (Dr. Joe Sittler, Lectures at Lutheridge)
Does being Spirit-filled, or having the Spirit, require us to have some unusual feeling as a guarantee of the presence of the Spirit?
Along with his presence and only a word of his peace, Jesus said the disciples would do greater works than what he has done.
The primary work of the Spirit is not to make himself visible. Someone has called the Spirit the shy member of the Holy Trinity.
To turn that thought around — if the aim of our spiritual search or our religious journey is to get the Spirit, then we have missed the point of who the Spirit is and what he tries to do.
The work of the Spirit is to fulfill the promise of Jesus that he is with us, the promise that we will have the presence of Christ.
He said, “The advocate, the Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Where ever and however we affirm the presence of Jesus Christ without our aid, then he is present also to relieve our fears and give us peace that passes all understanding.
And where do we identify the presence of Jesus Christ? Why, in the ordinary life of the standard, and dare we say, average congregation.
Here is where his story is told in preaching and teaching, where the baptism he commanded is done and remembered as God’s healing power.
In church at worship is where the fellowship of believers symbolically anticipates the feast that is to come in eternity by sharing bread and wine.
Where broken people, suffering, even crucified, look for healing in the presence of the suffering, crucified and risen Son of God, there Jesus Christ lives and by his spirit broken people are healed.
Jesus Christ comes to say to us that whatever has broken us, whatever has destroyed us and our relation to each other and even with God – all which comes under the rubric of sin (just being human) — all that is forgiven, healed, repaired, overcome, conquered,
He says, “My peace I give to you.” Even as we die daily, yet we come forth to live again in the renewal of our baptism because the Spirit of the risen one is present.
There is no tricky way, no spiritual technology, no gospel of glory guaranteed to fill us with the Spirit. There is only believing that Jesus Christ comes to give himself in Bread and Wine and in simple words like peace, forgiveness amd the love of God.
Jesus Christ as he comes to us in the fellowship, and the prayers of the congregation where we meet. In these activities we have the Spirit.
In him we live and move and have all our being.
We — who are often deeply afraid, intensely in need, broken in relationships and in morality — we have the promise of Jesus Christ that there is peace for us. Sins are forgiven. Life goes forward.
We who have great needs could not live without the Spirit. We are filled with the presence and the power of the full size, fully empowered, fully resurrected Jesus Christ.
His Spirit, full of grace and truth, healing and forgiveness, lives in us. Thanks be to God.