Pentecost 2019

P. Solomon Raj (Indian, 1921–), “Pentecost,” 1980s. Batik.

The Spirit of Truth
Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 2:1-11, Psalm 104:25-32, 1 Cor 12:4-13, John 14:8-17

As we hear the reading for Acts this morning, we are caught up in a strange and wondrous tale. The disciples are praying and waiting for the Lord, and the house suddenly roars with a mighty wind of the Spirit and fiery tongues rest on each of the disciples. The sound bursting forth from the house is so great that a crowd gathers outside and begins hearing the Gospel in all their various languages. It is a wonder. It is also troubling.

The crowds are asking, “What is going on?” In the midst of the confusion, Peter steps forth to speak a word of truth, a word of life that will cut them to the heart. Thousands respond in prayer, repentance, and baptism, and a small band of disciples is suddenly transformed into a called out community of new believers.

Less than two months earlier, this same Peter fearfully denied Christ. This same Peter confessed Jesus as Lord, as King but could not accept, could not hear any word of death or defeat. He couldn’t grasp a kingdom established by the death of the king. When Jesus is finally handed over to death, Peter and his fellow disciples falter as they can hardly grasp what is happening. Their hopes are crushed under the Roman rule. It feels as though the power of Jesus kingdom could not stand beside the power of Rome.

Then, Jesus bursts forth from the grave and defeats a power greater than Rome. He has crushed death under his feet.

And yet, Rome still stands.

In the Resurrection, the disciples encounter a power that is both greater and more mysterious than they understand. The kingdom of is coming in a way they could not have grasped. The Kingdom of Heaven is being established in the midst of another kingdom. Eventually it will bring all kings and kingdom into submission to the one true king, Jesus Christ. This same kingdom will be revealed in ways that neither Peter nor Paul nor you nor I could ever fully grasp.

After meeting with the disciples and teaching them, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit who will clothe them with power from on high. They wait. Ten days later a roaring wind of the Spirit fills their house, anoints their heads, and changes the world forever.

The Spirit clothes them, and they receive power from on high. This overwhelming, glorious power flows through them in all sorts of unusual ways from Gospel proclamation to dramatic healings to dreams and visions. Even as they are clothed in power, they are more vulnerable. The disciples will be arrested, beaten, and some will even be killed. At the same time, the church will keep growing, and many Temple priests will begin to call upon the name of Jesus.

The church will increase in power and weakness. The disciples will see great miracles even as they will face great threats from Jerusalem and eventually Rome. They will also face the struggles of this vast community of believers that has suddenly assembled. As we continue to read the story of Acts and the New Testament letters, we see power struggles among the people, doctrinal disagreements, and struggles with sin.

The Kingdom of God does not emerge as the disciples expected or as we expect. At times in my own life, I looked for a great revival and outpouring of the Spirit that would finally establish the church in glory. I believe in revivals as we have records of them again and again throughout history, but at the same time, I also believe the Spirit does not overwhelm our humanity. Even in the midst of glorious revivals, humans still disagree, argue, compete for pride of place, and even openly sin.

In the face of our own frailty, I step back to the Gospels and listen afresh to the promise of Jesus to send the Spirit. He speaks of the Holy Spirit as a comforter, as the power of God, as the power of forgiveness, as a helper, as the Spirit of truth. The Spirit reveals and leads us to truth in Christ even as he exposes our own untruth.

When the Spirit reveals truth, he does not reveal the abstract philosophical truth that Pilate references in John 18, when he says, “What is truth?” Pilate asks this questions prior to having Jesus flogged and then crucified.

The Spirit reveals personal truth in relationship. The proper question might be, “Who is truth?” For the Sprit reveals Jesus or embodied truth. In Jesus, we discover that truth is a person and encounters with truth are personal. This is not to say that truth takes the shape of any given person in any given situation, but this is to say that Jesus Himself embodies the fullness of truth and by His Spirit leads us into truth.

The Spirit reveals Jesus Christ and in Christ we learn that God is Father, Son, and Spirit: a communion of love. There is unity in diversity within God. This truth of a never-ending communion is at the heart of all things. The Orthodox use the word “sobernost” to speak of a spiritual communion at all levels of creation: in nature, in Scripture, in history, in the church, and even in ourselves as persons created in the image of God. In Christ by the Spirit, we are being brought into this communion of love.

In Acts, the Spirit is poured out and upon the disciples, leading them into the power of God and into the glorious communion that Jesus knew and yet, at the same time, the Spirit does not take the disciples out of this world or out of the struggles of human existence. In fact, I would suggest that He is revealing the truth even as they are facing great conflict and struggle.

As we look to Jesus, he is not leading us away from creation but more deeply into His creation. Paul writes in Philippians, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus moves toward a world in need, toward his enemies, toward Zacchaeus, toward the woman at the well, and even toward Pilate. He speaks truth and lives truth before the weak and the powerful. In so doing, he reveals a power and a wisdom that is alien to human sin and brokenness.

As Jesus embodies the truth, he exposes untruth. After a meal with Jesus, Zacchaeus promises to restore what he has taken. After a conversation with Jesus, the woman at the well is freed from the burden of her untruthful ways. Paul encounters the risen and ascended Jesus on the road to Damascus. He comes face to face with his own war against God’s truth and leaves one life and begins another. Though we see dramatic initial transformations in Zacchaeus, the woman at the well and Paul, we also see a pattern of lifelong confrontations with truth and gradual transformation in Peter and the emerging church.

The Spirit leads the disciples and us into the truth of God revealed in Jesus. He does this through the ancient stories and songs of Israel. He does this right in the middle of difficult relationships in church and in family. He does this in the midst of the world where we live and move. We enter into relation with people and with the world around us in the Spirit of Christ. We bear witness to the world that the Father loves the world and is reconciling the world to Himself through Christ.

We already see this happening in Acts. The disciples begin looking like and acting like Jesus. Our story in throughout the Acts of the Apostles reveals the Spirit at work in miraculous moments and in many difficult situations. The Gospel is translated into every language but also into every life situation: those in need of healing, people in the synagogue, the Gentiles across the empire as well as the emerging church communities, the conflicts within the churches, and even the power struggles in Israel and Rome.

The gift of the Spirit is a gift of love that frees us from trying to defend or build our own little kingdoms and follow him into a world of discovery and struggle and joy and sorrow where Jesus is present and sustaining and leading us into all life. There are times we will embrace this gift with joy and times we will struggle wondering where is the gift of grace in our lives. He is faithful in all situations. By the Spirit, we discover the Father is always at work reconciling us to Himself in Christ.   

As Paul writes, Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:15–20).

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