Closer Than Our Breath

Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21 & John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – May 20, 2018

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called “Coffee for All.” I love coffee, but I was also interested because this film was talking about coffee’s social importance. There is the Neapolitan tradition of “suspended coffee” – buying your own drink and buying extra to keep “pending” at the café until someone, whether poor, homeless, cold, or even stressed needs it. But this isn’t just about giving hot drinks to people who can’t afford them, it also has to do with fitting into society. It’s not just so a needy person can have coffee, but also feel more integrated and part of society. Since people “go for coffee” and it means getting together, hanging out, and socializing with others, if you are on the streets, you are not really a part of that world. So being able to drink a coffee in a social scene like a café is one step toward bringing people together. As Andrea Illy, chairman of Illy Coffee said, “coffee consumption predated the unification of Italy by more than 200 years, so the rituals and traditions around it are very ancient. In Naples, coffee is a world in itself, both culturally and socially. Coffee is a ritual carried out in solidarity.”

Coffee is a ritual. We, as Lutherans, can surely understand this! I like the idea of someone anonymous contributing to someone’s well-being and also helping them belong in larger society. It sounds a little bit like that mysterious Holy Spirit, who comes alongside us, unseen, as our comforter and advocate. The One who brought people together with the sound of rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the bursting forth of the gospel in a multitude of languages on Pentecost. The Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” It’s that Spirit who gathers us together as the Body of Christ, uniting us in Christ through faith. The Spirit speaks to our hearts, convicting us of our sin, but also helping us hear and take to heart the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness again and again and again. As the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, the Spirit is at work around and within us, making all things new.

We’ve been hearing about the gifts of Easter and about what it looks like to live as resurrection people. Forgiveness, presence, shepherding, abiding, love, unity. Each of these is truly a gift, but on this fiftieth day of Easter, maybe the best gift of all is that we’re not left alone. The Jewish festival of Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai – that God had given the Israelites a way to live and to follow God.

Likewise, Jesus tells his disciples, “‘it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’” On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus says it’s in the disciples’ best interest that he leaves. Those words must have been horrible to hear. What confusion and grief they must have been experiencing! And, later, waiting in the house, huddled together in expectation and prayer after they had seen the resurrected Jesus and experienced his second departure as he ascended, what hopes and fears were Jesus’ followers experiencing? In Romans, Paul describes the reality of living as a Christian when times are tough and the world remains fallen. “‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’” We know that God is at work, but with anguish, violence, disunity, and death, it sure is hard to hold on.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is promised and given right smack dab in the middle of this grief, pain, anxiety, and confusion. As Jesus says to his followers, “‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…’” We don’t and can’t always understand what is happening around us. Maybe this is Jesus’ “you can’t handle the truth!” moment for his disciples. But I think there are certain things we can only hear or understand at specific points in our lives. Because it takes making mistakes, succeeding and failing, falling on our faces, learning, growing, and experiencing life until we find that things unfurl and make more a little more sense. Even then we only grasp that the saying is right: “The Gospel doesn’t answer our questions; it questions our answers.” We need to be continually guided into the truth.

And, thankfully, it’s not up to us. In the Holy Spirit, we have been given a guide and an advocate. We have a divine guide who shepherds, challenges, confronts, comforts, and pushes us. Think about it – if we need human mentors and coaches in our lives, how much more do we need a divine guide?!

The Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit are related to wind and breath. I love the thought of God being as near to us as our breath. That it takes living and breathing the Gospel over the course of our lives to see anew. To understand that God is doing amazing things through us, but not because of our ability, but because of the Spirit that has fallen upon and burns within us.

I don’t know about you, but I need that Spirit. I need to know that God is as close as the very air that fills my lungs and gives me life. I need to know that the same Spirit that empowered the disciples to move from behind closed doors out into the world with the good news is the same Spirit powering me. That that Spirit “helps us in our weakness” when we don’t know how to pray as we ought. That “that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” and “for the saints according to the will of God.” I need that kind of reassurance because most of the time, it kind of feels like I don’t know what I’m doing, where I’m going, or what I should do! Is that at all familiar to anyone?

The Spirit not only gives us words, just like those first disciples who preached in languages previously unknown to them, but also prays on our behalf when we don’t know what to say or do. What a gift. I know I rely on that, especially when I have to step into the pulpit. My prayer is always that the Spirit will speak the gospel to you in the way you need to hear it. I cannot possibly know what that means and neither can Pr. Joe. We can only ever try to listen to the Spirit and pray and trust that the words will come.

Over time, I have found myself paying more attention to this mysterious member of the Holy Trinity. And as I hear about yet another school shooting at Santa Fe High School, Paul’s words ring in my ears: the whole creation is groaning in labor pains, waiting in hope that something will change. I don’t know what the solution is. So I pray that the Spirit will forgive our inaction in the face of violence and death, but also that the Spirit will stir up in us the courage to make effective change. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words, because I have no more words in the face of such repetitive, senseless killings.

We are not powerless. We have been empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses. To be messengers and servants of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Brennan Manning describes it this way: “The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. … to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”

In the Spirit, God is present within and alongside us. The Spirit gathers us into a community to live and bear witness to God’s creative and redeeming love in the world. And so we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Come as holy wind and cleanse us. Come as holy truth and teach us. Come as holy fire and burn in us.” Amen.

2018-05-20T14:50:18+00:00May 20th, 2018|Sermons|0 Comments

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