Pentecost A: With, not From


John 20:19-23Acts 2:1-21I Corinthians 12:3b-13

Dear Partner in Preaching,

Have you ever noticed that the arrival of the Holy Spirit doesn’t remove the disciples from challenges and hardships, but rather equips them to persevere, even flourish, amid them? And that this seems to be the unified witness across the New Testament about the Spirit’s work?

In John, for instance, the disciples are hiding in the upper room out of fear that those who crucified Jesus may come after them. And what does Jesus do as he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them? He doesn’t take them away from Jerusalem or fortify the room in which they’re hiding, but instead he sends them out into that dangerous world: “As the Father sent me, so I now send you” (20:21), and then he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit to create in them the courage they will need to follow Jesus’ command.

Similarly in Acts, the disciples are waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit and, once it comes, they go out to proclaim the good news to people they had good reason to believe would be at least skeptical if not outright hostile to their message.

Again in Paul, the Spirit is given to enable individual believers to look beyond their individual needs, hopes, or fears and equip them with distinct gifts, all in order to work together for the “common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

Throughout these passages, we get the sense that the Spirit isn’t some kind of super hero sent to rescue us, but rather the one who equips, encourages, and stays with us, helping us perceive the needs of our neighbors and community and then rise to the occasion to meet those needs with equal measures of tenacity, competence, and courage.

I suppose that makes sense. In John’s Gospel, after all, the Spirit is described as parakletos, the one who “comes along side” of us, the one who advocates for us, remains with us, strengthens and helps us.

All well in good, of course, but perhaps it’s helpful to admit that this may stand in contrast to what we – and, yes, the “we” includes us hardworking preachers! – expect or, maybe deep down, hope the Spirit will do. That is, I think we often hope that the Spirit will just plain save us, or at least to take us away from whatever challenges seems to threaten to overwhelm us in the moment. But the operative preposition with the Spirit seems to be with rather than from – as in being with us during challenges rather than taking those challenges away from us.

Perhaps the opportunity before us this week, Dear Partner, is to invite our folks to recognize that while we may often hope that God will remove us from challenging or difficult situations, God often instead comes along side of us in the presence of the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen and equip us to endure, and even to flourish, amid these challenges and difficulties. Why? Perhaps because God may actually be working through us for the common good, to care for the need of our neighbors, community, and world. We have a purpose: to care for those around us as God cares for us, to make wherever we may find ourselves a better place, to share God’s love in word and deed that others may know they are not alone and, indeed, and loved. We are here, that is, not simply for ourselves but for those around us.

I’ll confess, Dear Partner, that if there is something that I long for in our public discourse these days, it is a call to move beyond individual concerns to be able to see ourselves as part of larger community. It is not about protecting what I or you have, nor simply actualizing my or your identity, but rather that you and I and so many others are called together to be a community. Perhaps we have an opportunity to model that kind of commitment and life in the Church. For we are, after all, the Body of Christ, those authorized and equipped to care for this world God loves so much. And it is the Spirit who reminds us of this role and enables us to fulfill it. This may not always be all that we want, but perhaps it is just what those around us need.

The Promise of Pentecost is not that we will suffer no more difficulty or hardships, nor that God will remove us from challenges, but rather than in the Holy Spirit God comes to be with us and for us and to use all that we have and are for the sake of those around us. It’s an incredibly promise, when you think of it, and it deserves to be shared once again.

I pray that you sense this week, Dear Partner, how the Holy Spirit is coming along side you to offer words of courage that equip us to be, once again and anew, Christ’s body at work for the common good. For your words and ministry matter, perhaps now more than ever.

Blessings in Christ,