The Feast of Pentecost is generally one of those anticipated days by many in the church. Of course, unlike Christmas (the warmth of silent night) and Easter (the promise of the Resurrection and the end of the Lenten fasts), Pentecost seems more valuable as it marks the beginning of vacation time, particularly in the Episcopal Church. It makes sense. Schools are letting out around the time of Pentecost. Sunday Schools and choirs generally break for the summer. And it is not as if most of us in the clergy are unhappy to see the season come. People have worked hard and need a bit of time to relax. Unfortunately, that relaxing does not often include spiritual refreshment. Far too often, we take a break from the very One who refreshes us, who prepares us and molds us, who empowers us, and who commands us. For some strange reason, we feel it ok to take a break from God, and, as a consequence, much of what He has to say to us during this time is never really considered.
In the wonderful exhortations that usually come with the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, one of those important teachings of the Church is often glossed over or ignored. Who is the Holy Spirit? How do we identify the presence of the Holy Spirit? What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit? I sometimes wonder that our uncomfortableness about the Holy Spirit often comes from the fact that much of the important teaching is read on Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. And, since we tend to struggle mightily with the latter and concentrate on the birth of the Church in the former, we spend little time considering what our Lord says about the Holy Spirit. So, when people ask us about our understanding of the Holy Spirit, we fumble around a bit. We give mumbled, nebulous answers that generally involve the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, but little else. Yet, Jesus tells us that there is no reason to grasp for meanings about the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus asserts in our reading from John this week that the Holy Spirit has a job to do and that the Spirit is quite easy to discern. What is the Holy Spirit about? What is the Spirit doing? Jesus gives us three answers in John’s Gospel lesson. The Spirit is convicting the world of guilt with respect to sin, to righteousness, and to judgment. What does Jesus mean? Consider . . .
First, The Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong with respect to sin (v 9). What is sin? Well, the Bible teaches us that sin is putting our desires, our ambitions, our “wants” before the torah (instruction, commandments, etc) of God and before the needs of our neighbors. The Bible also reveals to us that Christ is the perfect and final revelation of God to humanity. He is the only begotten Son. For us to reject Him is the ultimate rejection of God and the ultimate sin. We might tend to think that such a description of sin is simplistic, but consider John 1:1-18 or Romans 1-3 or even the very beginning of Hebrews. And, given the pluralistic age in which we live, we might even want to argue that the exclusive emphasis that Christians are called to place upon Christ is too narrow-minded and not generous enough. Yet the very One who died for us is the one making the claim about the guilt of the world with respect to sin.
Second, Jesus goes on to tell us that the Spirit will convict the world of its guilt with respect to righteousness. So much of our Easter Season reminds of that ultimate proof of His righteousness, His glorious Resurrection and Ascension to the Father, but also of our own unrighteousness (think John 2:18-22 or Acts 2:22-24 or 3:13-18 or 10:39-43). Like the Jews who tried to justify the crucifixion of Jesus because He was convicted of being a sinner and a blasphemer, we try to justify ourselves and our behaviors through our judgments of the behaviors of others. We begin to be beguiled by the notion that we are not so bad, and we delude ourselves into thinking that we are righteous. Yet only Jesus lived a righteous life. As hard as we might try not sin, we do. And it is the Holy Spirit’s job to help us discern our own unrighteousness and guide us to the Son, who alone saves and redeems us.
Finally, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its guilt with respect to judgment. So often, we think of judgment in negative terms. For those who reject God and His offer of salvation, such a view of judgment is rightly feared and horrific beyond all our understandings--after all, it leads to death (think John 5:21-30 or Acts 24:24-25). But for those who believe in Jesus Christ, the judgment of God is a wonderful, amazing, eternal-life-giving event! Those individuals who are part of His body through adoption are vindicated by His saving work on the cross. The righteousness of our Lord is imputed to all believers, and they are admitted into the everlasting life and glory promised through Christ. And the One who does the judging is the very One who died for us! The Holy Spirit reminds His people of the glory and vindication promised to His people on that Day of Judgment, and it also reminds them of one of the impetuses of their call to go and proclaim the saving work of Christ.
No doubt some will remark that I have, for the first time, quoted some Scripture other than the week’s readings for my message and that my message was radically different from each sermon this weekend. Why? These are questions that you and I are called to ponder, to consider, and to question in our community of faith. They are not easy questions given to 10 - 20 minute blurbs in a sermon, but rather questions that must be considered over time. What better time to consider them than on the day that we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of His Church?