Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2021
Jesus said “when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
I don’t think I want that. Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the comforter, no? But truth isn’t always comforting. Truth can be disturbing as hell. Sometimes the truth hurts. Delusions, now they are comforting. Self-righteousness is comforting. Self-confidence is comforting. Fantasy, that is comforting. But truth can be anything BUT comforting. Truth is disturbing. As Jack Nicholson said in a Few Good Men: You can’t handle the truth. And sometimes we can’t, or at least, we don’t want to.
But when Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit, he calls it the spirit of truth, and this spirit of truth is not only going to testify to Jesus and the things he did and said, but this spirit will also declare to us things that are to come. But Jesus also calls this spirit the advocate. Our advocate. A force that is on our side. The spirit is there to help us, even when we don’t want it to.
Saint Paul says that the spirit helps us in our weakness; that the spirit intercedes for us. But I think we sometimes have a very sanitized view of what God’s help looks like. We want God to gently nudge us in the right direction. But if we are to believe the witness of scripture and the witness of tradition, then we are bound to realize that while sometimes God or God’s spirit can be subtle and gentle, sometimes, many times, the spirit is decidedly less so. Sometimes God can be very heavy handed in getting his message across. Think about Saint Paul getting blinded and knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus. Or think about the Spirit of the Lord snatching Philip away after he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. Or think about the passage you just heard, with the spirit of the Lord bursting into the upper room like the sound of a violent wind, and compelling the disciples to do something which they were all terrified to do: to preach the good news; to talk about Jesus. The Holy Spirit led them into truth all right, and I’ll bet that it was terrifying.
There is an ancient song of the church called veni sancte spiritus, “come holy spirit,” we sing it at ordinations: come Holy spirit, from heaven shine down. Well you have got to be careful what you ask for, because God just might do it. God just might send you the Holy Spirit to lead you and guide you, only it may not look like those sweet little doves we have in our stained glass windows. God’s fire may not look like the little flickering flame of your soy scented vanilla candle. God’s fire may come at you like a bonfire or a wildfire: something you don’t have control over. Something that compels you to go places you would rather not go.
There was this viral video that was shared online earlier this year of a woman getting attacked in a parking lot by a mad goose.
It was a security camera video, and you see that the goose chases her one way, then the goose chases her another way, the goose flies at her head and several times she tries to swing her handbag at the goose to scare it away, but oh no, the goose isn’t having it. Finally, the woman’s rescuer shows up in a car, and the woman drops her handbag and jumps into the passenger side door, only the goose flies right into the car after her continuing his ruthless attack. It’s hysterical. But one of my priest friends shared the video and she commented: hey look, it’s me and the Holy Ghost. And I thought: YES! That is perfect. We are forevermore painting the Holy Spirit as a white dove, based upon the passage from scripture where the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism like a dove, but the Holy Spirit hasn’t always been that subtle and that sweet in my life. The Holy Spirit isn’t all that gentle in scripture either. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has been more like that goose: relentlessly chasing me, pecking at me, ignoring my feeble attempts to push it away, making me go places I don’t want to go, and basically scaring the hell out of me in the process. You need to be careful when you ask for God’s Holy Spirit to come down on you or to guide you. Because sometimes God has to apply a little pressure to lead us into truth. Truth is a scary place. Truth can be uncomfortable and if given the choice, I probably would rather live in a fantasy land of delusions and dove kites rather than have to deal with the real holy spirit.
When you are confirmed in the church, one of the things the bishop prays for when he lays hands on you, is for God to send you his Holy Spirit, and there used to be this tradition of giving the confirmand a little slap on the face right then. It dates back to the middle ages and was symbolic of the need for the mature Christian to face and stand up to the adversity or the “blows” of the world. It has military symbolism like a new knight being tapped by his king on the shoulder with a sword. It isn’t always done anymore, although I was slapped at my confirmation and some of you were probably slapped at yours. But that slap doesn’t really hurt. When the bishop slaps you, that is a tap on the cheek. When the holy spirit actually slaps you, that is another thing entirely.
Because while the Holy Spirit can be comforting and encouraging, the Holy Spirit can nudge you, God knows that his beloved human beings are also sinful, stubborn creatures, and that we would just as soon sit comfortable in our fantasies and delusions than actually be led by the spirit of truth. Now I don’t want to contradict that great Ferlin Husky song that says “On the wings of a snow white dove, God sends his pure sweet love.” God may indeed send down his love on the wings of a dove, but God’s love might also come in the form of a mad goose too, chasing us in directions we don’t really want to go and biting us in the backside alone the way. Do y’all really think that those disciples on Pentecost Sunday really wanted to be out in the streets preaching to all those foreigners? Of course not. I imagine that they were perfectly fine, just gathered together in one place with like-minded people that looked like them and talked like them. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t having any of that. The Holy Spirit had to push them out into the world. It chased them out there and said “go and talk to these people. I will be with you. I will help you, but you have to open your mouth.”
And yeah, people sneered at them and made fun of them, but so what? People will find a reason to make fun of you, no matter what you do. If they can’t find a reason they will make one up. You can spend your entire life trying to be comfortable and safe, but it won’t necessarily make you happy, or popular, or successful; that is like imagining that you can get healthier by avoiding exercise. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to testify to Jesus and to guide us into truth. That is how the Holy Spirit advocates for us; that is how the Holy Spirit helps us. Only sometimes the spirit has to push us pretty hard to get us to cooperate. But thank God it does. I give thanks to God for those times when the Spirit is not subtle, when God seems to come at you like a violent wind or a mad goose. We need to thank God, for not giving up on us the first time we swing our handbag to shoo his spirit away. Because if the Holy Spirit hadn’t pushed those disciples out of that upper room and into the street to proclaim the Good News to every nation, would we know anything about Jesus and the love God has for us?