It is the Sunday after Easter and it should be the kind of day we put our feet up and rest for a little bit. After all that business of Holy Week where Jesus gives us communion, tells us/mandates that we love one another, goes to the cross and is crucified and three days later is resurrected it would seem like it is time for a break, wouldn’t it?
Jesus has other ideas. Jesus always has other ideas.
I’m guessing his followers were a little confused about what they were supposed to do and how they were supposed to do it now that Jesus had been resurrected and all. You can’t blame them really. It’s been quite the wild ride for them. They’re cruising merrily along in their lives when all of a sudden (in spite of Jesus telling them how it was going to be) Jesus is arrested, crucified, died and resurrected. It’s no wonder they’re a little uncertain of what comes next. Before he ascended into heaven (creed connection) he takes care of both issues for his followers.
It’s a little odd maybe that Jesus answers the second question first. Before he gets around to telling them what to do he tells them how it will get accomplished. I’m guessing that is no accident. I think Jesus probably wants to give us a bit of universal assurance that applies to pretty much everything. And that is simply that the Holy Spirit is what is behind all the things that we do.
It all fits into what we call the Trinity, Father (God), Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.
We’re okay with God because, well, God is God. Jesus we’re good with because Jesus was a real human who walked the earth. And in particular we like Jesus because he was crucified and resurrected assuring us of forgiveness and life everlasting. At this point in the trinity we’re running out of being okay and good and it is at this point we run up against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is one of those things that is hard to pin down and describe in a concrete way. Largely because the Holy Spirit isn’t a concrete item that you can put into a box on a display shelf.
Maybe one way to think about the Holy Spirit is to consider gravity. We know it exists because we’re not all flying around in space bouncing off the walls. Very few people would argue against the idea of gravity being a real thing. But gravity is also one of those things that is hard to pin down and describe in a concrete way. Good luck putting some gravity into a box on a display shelf. The proof of gravity existence is not in direct observation but instead on its effect on the things around us. You can’t buy a pound of gravity at the store but if you drop something that weighs a pound, well, there you go.
It’s kind of like that with the Holy Spirit. Not that we need a proof per se but just kind of wrestling with the idea of why the Holy Spirit can be hard to grasp. In any case, we have the assurance from Jesus that the Holy Spirit will come to us and it will be the power behind our faith.
Luther explained the power behind our faith in his explanation of the third article of the apostles creed. You know, the part where we say we believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Which is particularly timely that Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, resurrection and life everlasting comes up this week, don’t you think?
Luther explained it like this. (ELW page 1160) I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith;
So it’s pretty much the case that left to ourselves we are not capable of having faith or belief in Christ. All of what we call faith and belief comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells them they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and so it is that we are filled with the Holy Spirit in our baptism. Everything else in our faith life flows from there.
Did you catch the phrasing of Jesus speaking to his followers? He gave instructions to them THROUGH the Holy Spirit. Not by a memo, not by snapchat or instragram, not by standing up in front of them and making grand pronouncements but what he was telling them came through the Holy Spirit.
Okay, so the Holy Spirit is the HOW of pretty much everything in our faith life. It a gift from God and is the power that fills us and gives us our faith. Fair enough, what about the what? Jesus has an idea for that as well. His followers are supposed to be his witnesses going to the ends of the earth. That’s pretty simple and straightforward? Right?
That’s his challenge to each of us. Go to the ends of the earth and be the witnesses of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to each and every person we meet. It’s not complicated is it?
Though we tend to make it so, don’t we? I think we’ve been conditioned in part to make our witnessing some sort of big tent revival program that is splashy and attention getting. If you’re going to have a witness thing going on you need a marketing budget and banners and ad time and all that.
The truth is that our witness is much more powerful in the everyday aspects of our lives. Christ’s love is brought to life in the way we spend time mentoring young people. Christ’s love is brought to life in the way we maintain ball fields in the summer. Christ’s love is brought to life even when we are giving thirsty marathoners something to drink.
And we’re real good at doing those things. The hardest part is the part we’re most familiar with and that is letting people know the why of what we’re doing. The hardest part is letting people know that we’re doing it because of Jesus Christ. We want banners and T-shirts to let people know about our faith. We want Facebook memes and Twitter retweets to let people know about our faith. The reality is we just need to tell them when they ask us why we do the things we do. It’s a similar problem to the one we talked about a couple weeks back. We’re not very good at taking a compliment and we’re not very good about telling people about our faith when they ask why we do the things that we do. If someone asks us about why we do the things we do we tend to shuffle our feet and mumble something incoherent.
It’s something to be aware of and something to pray about. Here’s a thought. Being prepared is usually a good idea so spend some time in the next week thinking about your elevator response if someone asks you why it is you serve your community. You know, that one minute answer you give if someone asks you a question in an elevator.
Christ calls us through the Holy Spirit to be his witness. To him be the glory.