Today is the great feast of the Pentecost. Adorned in red, we speak of the fire of the Holy Spirit and celebrate the birth of Christ’s Holy Church. But, even amidst all the fire talk, I often wonder if we really understand what type of fire we’re playing with. At times, it would seem, we’re talking less about fire and more about a cute, fluffy bunny that makes us feel happy.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us that he will send the Holy Spirit to us to convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement. Though named differently, the same pattern can be seen wherever the Holy Spirit does his work. The Spirit comes and convicts the world of their sin and brokenness. He then points to the one righteous one, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word who takes away the sins of the world. In seeing Christ and God’s holiness made clear, the world sees God’s perfect love through his judgement for justice and peace in the world. Three words: Spirit, Word, See. Let’s dig in deeper.
I’ve already established this, but just to say it again, the Holy Spirit is not a fluffy bunny. The Holy Spirit is power, love, and holiness beyond our comprehension. Though he is not the Father and he is not the Son, he is fully God. From the beginning where he hovered over the waters of Creation, the Holy Spirit has been active in our salvation.
The Holy Spirit’s first task is to convict and convince us of the reality we find ourselves in. Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit is no Jimminy Cricket. He boldly convinces us of sin with the sword of the law. He calls us to discomfort in the many ways we are not living as full humans — separated from our God. He convicts us in the many ways we’ve fallen short of what we were intended to be.
Through our own hearts, through the mouths of others in prophets old and new, the Holy Spirit convinces us of our sin.
Thankfully, he does not leave us in the pit of our despair. From the deep darkness of the pit, the Holy Spirit swoops in like a dove to declare Good News.
From the beginning, it was The Word of God that brought order to chaos and created our world. God spoke words and those words called meaning and form into the chaos. God speaks and what he says is reality. This is the Good News the Holy Spirit convinces us of over and over again; God’s Word is true.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
The Holy Spirit comes to us — being slain by the law and the depth of our sinfulness and brokenness — and testifies to us the plain and risen Word. He proclaims the Good News gospel of our salvation and the ushering in of the New Creation.
What Christ says is true. Who Christ is is true. Through baptism we are his forever. His blood is sufficient to save even the worst of sinners.
If you’ll remember, I correlate the Holy Spirit’s ministry of clearing our vision with what Jesus called his work of convincing us of judgement.
If we’re honest, I think most of us don’t want to think about judgement. Being convinced of our sin is uncomfortable and painful, but the joy of the gospel is a sweet salve to that wound. Sin found in the law is quickly relieved in the gospel.
Seeing the reality of the world around us? Hearing God’s disgust for the wreckage we’ve havacked? That’s rough. No doubt many have a hard time hearing the end of our Acts reading today. Even the Revised Common Lectionary has us skip over the first part of verse 35 in our Psalm today.
But, again, we do not worship a fluffy bunny. The deep passionate love of God, his incompressible thirst for justice and holiness will not rest. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens were ripped apart as God ushered in his New Creation. God enacted our salvation by a brutal state execution on a wooden cross. God is a rushing wind and not a gentle breeze, after all. The Holy Spirit is fire.
But, I think we’ve given judgement a bad name. Yes, in the Holy Spirit, God confronts us with his judgement. God is holy. He will have a holy people. But, he has also declared that he will redeem the Earth. “[W]hoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” we read in our first reading today.
Pain, evil, suffering, and death are judged “not good” in God’s eternal will of love. In his judgement, the Holy Spirit is declaring that God will make things right. No brokenness will be overlooked. Everything single bad little thing will be fixed. Racism? God hates it and declares that he will erase it. Genocide? God hates it and declares that he will wipe away every tear. He is the God of the oppressed. God sees every starving child, every act of war, every slave, all the pain and darkness in the world. He declares that he hates it.
God’s work in Jesus Christ is comprehensive and total. Seeing the reality of the world we’re in. Knowing the depth of human depravity. In the darkness we see most clearly the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.
The Holy Spirit names what is wrong and allows us to clearly see. He points to the Son who of his own will calls something better into existence. “It is finished.” “Thou art forgiven.”
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Embrace the Holy Spirit’s conviction of God’s judgement against evil. Hear, see, walk, live, and — finally — see how it’s not all okay. See how God sees the pains of this world. Know his disgust at suffering. Feel the fire of his passion against evil. Know this passion is holy love for us all.
The convincing fire of the Holy Spirit comes not to destroy us, but to save. As the Spirit “moved upon the face of the waters”, as he hovered over the water of Jesus’ baptism as a dove, he moves over us now.
In our baptism, we call upon the Lord and we are truly saved. The Spirit of truth has come and he will guide us all into the truth of the New Creation Jesus ushered in at his resurrection. Hear the Good News, Christ died for us and sent his Spirit to us that he might witness to our hearts.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, points us to the righteousness of Jesus, and, finally, convicts us of God’s loving judgement against all that is evil.
Spirit. Word. See.
“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” “Come, Holy Spirit, come.”
Let us pray:
Almighty God, on this day, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation: Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.