This is the great surprise of Pentecost: the Spirit is in you, in me, making us the body of Christ, to do the ministry of Christ in the world. It’s us now.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Day of Pentecost, year C
Texts: John 14:8-17, 25-26; Acts 2:1-21
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I think the Holy Spirit was a great big surprise for the disciples.
Not just what happened on Pentecost, though that must have been quite the eye-opener. And not what they saw in Jesus, either. In his first sermon in his hometown, Jesus declared the Holy Spirit was within him.
But on the night before his death, Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit, that God’s very Spirit that was in Jesus, would be in them. Would teach them, remind them of Jesus’ teachings, too.
I doubt they were expecting that at all. We forget, we read the Scriptures after the fact, and through the narrator’s eyes. We know from Acts that the Spirit who filled Jesus filled the disciples, sent the Church out into the world. The disciples couldn’t know all that. Nothing prepared them for the idea that the Holy Spirit would be God’s gift to them.
What those women and men did up till this was pretty common. They followed a teacher who spoke truth.
This was normal. A teacher would attract disciples by their teaching, and show them a way of living, reveal insights, help them understand their lives, and often God. Jesus drew these disciples to believe and follow. He showed God to them. So they focused their lives, their faith, their hopes, their dreams, on Jesus. When he was crucified and raised, they found new understandings, believed more than ever he was God as well as human.
What they didn’t realize was that Jesus was just the start. God’s plan now was to send the Spirit into them. God’s plan now was that they would do Jesus’ ministry. Be what Jesus was. Pentecost was the first evidence of this promise being fulfilled. It just exploded from there.
We, at least, should expect this. Today Jesus says something we’ve heard often: that we will, in our faith, and with the Spirit in us, do greater things than even Jesus did.
Let’s be clear, though. Jesus is talking about more than miracles.
We turn Jesus’ promise into an endless loop of conversation with little insight, talking about whether we can do healings like Jesus, and if we can’t, how can he promise greater things? We realize miracles happen every day in hospitals and clinics, that we see great things even our grandparents would call miraculous.
But if Jesus is only talking about miracles, how is it possible that we could do greater things than he? Even if we count modern medicine, even if we have stories of prayer ending someone’s disease, that’s not greater than Jesus, it’s exactly the same. Something else is promised here.
But what can we do that’s greater than Jesus himself?
Well, this surprising gift of the Spirit has made us into the body of Christ ourselves. Made you Christ. God’s anointed. Me, too. And billions more, all one body of Christ. Christ is no longer just one person who lived 2,000 years ago. Since God’s Spirit is poured out into you and me, into the world, Christ’s body is infinitely greater than just Jesus.
That means God can reach more people than Jesus did on earth, through the billions of Christs the Spirit has birthed over these 2,000 years. God can directly love more people in the flesh than Jesus did on earth, touch their lives, embrace them, feed them, heal them.
That means this body of Christ, born of the Spirit across this planet, can offer its life to the world with the same sacrificial, vulnerable love that God showed on the cross, and transform the world. This body, in such love, can dismantle systems of oppression and hatred, break down destructive patterns of racism and sexism, lead peaceful revolutions, alter the course of history, effect change that lets all God’s children live with the same rights and privileges, in peace and justice, well-fed and educated, productive and happy.
There’s nothing small about feeding thousands with two fish and five loaves. But what God can do in us, the body of Christ in the world, is so much greater, so much more transformative, so much more planetary, you can understand why Jesus says what he does.
Maybe we don’t expect this Spirit gift, either.
We can fall into a pattern of worshipping Christ Jesus and praying and focusing all our energy on what Jesus did long ago, and miss the very point of this Pentecost we now celebrate.
But the Spirit is wise, and patient, and has been working in you and in me all along, planting calls to serve, giving insights, making us into Christ’s body. You are being born into a new creation, ever more visibly a child of God, to be a part of these greater things God will do in this Body.
If Pentecost reveals anything, it’s that you are needed, you are anointed, and God’s Spirit is in you, giving birth to this Christ that we are called to be together in the world.
So don’t be surprised. Expect this. Be open to the Spirit’s moving. That’s when great things, amazing things, really start to happen.
In the name of Jesus. Amen