Spirit of Hope

+ A sermon for Pentecost Sunday (Year B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on May 23, 2021 +

Text: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27


If you worshiped with us last week, you may remember that I was leading worship from a different place than usual.
In this era of working from home and even worshiping from home, my husband Ryan and I decided that we would live into our fully vaccinated status and take a trip to Southern California.
And it was so great.
We spent time with family, visited with friends, and although Seattle actually had the better weather most of the time, we finally managed to soak in some sun by the pool.
But as great as that trip was, it also felt more than a little strange.
It was our first plane ride in more than a year and a half.
We ate inside a restaurant for the first time since the pandemic started.
And the day we arrived was also the day the CDC updated their mask advisory, leaving us confused where and when we needed to mask up.
But the strangest thing was how almost normal everything started to feel.
It’s not as if the last 14 months never happened—their mark on our human interactions and psyches is painfully clear—but it felt as if we might actually be turning a page.
A strange twinge of hope, of a light at the end of the tunnel.
That while the pandemic is certainly not over, especially in most of the world, our mask wearing, our physical distancing, our getting vaccinated was all finally paying off, combining their efforts to bring us into a more hopeful future.

Perhaps it’s that very mess of feelings, that sense of trepidation mixed with hope, that makes our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome speak to me this morning.
Every year on Pentecost Sunday, preachers try to describe or explain the Holy Spirit whose burning arrival we hear in our Acts reading.
But as vivid and wonderful as that story of Pentecost may be, Paul’s description of the Spirit is less fantastical and more…intimate.
Rather than recounting those tongues of fire and tongues of language, Paul tells us of an abiding presence among us, an assurance of God with us not only in extraordinary times, but in our groaning, our longing for a better world.
And wow, has there been a lot of groaning in the past year—am I right?
Groaning as the effects of the pandemic infiltrated our lives—isolating us from each other, changing how we worship together, threatening our jobs and livelihoods, and bringing so much illness and loss of life.
Groaning as we saw again the urgency of struggling for social justice—as the cries of Black Lives Matter rang out in our streets, as protests demanded reforms in policing, as we lamented the deaths of victims of injustice including George Floyd, the anniversary of whose murder we remember this week.
Groaning as we understood as a society that things aren’t what they should be, as we realize where we have fallen short, as we take stock of ourselves and see how far we are from God’s perfect vision for our common life together.
And that’s what I love about this passage from Romans, that we can be confident that in our groanings, the groanings that echo throughout the whole creation, the Spirit is with us translating our groans, our sighs, our cries of despair into the prayers God knows are on our hearts, prayers that we can’t even utter on our own.
But more than just God’s presence among us, Paul tells us that the Spirit gives us hope, hope for what we do not see, but that we long to see.
Hope that the world will finally be redeemed, that our lives will be restored, that the whole creation will finally reflect God’s love and justice and peace.
And as strange and perplexing as the last year has been, it’s that hope that keeps me going.

During our congregational council meeting at Holy Cross last week, one of our members offered a devotion that explored the difference between optimism and hope.
That while they may seem similar on the surface, the difference between the two is important.
Optimism, we heard, is the assumption that things will just get better on their own.
It ignores the pain of the present, plasters over the brokenness we are experiencing, and passively predicts that better days are ahead of us.
Hope, on the other hand, is something deeper.
Hope lingers with the pain, the groanings of our soul, but points to something more.
Hope gives us a vision of what is possible and inspires us to be past of the solution.
Hope does not assume it will be an easy road ahead but dares us to believe we can be a part of making that better world a reality.
And that’s why hope, Paul would tell us, is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a byproduct of God dwelling in our pains and longings and showing us what is possible if we partner with God and each other.
And in her presence among us, the Holy Spirit inspires us, works within us to transform those unspoken, unspeakable prayers into action that will bring hope for the life of the whole world.

So perhaps this Pentecost is not all that different than that Pentecost so long ago.
That day when the Apostles were shut in that upper room, caught up in the uncertain time after Christ’s departure from them and waiting for a sign of what’s next.
When they wondered what the future would even look like.
When they were afraid to even go outside, keenly aware of the danger and threat to their very lives.
It was into that room of uncertainty, those groanings of lament and fear, those longings for the world that is to come that the Holy Spirit rushed in like a wind and fire—kindling the flame of possibility, filling that huddled group with the hope, the promise of the Gospel of Jesus and stirring up within them the daring idea that they have a role to play in that good news.
And there’s a fierce urgency in the Spirit’s arrival, isn’t there?
An irresistible need to proclaim the good news.
I mean, we don’t even know how the apostles got from the safety of the upper room and into the chaos of the marketplace.
It almost gives us a sense that they were flung there, driven by the same wind that filled them with hope in the first place—pushed by the Holy Spirit into the unknown of the world that had been forever changed.
A world that perhaps had not truly changed when the Son of God was born in a Bethlehem stable.
A world that probably didn’t take note of fundamental shift found in some fantastical story of a crucified man being raised from the dead.
But a world that was primed and waiting for the spark of the Holy Spirit and the hope that she brings, ready to burst and ignite with a flame, with a message that would never be extinguished until every nation under heaven can hear the words they need to hear.
Until all people can experience the good news of God’s love for them.
Until the old world is burned away and we dare to build something new, together, for everyone, as the Spirit inspires us.
Because even as the Spirit drives the apostles out of safety and into the streets, it’s clear that she does not abandon them.
She goes out with them, filling them with abilities they didn’t even know they had so they could proclaim the good news in new ways, spreading the gospel of God’s love to the ends of the earth and giving birth to an international movement whose very mission is to make God’s promised future a reality.

On this Pentecost Sunday, it seems to me that we are caught on a page turn of sorts and maybe these two experiences of the Spirit are speaking to us in different ways.
Perhaps some of us are really leaning into her presence among us in our groans and inward sighs—perhaps we even groan at the ideas of crowds and marketplaces—and we’re just trying to hold onto the hope for what is to come.
Perhaps some of us are bursting out the doors to get into the marketplace, embracing each other and the new world God has in store for us.
Perhaps we’re somewhere in the middle, anxiously awaiting what will happen next.
But wherever you find yourself this morning, in the upper room, in the marketplace, in your dreaming of tomorrow, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is with you in that place—bringing comfort and prayer, inspiring dreams and visions, and daring to lead you into your role in the brighter future that is to come.
Because if there’s anything that has been made clear in the past year plus, it’s that things cannot go back to how they were before. Be it in access to health care, or how we interact with each other in society, or certainly in our Church.
The world has changed, even if we haven’t fully noticed the implications of that change.
All creation is primed for the spark of the Holy Spirit to burn away the old ways, the old systems, the old brokenness so we can work together to build something new.
A new world waiting to be born where all prejudice and racism and discrimination is wiped away, where all distinctions based on class or income become meaningless, where the whole creation can fully experience the world God intends for us and peace and justice and love reign forever.
And what we dare to believe on this Pentecost Sunday is that you, me, all of us have a part to play in making that hoped for future a reality.

So, as we wait, as we act, as we dream, we dare to say: “Amen. Come, Holy Spirit!”

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