Lectionary blog for May 20
Pentecost Sunday
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34; 35b;
Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today is a day that the church sets aside to pay particular attention to the work of the Holy Spirit. And truth be told, most of us are probably kind of hoping that today will satisfy the Spirit’s need for attention for another year.

When I was ordained, the preacher said to the relatively large group being set apart that day; “Sisters and brothers in Christ, I am afraid I must tell you that, if you stay in the ministry long, the Holy Spirit will lead you somewhere you do not wish to go. If you wanted to go there, the Holy Spirit would not be necessary.” I found that to be a very frightening thought.

In the first years of my ministry, I went on a retreat in the mountains of southwest Virginia. I have never forgotten something the minister leading the retreat said one evening, “We are afraid of the Holy Spirit in the mainline church. Listen to the way we baptize; in loud, clear tones we say, ‘I baptize you in the name of the FATHER, and the SON,’ then we almost whisper, ‘and the Holy Spirit.'”

Given the Scripture lessons we read today, this reticence and fear is totally understandable. A visit from the Holy Spirit is likely to be at least unsettling, if not downright scary.

In Ezekiel, we have a Halloween scenario of dry bones coming together as a skeleton, being fleshed out with sinews and muscles, then filled with breath and life. It’s more like a scene from a Tim Burton movie than a page of Holy Writ.

Given the Scripture lessons we read today, this reticence and fear is totally understandable. A visit from the Holy Spirit is likely to be at least unsettling, if not downright scary.

In the John’s Gospel, Jesus appears to be trying to assure his followers by telling them that a ghost, a specter, an amorphous presence will come to them after he is gone. If I had been them, already unsure what he meant when he talked about leaving, and dying and going to the Father, all this talk of an Advocate, and a Sprit of Truth would have given me the “hibbie jibbies.”

And the lesson from Acts? My goodness, the disciples are in their room, minding their own business, not bothering anybody, and then—the Holy Spirit comes in and “busts up the meeting.” Tongues of fire, everybody talking at once in different languages, getting thrown out into the street, being expected to talk to complete strangers, and not only that, talk to complete strangers about Jesus? It’s, it’s, it’s disturbing. I mean, all that guitar music at the contemporary service is one thing—I got used to that—but this too much. I think once a year is plenty of attention to be paid to something as uncontrollable and upsetting as this Holy Spirit business.

And that is a perfectly reasonable response for people who are perfectly satisfied with the way things are, for whom religion is a matter of paying appropriate attention to God and God’s way, at least once a week before going about one’s ordinary daily business of living. For such folk, the unpredictable power and influence of the Holy Spirit is more of an annoyance than a help.

And, here’s a word to comfort to these people—don’t worry about it! Most of the time, the Holy Spirit leaves such folk alone. With that attitude, if you don’t bother God, God is unlikely to bother you. But if things are not working out so well for you in life, or if you are aware that things are not working out so well for others—well the promise of the Spirit becomes the promise of hope, the promise of life, the promise that God is with us always.

Ezekiel spoke at a time when Israel was near death as a nation, as a people. The word Ezekiel got from the Lord was not a word intended to disturb a satisfied people. It was a word aimed at people who needed to know that in the midst of their distress and sorrow God was still God, and they were still beloved, and they still had a future.

Jesus was talking to a confused and frightened group of followers. They had left all to get on the gospel train. And now it appeared the train was running off the track. What was going to happen to them when Jesus was no more? Jesus’ words about the Advocate, the Sprit of Truth, were a promise that when he was gone God would still be with them.

And in Acts, the Spirit comes upon a group of folks who just can’t seem to get moving, can’t get their gospel act together. Over and over again, they’ve been told things like, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47), and “I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18), and “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Yet, after all that “going,” and “proclaiming” and “sending” to the ends of the earth, here they sit, huddled in a room, waiting for the promised Spirit—still frightened, still wondering, still unsure of themselves and God. And the promised Holy Spirit came upon them, not only giving them a jump-start on their mission and ministry plan but also making it very clear to them that they were not alone, that God was very much with them, that the Holy One was leading them into God’s future.

And here we sit, in our room, waiting—for God knows what. And the question is: Are we satisfied with the way things are? In our lives, in our world, in our church? If so, the Holy Spirit is very likely to leave us alone. We can safely read these lessons and say a few kind words about spirituality and be safe for another year.

But if we are aching and yearning for something more, if we look upon our lives and upon our world and upon our church with a combination of fear and hope, fearing that things won’t get better and hoping in our heart of hearts that they will, then we had best watch out. It is entirely likely that the Holy Spirit will soon burst upon us, leading us somewhere we did not know we wanted to go.

Amen and amen.

Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

Read more about: