When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all in one place. The Holy Spirit descended upon them and remained with them. Filled with the Spirit, the disciples began speaking in different languages. These words were not a spiritual language of indiscernible sounds in need of interpretation; conversely the Spirit was speaking to the crowd through the disciples in particular languages that could be understood. The Holy Spirit is our guide, our Advocate, our teacher; therefore when the Spirit is speaking, God’s words seem quite clear. When the Spirit speaks, it doesn’t mean that things will be easy or safe or predictable, in fact things might become muddy and difficult when the Spirit leads you into the Wilderness with Christ. When the Spirit speaks, God’s will, God’s radical grace and love is clearly revealed, and the Spirit guides us while we carry the cross on that wonderful journey.
Pentecost is the Jewish celebration remembering the day the Lord gave the Law to Moses. The disciples were all in one place celebrating the giving of the Law, when the Spirit of God interrupted with the sound like the rush of a violent wind, a heavy and burdened wind carrying something new. The Law is God’s will revealed, the boundary lines for what it means to be God’s chosen people. Boundaries are helpful. They tell us where and where not to go. Boundaries provide structure and contribute to identity. Boundaries actually make life much more fun. Think of your favorite sport. Imagine going to a football game and there are no yard markers or end zones or referees, just a group of men and women tackling each other. It would be chaos. The boundaries and rules give the game structure, making the game much more fun to play.
Not only is today Pentecost, but we gather together today to celebrate Confirmation. For an entire year our eighth grade class has been studying scripture, wrestling with faith, remembering the United Methodist Tradition, and growing in discipleship. The final exercise in confirmation is for the class to develop a creed, a statement of faith according to the way in which they are hearing the voice of God. Here is what the confirmation class has decided the boundaries are, so to speak:
We believe God is always present, though at times God seems silent.
We believe God is loving and easy to talk to.
We believe Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins, and is risen for our life.
We believe the Holy Spirit is constantly present, working with us and through us.
We believe humans are created equally by God.
All humans have sinned and all are forgiven
We believe the Bible is God’s word, eternal and sacred.
We believe the Church is a holy place and should be a place of peace and comfort.
We believe that being a disciple of Jesus is following God’s words, leading others in service and love
However, only having yard markers and goal posts miss the point. Now imagine your favorite sport with boundary lines and referees, but no coach. Imagine a team with no leadership, no one to lead practice, on one to call plays. Imagine that your favorite team had to make it up as they went along. The game isn’t as chaotic before without the boundaries, but it certainly doesn’t look like any discernable game. Some would argue that a team without a coach isn’t really a team at all. You see, boundaries are helpful in discerning where the field of play is, but boundaries don’t offer any guidance as to what you are supposed to do on the field itself.
The disciples have gathered to celebrate the Law, and then the Spirit, the guide, the Advocate, the teacher, interrupts and shakes things up. Our confirmation class creed is not the ending of their faith journey. It sounds cliché, but this is the beginning. It’s not only Confirmation Sunday, it’s Pentecost Sunday! Now that the boundaries are set, now is the time to allow the Spirit to flourish and guide and move. “We believe God is always present, though at times God seems silent.” The Spirit guides us through the silent times. The Spirit strengthens our faith to know that silence is not God’s final word, and that silence is, most of the time, God giving us a chance to talk. “We believe that Jesus rose to give us life.” The Spirit shows us how to live that life of radical grace and hospitality. “We believe that humans are created equally.” What does equality mean? “All humans have sinned and are forgiven.” The Holy Spirit is the vehicle through which grace is shared and received. “We believe the Bible is God’s word, eternal and sacred.” The Holy Spirit is God’s presence which allows us to make sense of the sacred texts. “We believe the Church is a holy place and should be a place of peace and comfort.” The activity of the Holy Spirit is the energy and the drive to change “should be a place and comfort,” to “is a place of peace and comfort.” “We believe that being a disciple of Jesus is following God’s words, leading others in service and love.” It is the Holy Spirit that guides us on that journey of following in The Way.
This is the difference between the Law and the Spirit—the Law is the boundaries—the Spirit is the game itself. The Apostle Paul talked about how the Law did not have the ability to save, though the Law was good and holy and true. It sounds counterintuitive. The Law prescribes that you make a sacrifice at the Temple, that you eat kosher foods, that you care for the poor, that you love your neighbor as yourself. This is good and right! Here’s the thing, even though these actions are good and right, humanity is still performing the action. In other words, humanity is still the gas driving the car. Humanity cannot achieve salvation. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, allows Christ to be living within us. With the Holy Spirit, humanity is no longer the diving force; rather it is Christ living within us navigating our lives. The Christ in me serves the Christ in you. As Paul says in Romans, because Christ died, we will die, and because Christ was raised, we too will be raised because Christ is living within us. You see, the gift of the Holy Spirit is allowing Christ to dwell with us, and this is something that the Law cannot and never will do. The Law offers the boundaries, but the Spirit allows Christ to be living with us, allowing us to play the game we call life everlasting.
These Confirmands have learned the boundaries well. They have written their own. Now they come here today to affirm their baptism and begin living into their faith, allowing the Christ present within them by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be their new life. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.