As we said on Ascension Day, the season of Easter is a time for delving deeper into the meaning of God’s salvific, or redemptive work done on our behalf. Early on Easter morning, while it was still dark, Jesus rises from death to life again, once and for all unveiling the devil’s lie for what it is, dispelling the myth that death is something God doesn’t command. At the Ascension, we come to understand and appreciate more fully that just as Christ Jesus came down from heaven for our sake in the incarnation, just as he lived among us and died like us in the fullness of his humanity, he likewise goes back to heaven for our sake. He brought his divinity down from heaven for us and for salvation in the incarnation, and he takes his humanity back to heaven for us and for our salvation at his exaltation. And yet, on Ascension, I told you that Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost are best understood and appreciated together, just like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are only truly fully grasped when experienced together.
So how does Pentecost fit into this mix? Wouldn’t it seem that on Ascension, God’s work is done? Not so fast. This day of Pentecost falls roughly around the same time that Jewish people celebrate God’s gift of the law given through Moses at Sinai. That law was given to the Hebrews after their deliverance from captivity in Egypt and their wandering to Mt. Horeb. This law charged the Hebrews with a way to live, a way to conduct their lives. It set before them a guide for life, how to live such that they would distinguish themselves from the other tribes and peoples around them. In a similar-yet-different way, Pentecost is a time that God comes among us as he did at Sinai. Yes—there was fire at Sinai and there’s fire at Pentecost, and that connection isn’t lost this day, but it goes deeper than that.
On this day, God makes a new promise with us as he made a new covenant with the Hebrews thousands and thousands of years earlier. This promise is not one bound by legal obligation but is instead marked by the joy that comes from knowing that God in Christ has freed us from everything and all things that hold us back from full and abundant life. And so on this Pentecost day, we’re left asking ourselves—“What does this freedom mean for us?” What is this new gift? Through the law, a blessed blessing from God to his people, comes the knowledge of sin. And yet, we who have been baptized into Jesus are no longer subject to sin, but live to God. What does it all mean? Consider that as we go into the sermon today—deep questions, but questions that go to the very heart of our lives of discipleship and our calling as Christians.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When I was in elementary school, there were kids who got to leave class and go to a special program while the rest of remained behind and did the “regular” classwork. These kids were the “gifted children.” They got to do all sorts of fun things. In retrospect, I can now tell you that what they were doing was more games. They did problemsolving exercises. For example, they might be given a set of items—say, a marble, twelve popsicle sticks, three Q-tips, and a yard of masking tape and a yard of string—and they’d have to figure out how move the marble from one particular point to another point.
The gifted children were called out of class for several hours one afternoon during the week to do these further enrichment exercises. We who remained behind for regular class, at least some of us, myself among them, envied the gifted children. Not just because they got to leave regular class and do something “fun,” but also because they were gifted. They were talented. Bright. Top-notch. Everyone knew they were smart, while the rest of us, although we might not be dumb, weren’t quite that good. We weren’t “gifted.” We didn’t possess the innate aptitude that these other kids had, so the subliminal message, at any rate, and so we didn’t get to participate in the gifted program—no matter how much it might have benefited us.
In our opening hymn, we sang “Come, Holy Ghost,…thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.” Getting past the Shakespearean English, what we’re doing in the opening line of this hymn is praying the Holy Spirit to come to us and give us her “sevenfold gifts.” The opening introit today, for this festival day, blest day to be hallowed forever—that introit also calls out these seven gifts, calling them “offerings”—“Forth from the Father she comes with sevenfold mystical offering; pouring on all the earth infinite riches of God.” On this day, we implore the Holy Spirit to come among us and kindle within us the love of her fire and awaken in us her sevenfold gifts. But what, pray tell, are these gifts? What are we talking about?
In the gospel text for today, Jesus tells us, “When the Spirit of truth”—that is, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit—“When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus says, “she will guide you into all the truth.” It would seem the Spirit most definitely is doing something, doing something for us, according to Jesus, but it’s about truth—not about imparting gifts. Or is it? What if the Spirit’s guiding us in truth are her gifts to us—like the law at Sinai was simultaneously God’s gift and guide for the Hebrew people?
We’re all pretty well acquainted with St. Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, but there’s more than seven of those listed there, and several of those that he lists are vague in what they mean. In general, Paul is instructing the Galatians to rely not on their own understanding or strength, on their own actions or merits, to live a life pleasing to God, but rather to rely on the same Spirit that raised Jesus from death again, the same Spirit that binds us to Christ in death and resurrection through the waters of baptism.
The fruits of the Spirit are most definitely markers of a disciple of Jesus, baptized with him, died and raised again to newness of life in him—but they’re not the gifts that the Spirit imparts. They are the fruit, the product, the outcome from the indwelling of the Spirit, and most importantly the bountiful working of the gifts of the Spirit. So, what are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? What is the truth that she’ll lead us in that Jesus promises us will happen when she come?
We need look no further than what the prophets have said about Jesus himself—most specifically the prophet Isaiah, who centuries before Jesus’ birth foretold what will distinguish the Messiah from the rest of God’s servants. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,” Isaiah tells us, and “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon the anointed one of God—that’s what Messiah, what Christ, that’s what it means, “anointed one.” The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon the one anointed by God.
And what is the anointed to do? Again from Isaiah—“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; the Spirit has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; and to comfort all who mourn.” We know this all very well. The mission that Christ came fulfilling—preaching good news to the poor, healing the sick, making the crippled to walk again, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see. Destroying death and setting the world back onto a path toward peace again, the peace of God that passes all understanding, the shalom of God’s good design for life.
These are the gifts of the Spirit. Gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. And these are the gifts that we who have been baptized into Christ also possess. For the same Spirit that raised him from death to newness of life again—that same Spirit has sealed us with the holy anointing of the Lord. Just as the heavens were ripped open and the Spirit of God fell on Jesus, as God declared for all to hear, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased,” so too does God claim us as his own children in the waters of baptism, anoint us with the Holy Spirit and declare, for all to hear, “You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In baptism, the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts and she fills us with her gifts. The gift of a united mind and heart, a person of integrity with ourselves. The gift of meaningfulness in the grand design of God’s creation—who we are and who God is and where we all fit into it. The gift of discernment in the face of difficulty and the conviction to trust God’s mercy when we fall short despite our best intentions. The gift of strength in the face of adversity or challenge—the wherewithal to withstand nagging skepticism or hesitation about what we believe is good. The gift of a more and more profound appreciation, through delving deeper into God’s very own Word, for the will and design of abundant life that God has for us, for all people, and for all creation. The gift of thankfulness, borne out of humility and trust, to recognize that whatever we do, is done not for our own sake, but for the greater glory of God’s desire to bring all things into fuller communion with himself. The gift of wonder and awe at what God has done for us, continues to do for us, and promises yet to do for us—and not only for us, but in, with, and through us by the same working of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of all creation, from the tiniest quarks in this room to galaxies light millennia away.
These gifts are poured into us. They rest upon us, as they rested upon Jesus. For we who have been baptized into him, who have been united in death and resurrection with him, are also most certainty united in duty with him. As Christ was empowered by the Holy Spirit for the sake of reconciling us with God our Father, so too are we gifted with the Spirit’s sevenfold gifts for loving and serving creation to the greater of glory of God. As the Father sent Christ, so Christ now sends us—to love and serve the world that God so loved to come among us and be with us.
And so, we are gifted—gifted by the Holy Spirit. We are gifted children of God, beloved, and God is well pleased with us. In Christ, God has reconciled us to himself. He has claimed us in baptism, buried us in death with Christ and raised us again to new life—not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the world we find ourselves in. The Holy Spirit empowers us, inspires us—literally breathes life into our dusty, dry bones—and lights a fire under us to go out and do the work that God is calling us to do. God’s work is not done because the whole world is out there before us, desperately longing for peace. And we are called out into the world to live as gifted children of God—gifted to give as has been given to us. To show compassion, to extend mercy, to bring peace, to share love.
The problems we face—we’ve been equipped to solve them by God herself. The Holy Spirit has given us her sevenfold gifts to live as Jesus’ disciples. God’s work is now our work, and the Holy Spirit impels us to go do it, to face the challenge. We are gifted children of God, filled with the Holy Spirit for a holy, sacred mission—the mission of sharing God’s creative and redeeming love wherever we are, with whomever we encounter, whenever it happens. We’re no incompetent, inept, inferior lot of dunces. No—we’re gifted children of God, beloved, and charged to love as we have been loved.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.