37The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
In the Oehler house, right beside the TV is a large basket, and in the basket are about 1007 blankets: Wool blankets, fleece blankets, cotton blankets, throws, shawls, small blankets, large blankets, covers, mantels, and bedspreads. They are neatly folded unto that moment when someone wants to be made comfortable on the couch while binging a Netflix series or watching a ball-game. The Oehlers love comforters, and today we recognize A COMFORTER, but not one from our blanket basket. Today is Pentecost, and we are reminded of the Holy Spirit, who has been described as one who brings COMFORT, or a COMFORTORER, but not everyone thinks that way.
Dave Lose is a Lutheran pastor who recently wrote that he thinks that the church as misnamed the Holy Spirit. The word Jesus uses in John’s Gospel is Paraclete, which we sometimes translate as “Advocate” and often translate as “Comforter.” It’s this second name in particular Rev. Lose is calling into question, as he just don’t think it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make us feel better – all the time.
Yes, I know, it’s not that simple. The Holy Spirit as Comforter eases our distress, encourages us, and comes to us in times of trouble to remind us of Jesus’ presence and promises. And it’s just that kind of comfort, I imagine, that is at the heart of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the Fourth Gospel. They were distressed, feeling orphaned and abandoned, and so needed that kind of comfort and advocacy.
Why, then, might the Holy Spirit be misnamed? Because everywhere we look in these familiar Pentecost texts, the Holy Spirit isn’t comforting anyone or anything but instead is shaking things up. Since we’ve already mentioned John, let’s start there: The Advocate comes to testify…and to prompt the testimony of the disciples. It’s Jesus’ testimony to the truth, of course, that got him in trouble in the first place, and the Holy Spirit comes to prompt the disciples to make the same disturbing, disruptive, and world-changing testimony that calls into question the values of the world.
Romans is pretty much the same. The Spirit doesn’t take away our problems or make all things right. Rather, the Spirit instead helps us name the inward hopes, desires, and longings that attend anyone who is waiting for God’s redemption. The pain of creation can seem so great and the coming of God’s redemption so far away that the Spirit intervenes, interrupts, and intercedes by giving voice to our deepest needs.
And in our text for today from the Acts of the Apostles, it’s even more pronounced. I mean, there’s nothing particularly comforting about the rush of a “violent wind,” let alone descending tongues of flame. And once the disciples take their new multi-lingual ability into the streets of Jerusalem, pretty much everyone who witnesses their activity is described as “bewildered,” “amazed” and “astonished.” Again, the Spirit didn’t comfort anyone but instead prompted the disciples to make a very public scene with the troubling good news that the person the crowds had put to death was alive through the power of God.
Do you see what I mean? The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter. Do we have a word or phrase at our disposal, I wonder, that can capture all these dimensions of the work of the Holy Spirit? Actually, I think we do, and its Paraclete!
Okay, so if you’re a tad confused, I sympathize. After all, didn’t I start by calling into question the word Paraclete as adequate? Well, not exactly; actually, my complaint was about our tendency to translate Paraclete as “Comforter” and then to reduce the work of the Holy Spirit to making us feel better.
But Paraclete is a compound Greek work that literally means, “to come alongside another.” In this sense, the Paraclete can be an advocate – to come along side to defend and counsel – or comforter – to come along side to provide comfort and encouragement. But the one who comes along side might also do so to strengthen you for work, or to muster your courage, or to prompt or even provoke you to action. Which is why I think the Paraclete as the one who comes along side of us to encourage and equip us for the task of ministry is such a perfect name for the Holy Spirit.
But take note, as in the readings today, so also in our world: if we heed the word and work of the coming-along-side Holy Spirit, we will inevitably be pushed beyond what we imagine and end up stirring things up. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so!
As far as I can tell, nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus command us to go out and build churches, take care of old buildings, and devote yourself to crumbling institutions. No, Jesus says “go and make disciples” and “when you care for the least of these you are caring for me” and “love one another as I have loved you.” And this kind of work is inherently disruptive, difficult, and at times even dangerous. And so Jesus sends the Paraclete, the one who comes along side us to encourage, equip, strengthen, provoke and, yes, at times to comfort us so that we can get out there and do it all again.
So perhaps this Pentecost, it’s time to shake things up by reminding all of us that we are all part of a “mutual ministry committee” – and that doesn’t mean having the pastor over for coffeecake or sitting around with our friends! Instead, we have been joined by our Baptism into a community of faith that look for – and expect! – the Holy Spirit to come along side us and shake things up, preparing and equipping each and all of us to share the disruptive, surprising, and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people enjoy abundant life!!!
Commentary provided by Sandra Hack Polaski, Stephanie M. Crumpton, David Lose, Margaret Aymer, Doug Bratt and RevGalPalBlog.