Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
9 June 2019 + Day of Pentecost
John 14.8-17, 25-27; Acts 2.1-21
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
Where have I seen this before?
This looks so familiar…
Questions I found myself asking as I perused the website for Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska — with its characteristic bright green and blue background and its signature logo: an outline of the Christian fish symbol with the world “THINK” inscribed inside of it and shaded with all the colors of the rainbow.
I was waiting in line at the TSA checkpoint in Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, on my way back to Chicago to begin the second semester of my second year of seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I had just gotten an email from the seminary field education office, with the paperwork of a prospective internship congregation attached. Reading through the paperwork, I thought nothing special of it, at first. Scrolling through the website, the wheels began to turn… This looks familiar. Where have I seen this before?
A little googling later and I remembered: About two years earlier, I was sitting in a classroom in Chicago for my first ever seminary class — The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. — and we just finished watching the documentary A Time for Burning about an all-white Lutheran congregation in the mid-1960s, struggling to come to terms with the idea of doing ministry with a nearby all-black Lutheran congregation… in, you guessed it, Omaha, Nebraska. Wondering what the congregation was like now — closed even? — I took to Google… and there was the bright green and blue background, the rainbow THINK fish, even the Reconciling in Christ logo, proclaiming Augustana’s welcome to people of all ages, classes, colors, ethnic origins, sexual orientations, gender identities, and abilities. Needless to say, the congregation had changed a lot since A Time for Burning was filmed.
And there I was, two years later, standing in the TSA checkpoint line, reading the paperwork for the very same congregation that would ultimately become my internship placement. It was a moment that felt like more than just a coincidence. Serendipitous, I like to say. It’s hard to say what exactly the Holy Spirit is, but in moments like this, I’m certain the Spirit exists and is up to something. These are moments that make you scratch your head and wonder: Where have I seen this before?
Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit on this feast day of Pentecost — an ancient Jewish harvest and religious festival that took on a distinctive Christian flavor after the events that unfold in Acts 2. It’s a familiar story to all of us. We hear it every year. It’s not difficult to answer the question: Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah, last year, and literally every year before that.
This year, though, I’m more attracted to John’s Holy Spirit. The Advocate, he calls it. A word that might conjure up images of a courtroom — imagining the Holy Spirit as a lawyer or legal advocate. Or more broadly, just as one who advocates for someone, who stands up for them, accompanies them, walks with them. I love that image for the Holy Spirit. It’s a lot more tangible and concrete than wind and fire. It even lends itself to seeing the people in our lives who have nurtured and formed us as instruments of the Holy Spirit: parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, friends, spouses…
But there’s another quality to John’s Holy Spirit too: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is also the Holy Reminder-er. The one who shows up not to show us something new but to remind us of something that has always been. The one who makes us ask, “Where have I seen or heard this before?”
It makes me wonder… Years later, long after Jesus was gone, long after life had returned to “normal” for the disciples, did they ever pause whenever they were at a wedding feast and handed a glass of wine? Did they remember him and what signs and miracles he was capable of?
Or at a family dinner… the smell of fish filling the room and the crumbly feel of the soft, warm bread in their hands… Did they think of that day when they fed so many people with so little food that it all seemed impossible?
Or whenever they would return to the temple to pray or offer ritual sacrifices… among the clamor and chatter of the worshippers and priests… Could they still hear the echo of the crash of the tables he overturned in holy anger at the way his Father’s house had been turned into a marketplace?
Or when bathing… with the feel of the cool water against their skin washing away the dirt and grime… Could they still see how he knelt down to wash their blistered and calloused feet and hear the new commandment of love that he gave them?
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit… will remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The disciples had experienced so much with Jesus: from being called away from their ordinary, everyday lives into something extraordinary, to follow the Word-Made-Flesh and be invited into a community of friendship so radically different than anything they had ever known. They had seen miracles of abundance: of water turned into the best wine, of bread and fish enough to feed thousands, of healings and teachings that testified to God’s deep, abiding love for God’s people, a yearning to be in relationship with them, to walk with them, to accompany them, to be with them, to advocate for them, to be their Advocate.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit… will remind you of all that I have said to you.”
This is the promise and the presence of Jesus for his disciples for when Jesus is no longer among them physically. This is the promise and the presence of Jesus for us.
Whether it’s the celebration of a wedding, the taste of the best wine, the smell of grilled fish, the feel of crumbly bread, the clamor of temple activity, or the refreshment of cool water: All of these seemingly normal, everyday things became reminders of something more. Reminders of what God can do with ordinary things.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Alice’s Garden on the north side of Milwaukee for a guided labyrinth walk. When our group had reached the center of the labyrinth, one of the women remarked how the feel of the wind against her face is so renewing. Wind… another appropriate symbol for the Holy Spirit this Pentecost Day. Another way the ordinary reminds us of the sacred.
Sense memories have great power to awaken a feeling of nostalgia in us: the visual sight of a church webpage that you’ve seen before, or the sound of a familiar song that you danced to at your high school prom or wedding, or the smell of fresh-baked cookies that mom swears are her special recipe and definitely not the recipe off the back of a bag of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips. Sense memories remind us not necessarily of something completely new but of something that already exists. That’s the whole point of a memory. We have seen this, heard this, experienced this before. This is familiar.
John’s Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is like that: The Holy Reminder-er. The one who points us back to the love of God that hovered over the waters at creation, that led God’s people out of slavery and exile, that came among us as Jesus of Nazareth. The one who holds us still today in the love of God and carries us in that love into the future, even when we don’t feel it and especially when we most need it.
Today, and every Sunday, we get to experience another sense memory. When we take the wafer in our hands and taste the sweetness of the wine or juice, we remember and experience the love of God given and poured out for us. The love that always has been, that is now, and that always will be.
In this sacred meal. But more: in the ordinary moments of our lives, too. Take time to pay attention to your body and those around you — to what we see, and hear, and feel, and taste, and smell.
Maybe God the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Holy Reminder-er, is trying to tell us something.