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An Invitation to Trouble

This week I am inviting you to experience trouble. Some of you may already be about to stop reading but I hope you will press on.

You see this week is Pentecost and at Pentecost we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit being given to both the church and to us. This spirit somehow connects us to God in very real yet profoundly mystical ways.

And while Sunday I plan to explore some of what that means for us, I can guarantee that with the gift of the Spirit comes trouble. Sometimes with a capital T.

Now this is not something we like to consider. We think of the Holy Spirit as a source of power and comfort and a guide. In fact, in my office I have a painting (that I painted) of the fruits of the spirit mentioned in Galatians—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I think each of these is true. I also find the Spirit to be a source of strength and comfort, but the Spirit is also a source of trouble… because if you really are connected to the Spirit you may be led to some difficult places where you may need each of those gifts.

Yes, it is true that when we are connected by the power of the Holy Spirit into a relationship with Christ, there is a peace that passes all understanding. But those joined to Christ are also called to serve the world by sharing our lives through sacrificial love—and that can get us into trouble. Because the world doesn’t like us to reach out with love to the marginalized—those it considers untouchable.

I have always found it interesting that the first thing the Spirit does after descending upon Jesus in his baptism is to drive him out into the desert for a frightening encounter with the devil. Jesus has just done exactly what he was asked to do. Then the clouds open and the Spirit descends and after declaring that God is proud of him, the Spirit rewards Jesus by sending Him out to a time of fasting.

Now in our world we do something good and immediately celebrate with food! This entire encounter at the baptism of Jesus seems so counterintuitive…at least to what I would expect!

And more than just a time of fasting, Jesus is sent to the wilderness. Of course, this is a place traditionally identified with temptation and trial. So perhaps we should be careful about only associating the Holy Spirit with power, strength and comfort. As I once read, the “Spirit brings us to where the pain is.”

Thus, it is clear the fruits of the spirit will certainly be needed in times of trouble and struggle. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all needed in times of trouble.

And trouble will come. In fact, that Spirit not only drove Jesus to the desert; it also propelled him on a ministry that would eventually lead to a cross. But it also leads Him to victory over the grave and it will lead us to a life where we are indeed connected with God and the hope and joy that such a relationship brings.

And this relationship allows us to proclaim:

We trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life. The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church. The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the church. In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen. *

*From A Brief Statement of Faith of the PCUSA

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