Exposed by the Spirit — Saturday Sermons from the Sidelines

Read John 15:26-16:15

Which “flavor” of the Holy Spirit shall we taste on the Day of Pentecost, 2021? Will it be the Birthday Candle Spirit of Acts 2 with a tongue of flame on every apostolic head and a mandate to witness to the ends of the earth? Or will it be the “Lord and Giver of life” of Psalm 104 who brooded over the waters of Creation and stirs up the waters of our baptism? Perhaps you will experience the heart-searching Intercessor of Romans 8. Or you may go with the alternative text and feel with bone-rattling Wind of Ezekiel 37.

The one thing we dare not do, I think, is to toss all the texts into a theological blender and produce a Holy Spirit puree. As our friends at the “Sermon Brainwave” podcast remind us, the task is to preach the text and let the day get its due in the liturgy. By the way, have you made your contribution yet to workingpreacher.org during their May fundraiser?

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I find the Steadfast Spirit of John 16 to be the theological “flavor of the month” for 2021. In particular, I’m focusing on verses eight through eleven. When the promised Holy Spirit comes, that Spirit “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (NRSV).

The writer of the Fourth Gospel is the master of multiple meanings. Mark makes a good effort on occasion. Paul has his clever moments, especially when he uses a word that means both “justification” and “justice.” But when it comes to the dance of the double entendre, no one outdoes John, the Evangelist. We have a clear example in today’s text.

It’s the word “elegcho.” Yes, I routinely violate preaching rule about including Greek words in the message. So, what do you want for free anyway? The NRSV translates the word as “prove” in verse eight. That’s fine. The first listed meaning, however, is to “bring to light, expose, set forth.” So, the sense of “prove” has to do with presenting evidence previously unseen.

 The second definition is to “convince or convict someone” or to “point out something to someone.” Again, the word is about evidence uncovered. That leads to the third meaning, “to reprove or correct” and even the fourth meaning, to “punish or discipline” someone.

The Steadfast Spirit exposes the Truth.

That sounds like anything but good news to me. I hope I am not the only person who lives with memories of events and actions, large and small, that I hope others have forgotten. I hope others have forgotten the moments when I was a bully and a braggart. I hope people have lost track of the number of times I have been capricious and cruel. I hope people have let go of memories of my selfishness and stupidity.

Well, a person can hope, right? But even fading recollections don’t erase the facts of history. And there are no rose-colored glasses so thick as to wipe the realities of the past.

I think that the only people who live without regret and remorse are dead. Not only do I hope others don’t remember significant swaths of my past. I also work hard unconsciously to remember the past as a far better time than it perhaps actually was. I’m told that’s a natural function of aging. I’m grateful for that, but I know it’s just a survival skill, not a way to hide or change what’s come before.

The Steadfast Spirit exposes the Truth.

Yet, I know that this work of the Steadfast Spirit is necessary for the health of my spirit. In Lutheran terms, the Law must do its work before the Gospel can have its effect. Exposing my truth leaves me uncovered and without defense before God. There’s no more dismissal or denial, no more explaining and excusing, no more winking and nodding. I am revealed and convicted – not because God is vengeful, but because God is truthful.

That exposure, however, is the beginning of the story – not the end. In a few days, the Risen Lord and Messiah comes to the cowering crowd of disciples behind locked doors. He says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his wounds and breathes the Steadfast Spirit into their lives. The Spirit works through them to pass on the gifts of healing, forgiveness, and new life to all.

“All” includes me – just as I am, here and now. “All” includes you – just as you are, here and now. The Living Breath of Jesus blows through the Church to offer healing, forgiveness, and new life to all – and to keep offering as long as there is need.

The Steadfast Spirit exposes the Truth.

It should be clear from our text that this work is about more than my individual conscience and spiritual welfare. The Steadfast Spirit exposes the “world” (the Greek is “cosmos”) in terms of sin, justice, and judgment. The “world” doesn’t like exposure any more than I do.

History is all about remembering. What we remember as American “history” is hotly contested territory in this cultural moment. There is so much of that history we white Americans wish everyone would ignore and/or forget. I’d prefer, if I could get away with it, a lovely myth about my personal innocence, goodness, and courage. Many white Americans wish we could sustain the same kind of myth about our national story.

But we know that if wishes were Cadillacs, then beggars would drive. Myths may be comforting to some. But that comfort always costs others – sometimes their lives.

May is a challenging month for remembering the history of race in America. Well, who am I kidding? Every month is a challenging month for remembering the history of race in America. But since it’s May, that’s where I’ll focus.

May 31st is the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. For over eighteen hours, from May 31st to June 1st, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes, and businesses in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. This mostly-Black neighborhood was known as the “Black Wall Street,” among other titles. It was a place and a symbol of Black enterprise, effort, and success.

The white rampage was ostensibly in response to a report of a sexual assault by a black man on a white woman. Later, the charges against the man were dropped. The report led to a possible lynching at the courthouse. Some members of the Black community attempted to defend the courthouse, but they were met by an armed white mob that numbered well over a thousand men.

Shots were fired, and the defenders retreated to Greenwood. Rumors of a Black insurrection led to the full-scale assault on Greenwood. Well over a thousand private homes were looted and burned. Black-owned businesses were destroyed. Public buildings were demolished. As many as 300 Black residents may have been killed.

Despite efforts to rebuild, the neighborhood never recovered from the Massacre. Government and media cooperated to cover up the details of the Massacre for over fifty years. It was only in 2001 that the 1921 Race Riot Commission was established. In 2018, it was renamed the 1921 Race Massacre Commission.*

Efforts continue, however, both to expose the truth and to cover it up. This past Wednesday, three survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre testified before the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives. “They murdered people. We were told they just dumped the dead bodies into the river,” said Lessie Benningfield Randle, age 106. “I remember running outside of our house, I just passed dead bodies. It wasn’t a pretty sight,” Randle continued. “I still see it today in my mind, 100 years later.”**

The Steadfast Spirit exposes the Truth.

I think of the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in post-Apartheid South Africa in this regard. There is, as he wrote, “no future without forgiveness.” But he knew there is also no reconciliation without truth. And there is no repentance without repair. That’s true for me as a person, for the ELCA as a denomination, and for the United States as a nation.

It’s no accident that the testimony of the Tulsa survivors is happening in the context of a reparations lawsuit. Exposing the history may lead to an honest reckoning and meaningful repair. The jury is still out, as they say.

On the other hand, efforts to stuff history back in the hamper continue. There will be no going forward without a full reckoning of the January 6, 2021, insurrection. But the chances that will happen are decreasing by the day. Nicole Hannah Jones has been denied tenure at UNC because powerful people want the mythology of 1776 rather than the real history of 1619.

There is still a need to expose sin, work for justice, and demand judgment, before moving forward together. The Steadfast Spirit is working in and through those efforts.

The Steadfast Spirit exposes the Truth.

I can’t imagine you’ll hear a message like this in most white churches this weekend. I understand why. It’s just too hard in most places to handle the Truth. I doubt that I would have written in this way were I still serving in a parish. I’m not proud of my lack of courage, but it’s another piece of truth to be exposed.

But the Steadfast Spirit is working among us. And you may hear something like this in more white churches than before. That’s my hope and prayer for this Pentecost. Dear God, send us the Steadfast Spirit to expose our truth to your healing and transforming grace. Amen.

*See https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-massacre.

**See https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tulsa-race-massacre-survivors-testify-congress_n_60a52ea3e4b014bd0cb3bcd4?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Morning%20Email%2C%205/20/2021&utm_term=us-morning-email.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s