This past Lord’s Day (May 11) was Pentecost Sunday. For many it passed with little or no recognition of this great truth of our Christian faith. But for me, and the congregation of First Reformed Church in South Holland (where I am preaching regularly until the new pastor is installed on June 15,) it was a great day to worship God the Holy Spirit in the fullness of joy.
I preached from the Lectionary and thus the Gospel text was John 20:19-23. This text seems not to be appropriate to the feast of Pentecost since the events presented here happened on Easter eve. But it actually fits perfectly with John’s great theme of “sentness.” This is connected to the Spirit’s power coming upon the disciples (corporately) in order to give witness to Christ and thus to speak with authority and power. This is John’s emphasis here without doubt. I think we sometimes get caught in a bind of trying to create a “harmony” of the four Gospels that defies the actual intention of the human authors and the Spirit himself. This is such a case in how we handle John 20:19-23. While Luke follows a rather chronological development in Luke–Acts the John does not do this fourth Gospel. The problem of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit before Pentecost here is really no problem at all unless your reading of Scripture has to flatten everything to make it fit into your tiny grid.
The central emphasis here is clearly that the Spirit creates joy and peace in these disciples and then grants them authority and responsibility. And the promise to forgive or not forgive sins is not singular but corporate if this text is read canonically and correctly.
F. F. Bruce rightly wrote that “Post-resurrection there is not a note of hopeless sorrow in the New Testament.” Amen!
As I was leaving on Sunday the person who prepares the music and works with me on the liturgy of the worship at engaged me briefly on the way out the door. Laurie noted that if I saw her smile at times, especially during my sermons, it was her way of saying “I am amazed at how this all fits together at times. It just has to be God doing it.” I agreed with her. I believe we should plan a service of worship and that it should have common biblical elements in it; e.g., approach to God, confession of sin, pronouncement of forgiveness, greeting of one another, confession of the creed, worshiping God with our gifts, the sacraments, the proclamation of the Word of God, etc. When good preparation is united with the Spirit’s active work then we welcome God into our worship. When this happens there will be moments when we realize: “God is doing this!”
I said to Laurie, “At this stage of my life I work harder on preparing the preacher than the sermon. I have a good idea about how to preach most texts. I have few notes at all when I preach. I move from point A to point B to point C and then to the finish line but I am willing to wander here and there and pick up strands and free flowing thoughts as I go along. I can do this since I do not follow a manuscript. I said to her that by this means: “ I can hear the music, sing the words, enter into all the prayers and the precise moment of what is happening and then pray, ‘God speak through me as your servant and it just seems to happen.’” I believe this is the ideal way to preach. Young ministers will find this hard to do but they should strive for it. Preaching is not about a great script but about a great God speaking a great word to his people through a very weak human person who is entirely dependent upon him. What a great work preaching really is for those called to do it.