What We’ve Been Waiting For

Acts 2, John 20 

It’s graduation season. Like many of you, two weeks ago I attended my son’s college graduation in Indiana. In the baccalaureate service and commencement ceremony we heard the usual things: congratulations on a job well done; stories of growth and achievement; encouragement for graduates to take on the challenges life has to offer. 


But it wasn’t until one of the student speakers stood up that we heard what we had been waiting for. Lemuel Jeremiah Cartman was graduating with a BS Healthcare Leadership. One of 15 kids in his family, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, he came to college wanting to gain knowledge and experience so he could make a difference. He got involved in peer mentoring and volunteered in a service fraternity; he helped lead a students-of-color organization on campus.  Lem was graduating with honors, and his extracurricular commitment was impressive. 


The heart of what Lem wanted to share was a mission trip to Costa Rica. He was there to help train local leaders based on his own work in leadership development. But while he was there, he was invited to talk with community members about living with trauma. Now, Lem had grown up with multiple traumas – violence, disinvestment from his neighborhood, racism. His family, however, provided a place of love and support and showed Lem the healing power of community. Lem wasn’t sure his US city experience would translate – after all, the folks in this small Costa Rican barrio experienced poverty and gang violence at a level he had never seen – but he as he sat down with them and shared his own experience, he saw them open up. “You understand what we have seen, and you have overcome your circumstances,” one man said. “You give us inspiration.”   


Inspiration. I think that’s what the disciples were waiting for in our lesson recounted in Acts, on the day of Pentecost. Jesus had been with his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection, appearing to them at odd times, encouraging them, and teaching them. Though he was not with them as their rabbi anymore, he continued to open the scriptures to them and teach them what they needed to know.   


And then Jesus ascended to heaven. No more appearances to the disciples anymore. And 10 days of waiting. Jesus had left with the words, “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” and, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”   


I wonder what it was like to the disciples in that interim period – after Jesus ascended, and before Pentecost. Like a graduate who has yet to land “the next thing,” everyone would be asking: Where are you headed next? What are you planning to do? The disciples would have had very few answers.   


And so I imagine the disciples craving inspiration — inspiration on where to go and what to do. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit, to stay put until God acted. It couldn’t have been easy.   


But maybe we all have a pent-up desire for inspiration. There’s a lot of workaday humdrum in life…but what about those times when you actually are excited to begin another day? What if we could live each day inspired with direction and purpose? 

What if we actually had the audacity to believe that what we do has lasting consequences, that God actually works among us and through us? What if we lived as if God has seen fit to give useful and beautiful gifts, appropriate to this moment, and that each person has a part to play in this divine drama called life? We long for inspiration to point us toward the hope that together we can do whatever God calls us to do. 


If this inspiration is what the Holy Spirit brings, it’s worth waiting for. 


Inspiration is what the people of God have always waited for. It’s why the Bible opens in Genesis with the Spirit hovering the face of the earth and God creating human beings by breathing into their nostrils the breath of life: “inspiration,” “respiration,” and “wind” all have the same Hebrew root. 


It’s why the prophet Ezekiel in a time of terrible crisis imagined the people of Israel as a lifeless army, standing awaiting the Spirit to come from the four winds and the breath of life to animate them. 


It’s why Jesus in the upper room, having been deserted by his disciples, nonetheless comes to them in their shame and fear and says, “Peace be with you,” and breathes on them the Holy Spirit. With his Spirit, he sends them out on a healing mission, proclaiming the amazingly Good News that all the wrong in the world is undone by the loving power of the Father through Jesus.  


It’s why on the day of Pentecost, the words of the prophet Joel come true as the Spirit is poured out, literally gushed over the community of believers. Uncertain disciples are transformed by the Spirit into powerful witnesses, apostles of the new reality of resurrection. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they leave their private, closed-door faith behind and go public, speaking new language, to Jews from all over the known world.   


It’s what we’ve been waiting for! 


It’s what we wait for here at Epiphany. We come to worship hungry for a good word, a word of inspiration that will carry us through the week.  As a community, we await the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as we put dollars toward an associate pastor who will support our serving ministries and reach out to current members and new folks alike.  We look for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as we seek leaders for the church council and our planned giving ministry, the Apple Tree Society. We seek guidance from the Holy Spirit as we reorganize for effective ministry in this era. We keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, on our mission to Love Jesus by Serving Others, and pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to show us the way. And so on this day of Pentecost, we cry out with the prophet Joel, “Pour out your spirit on all flesh!” 


Which brings me back to Lem’s commencement speech. He ended it by reminding us of the importance of community. He experienced it first in his family, then at college, and even in a small Central American nation 2000 miles away. In building community, Lem said, you share experience and wisdom and build bridges to solutions. He concluded with the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 


As he concluded his speech, I found myself applauding in a standing ovation, with tears on my face. And I realized that this is what I had been waiting for – not the accolades and platitudes about new beginnings, but an acknowledgement of how the world really is and the truth that together we have the God-given power to shape a better future. To me, that’s inspiration. That’s the Holy Spirit.   


On the day of Pentecost, this is what we have been waiting for: that the prophet Joel’s words might be true for us; that the Spirit would be poured out in our lives – daughters and sons, young and old, seeing visions and dreaming dreams. Pentecost is not so much about a day long ago when the first disciples experienced extraordinary gifts of the Spirit in wind, fire and tongues. It is about the fulfillment of our longings for inspiration, meaning and hope. And it has come to pass! God’s promises are fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit has been conferred upon us in our baptisms, and each day is an opportunity to renew that covenant of Baptism and tune into the Spirit of our Risen Lord and Savior living in us, giving us strength and hope, showing us the way, offering whatever we need when we need it. 


This is what we have been waiting for – a life worth living. We have it, now, together, as a community of faith. Being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world and poised to do even greater things than these. 


Come, Holy Spirit! 

Be our inspiration. 

Set us on fire to love Jesus and serve others in his name. 


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