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Pentecost 2019 Foreword
It is not easy to preach about Pentecost, as is evident in this ﬁne collection of sermons and essays that constitute this issue of the Journal This is because the work of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be institutionalized or reduced to packaged certitude. The Spirit is indeed like the wind, blowing where it will; for that reason the Spirit is capable of endless surprise that is unrestrained by our explanatory categories. In a variety of ways, these sermons and essays bear witness to the transformative disruptive work of the Spirit that shows up as God chooses. It is the work of preaching, in this long Pentecost season, to invite the congregation to that stream of surprise that disrupts our old certitudes, our knowing ideologies, and our settled comfort zones. John Calvin has written that “faith is the principle work of the Holy Spirit.” That means that faith wells up where it will. Faith does not come by coercion or by instruction or by willpower. We may for that reason marvel at the long-running wonder of the church, or as we say, “the one holy catholic church,” because that church is, even when we forget, a sub-set of the Spirit. Thus, dear reader, take a deep breath and marvel.
Kristy Farber sees that Pentecost pertains to outsiders as much as to insiders. Joe Harvard considers the loss of the local and the coming of loneliness, a reality that perhaps sets us down in the presence of the ”Holy Comforter.” Justo Gonzalez recognizes that the celebration of Sunday, for all its historical vagaries, is the acknowledgement of the new creation.
Caitlyn Hathaway writes of the way in which, in both her towns, she ﬁnds we are both broken and chosen. Annette Brownlee attests that the glory of God wells up in small ways in reconciliation and caring. Bryan Stone invites to fresh reﬂection on the force of beauty as we witness to the gospel, a force that transgresses our usual ethical accent. Dan Lewis ponders how it is that we are debtors in every dimension of our lives, a status that moves us into a world of freedom we did not create. Mark Ramsey thinks in graphic ways about the expansive dimensions of the love of God that in every direction is beyond our calculation.
Will Willimon confesses that our sermons are not private enterprises but really count on a cloud of witnesses. Thus he allows us to steal from our shared homiletical legacy as is necessary. Cam Murchison concludes our issue with a new book that considers both the pervasiveness of cruelty and the abiding dignity of all of God’s creatures.
The preacher stands in the presence of the shattering, surprising work of the Spirit. We are commended both to “test the spirits” (I John 4:1) and not to “quench the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:10). In general we are much better at “testing” than we are at “not quenching.” We are in a moment, I suggest, when “not quenching” is our best witness, because we live in a moment when the spirit is turning the old order upside down. If we look around, we see that the Spirit is making all things new. That is work that scares, but we are not the ones to put the brakes on God’s newness.