Today is Pentecost, one of the most festive days of the church year. It’s the day that at long last the disciples receive the promised Holy Spirit.
The Pentecost account in the Book of Acts is one of the most vivid stories in scripture. Tongues of fire dance above the disciples’ head. A violent, rushing wind literally blows them out of the room and into the world. Suddenly they are speaking in languages they have never even heard before.
When I read this story I can see those flames, hear those strange languages, feel the force of that wind. The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is a cataclysmic event.
This week as I read all of the other scripture readings for today, I realized that despite the vividness of the story in Acts, it is the gospel reading for today that I was drawn to.
It, too, speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit, but in very different ways. This passage is from what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It is the last night of his life and Jesus is talking to his friends one last time.
He has a lot to say to them. In John’s gospel this discourse goes on for four full chapters. To be honest, it is often rambling and repetitive, and it is easy to get lost in it.
But the section we heard today is clear. Jesus is promising the disciples that after his death they will not be alone, the Holy Spirit will be with them.
Jesus says nothing about tongues of fire, or rushing winds, or foreign languages. Instead, he calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth, ” who will guide the disciples “into all truth.”
Those words leapt off the page at me this week.
The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, is the Spirit of truth that will guide us into all truth.
What does it mean for the Spirit of truth to come into a world of lies?
The truth is that Truth is an endangered species in our nation now. Pundits say we are living in a post-truth world, a world of “alternative facts,” a world of conspiracy theories of increasing outlandishness.
Think of just some of the lies that have pervaded our public discourse in recent months:
The coronavirus is a hoax.
The leaders of one political party and members of the “Hollywood elite” are running a global network of child sex trafficking and pedophilia.
Climate change is a hoax.
And of course, the Big Lie, that our current president did not win the election.
All of these things would be laughable, except that lies have consequences.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died needlessly from the coronavirus because of misinformation and lies.
Dismissal of the facts of climate change is endangering the very life of the planet which God created for us to live on and care for.
The Big Lie about the election led to insurrection and an attack on our Capitol, nearly costing leaders of both parties their lives.
And this week we heard from a Georgia representative a lie about that insurrection — that those who stormed the Capitol that day were just like any other tourists.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will come to us.
But the Holy Spirit is not the only spirit abroad in the world. Spirits that are not meant to lead us into all truth, but that seek to mislead, to divide, to exclude, to benefit some while taking away from others, are ever present among us.
Scripture warns us of that.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, became many false prophets have gone out into the world,” scripture says.
We live in a time when false prophets are thriving among us. The Spirit of Truth is up against powerful spirits of falseness and evil. And many of them are in the church.
A recent poll showed that 40 percent of church goers believe the results of the 2020 election are illegimate, and that 25 percent believe QAnon conspiracy theories.
Too many times they are hearing these lies proclaimed from the pulpit.
“I believe that right now we have an illegitmate president in the White House and he was not elected by the people,” one Tennessee pastor told NPR. “I believe the truly ‘We the People’- elected, should-be president is residing in Florida right now.”
Other pastors are promoters of QAnon conspiracy theories, encouraging their flock not to get the Covid vaccine, and even advocate violence like that which occurred at the Capitol on January 6.
These lies lead us away from the truth, away from the teachings of Jesus.
Michael Curry, our presiding bishop, says that as Christians “we believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition.
“Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of our society.”
Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, and are reminded that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, that blew the disciples into the world to proclaim the Truth, is still alive in the world, still tugging us and leading us into all truth.
Our collect for today says it well.
“Spirit of truth: guide us into all the truth; consume the lies that shroud the world in hate; pray in us with sighs too deep for words, and let the victim’s voice ring out with hope for a new world.”