St. Paul’s – Pentecost – 5/23/21
This week, we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit by fire, wind, and word. Pentecost — from the Greek pentekostos, meaning fiftieth was a Jewish festival celebrating the spring harvest. In the New Testament story Luke tells, the Spirit descended on 120 believers in Jerusalem on the fiftieth day after Jesus’s resurrection. The Spirit empowered them to testify to Jesus’s impact on their lives, emboldened the apostle Peter to preach to a bewildered crowd of skeptics, and drew three thousand converts to the fledgling faith in one day.
What images and actions do you associate with the Holy Spirit?
From the Bible…here are some of them: The Holy Spirit is: life-giver, gift, helper, indweller, fire, wind-like, reconciler, hovering creator, forever friend, whisperer, boldness maker, shame eradicator, love refiner, strengthener of the weak, courage for the fearful, giver of dreams, giver of visions, demon evictor, soul clothier, causer of baptisms, poetry maker, tongue liberator, the reassembler of the broken, the resuscitator of dead things.
Here is one of my favorites by Hafiz 14th Century Persia
God and I have become like two giant fat people
Living in a tiny boat.
We keep bumping into each other
Does the third person of the Trinity make you think of doves? Wind? Fire? Oil? When you anticipate the Spirit’s activity in the world, do you imagine people speaking in tongues? Confessing their sins? Discerning new callings? Preaching with renewed vigor?What about communicating across differences of language, culture, tribe, ethnicity, age, gender, politics, and creed? What about building bridges of love and healing across ancient divides? What about discovering that the stranger is your sister? Your brother?
One image that comes to mind has to do with breath……Did you know the word conspire means to breathe together? Take a breath. Now blow it out again. There! You have just launched a conspiracy. You can hear the word spirit in there too – to conspire – to be filled with the same spirit, to be enlivened by the same wind. Think about what happens between us when we come together to worship God. The Holy Spirit swoops in and out among us, knitting us together through the songs we sing, the prayers we pray the breaths we breathe. It can happen with two people….it can happen with 2,000 people. It can scare us or comfort us, confuse us or clarify things for us, but as far as I can tell the Holy Spirit never bullies us. We are always free to choose whether or not we will respond.
Now take another breath. If you have studied earth science, then you know our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air there ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning comes along every hundred years or so to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air keeps recirculating, which means that every time any of us breathes we breath star dust left over from the creation of the earth. We breath brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breath air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya and air that has turned yellow with sulphur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo , not to mention Hitler and Genghis Kahn. Every time we breathe we take in what was once some baby’s first breath or some dying person’s last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us with it into the next person, or tree, or blue-tailed skink, who uses it to live.
When Jesus let go of his last breath, willingly, we believe, for love of us–that breath hovered in the air in front of him for a moment and then it was let loose on earth. It was such a pungent breath–so full of passion, so full of life–that it simply dissipate as so many breathes do. It grew in strength and volume, until it was a mighty wind, which God sent spinning through the upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritor’s of Jesus’ breath including us….. and it worked.
On this day, not only was the wind, air and breath shared, so were words…All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Have we grasped the import of what the Spirit did here — what the Spirit insisted on — at the inaugural moment of the church?
The bottom line is, something happens when we speak each other’s languages. We experience the limits of our own words and perspectives. We learn curiosity. We discover that God’s great deeds are far too nuanced for a single tongue, a single fluency.
Pentecost is a story for our time. We live in a world where words have become toxic, where the languages of our cherished isms threaten to divide and destroy us. The troubles of our day are global, civilizational, catastrophic. If we don’t learn the art of speaking across the borders that separate us, we will burn ourselves down to ash.
Look at our world right now…. violence is intensifying across the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Children are dying, landscapes are going up in smoke, and chaos governs the streets. Closer to home, the United States is in a state of political and cultural gridlock so fierce, we seem to have no capacity to communicate across our differences. The consequences, whether they have to do with the Covid pandemic, climate change, racial justice, or economic disparity, sexuality, are too numerous to count. For many of us, the temptation to retreat into our enclaves is especially strong right now. We can’t see outside of our social media bubbles. We’ve lost faith in the possibility of genuine dialogue. Our faith is faltering.
But this is precisely why we need Pentecost. What mattered on that first birthday of the church was not the rhetorical skills and the religious acumen of the disciples. What mattered is that they followed Jesus’s instruction to stay in one place, pray without ceasing, and wait for the Holy Spirit to come with power and do a new thing — both in them and through them. What mattered was that the disciples — bumbling and clueless as they so often were — obeyed the prompting of the Spirit and allowed themselves to be transformed by the wind, the fire, the breath, and the tongues of God. Everything else followed from that.
There is no way to overstate how much we need to gather as God’s people right now and ask the Holy Spirit to instruct us, shape us, remake us, and commission us. We need fresh languages of bridge-building. We need new words to rekindle love. We need the wind and fire of God to challenge our complacencies, reset our priorities, ease our anxieties, and move us out.
It is no small thing that the Holy Spirit loosened tongues to break down barriers. In the face of impossible difference, God compelled God’s people to engage. From Day One, the call was to press in, linger, listen, and speak.Because here’s the thing: no matter how passionately I disagree with your opinions and beliefs, I cannot disagree with your experience. Once I have learned to hear and speak your story in the words that matter most to you, then I have stakes I never had before. I can no longer thrive at your expense. I can no longer make you my Other. I can no longer abandon you.To speak across barriers of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, culture, or politics, sexuality is to challenge stereotypes and risk ridicule. It is a brave and disorienting act. A risky act.
But this is what the Holy Spirit required of Christ’s frightened disciples on the birthday of the church.
Essentially, she told them: Stop huddling in what you call safety. Throw open your windows and doors. Feel the pressure of my hand against your backs, pour yourselves into the streets you’ve come to fear, and speak! Don’t you understand? Silence is no longer an option. You are on fire!
The importance for us to listen to all these languages of humanity comes from the Why of the Spirit being sent to us: to bear witness to Jesus, so that we also may, indeed must, bear witness since we have been with Jesus from the beginning.
We are to be Co-Witnesses with the Holy Spirit – this is our calling! We are with Her from the beginning in our Baptism where we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. We become God’s Beloved as Jesus is God’s Beloved. We are called to testify!
Pentecost means we each must find our own voices, our own languages, with which to proclaim the goodness of the Lord, so that everyone may hear in their own native tongues the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Pentecost means hearing The Spirit of Truth in all its languages throughout all time so that all that we say and all that we do bears witness to the Truth and gives Glory to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Can we dare to hear what the Spirit is saying? Stop huddling. Stop hesitating. Speak. The Spirit has come, and silence is no longer an option. You are on fire