St. Paul’s – Pentecost Sunday – 6/5/22
“In the days to come — It is the Lord who speaks — I will pour out my Spirit on human kind…” (Acts 2:17)
Having lived in Chicago where I was ordained a priest, I know the story of someone who had a Pentecost experience. I would like to share her story.
To begin with, this Pentecost experience was not in an Upper Room — or any kind of room for that matter. It was in a broom closet in a homeless shelter in California. Her name was Breezy — a street name she was given because of the speed with which she moved from man to man working as a prostitute on the streets and down the back alleys. Twenty three years of prostitution and drugs had left their mark on Breezy. Her face was scarred, her body battered, and her spirit dead.
The broom closet was her own personal tomb. Breezy huddled within its cramped walls for three days and three nights. She had arrived, exhausted and beaten, to the shelter. It was full. So she crept into the closet where, as time passed, she was forgotten by the stressed out shelter staff. Breezy had given birth three days earlier. Her tiny daughter was born — shuddering and jaundiced from drugs. She was taken away by the hospital emergency staff to be given medical attention and placed for adoption. Breezy staggered off into the night — to the shelter and the broom closet.
On the third day she woke — hungry, and devastated by the memory of the baby she had birthed and lost. In the cramped darkness of the closet Breezy sobbed in shame and horror. Broken and helpless, for the first time in many years, she began to pray. In between her sobs she asked for forgiveness from God — and from her baby.
And something happened.
Maybe it was like a stone being rolled away.
Maybe it was like a dense darkness being pierced by a brilliant light.
Maybe it was a Pentecostal experience — a breaking through of energy and fire into a dead soul.
But something happened. And it was so powerful that Breezy crept out of the broom closet — determined to find her way home to Chicago and to live a different life.
And she did.
She sought counseling and healing and entered a program of recovery. It was a long and painful process — letting go, forever, of 23 years of violence, drugs and prostitution. There had to be some sort of funeral for Breezy — for the woman she had been and the only woman she knew. So the staff and residents of the recovery program gathered in their small garden, and, standing in a circle, they dug a hole, placed a stone within it and bade farewell to Breezy — prostitute, addict and convicted felon. Breezy was buried.
And in that simple and symbolic ritual, Brenda was born. Claiming her birth name, she came into the dawn of a new life. It was to be a life of the Spirit. It was to be a life led by God where Brenda would become a healer of those broken and battered — as she had once been.
This mornings passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us we are all children of God and we have all been given the gift of the Spirit. But, maybe, we first have to know what it is to be utterly broken before we can become truly conscious of the power of the healing Spirit of God. One way or another, we are all a little dead. Life does that to us as we falter and become weary on the journey.
Few of us experience the drama and devastation of Brenda’s life — but we need to hear about it as a contemporary Pentecostal story. We also need to hear about it that we might be affirmed and encouraged in our own struggles to be faithful children of God — gifted with the Holy Spirit — no matter how deeply repressed and hidden within us.
Brenda did not simply have a Pentecostal experience — she went on to live a Resurrection life dedicated to her sisters on the streets prostituting, addicted and soul dead. Brenda’s healing presence is powerful because she knows all about tombs and dying. She was dead. And now she is alive. She was lost and now she is found. And no one, ever again, can deprive her of the inner dignity and joy of knowing who she is – the daughter of God and sister of Jesus – the One who declared to the gathering of fearful disciples: Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do, and even greater works. (John 14: 12) This is what Jesus said in today’s Gospel.
And so, on many nights, on the dark streets of Chicago when most of us are sleeping, the voice of Brenda can be heard echoing the words of Jesus, and declaring to hersisters: Come, there is life, there is hope outside this darkness — come.
And they do. As we must too.
And yet maybe we are thinking that once a year on the Day of Pentecost that is plenty enough attention to be paid to something as uncontrollable and upsetting as this Holy Spirit business might be.
Maybe for people who are perfectly satisfied with the way things are, for whom religion is a matter of paying appropriate attention to God, and God’s way, at least once a week before going about one’s ordinary daily business of living, that is just fine. For such folk, the unpredictable power and influence of the Holy Spirit is more of an annoyance than a help.
And here’s a word to comfort to these people – don’t worry about it! Most of the time, the Holy Spirit leaves folk with this attitude alone – if you don’t bother God, God is unlikely to bother you.
But, if things are not working out so well for you in life, or if you are aware that things are not working out so well for others – well the promise of the Spirit becomes the promise of hope, the promise of life, the promise that God is with us always. Jesus was talking to a confused and frightened group of followers. They had left all to get on the gospel train. And now it appeared the train was running off the track. What was going to happen to them when Jesus was no more? Jesus’ words about the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, were a promise that when he was gone, God would still be with them.
Think about it…..in the story of the Day of Pentecost from tree Book of Acts, the Spirit comes upon a group of folks who just can’t seem to get moving, can’t get their Gospel act together. Over and over again, they’ve been told things like, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .(Matthew 28:19), and . . .repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem, (Luke 24:47), and . I have sent them into the world . . . (John 17;18), and You will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8). Yet, after all that going, and proclaiming, and sending, to the end of the earth – here they sit, huddled in a room, waiting for they know not what – still frightened, still wondering, still unsure of themselves and God. And the promised Holy Spirit came upon them, not only giving them a jump-start on their mission and ministry plan, but also making it very clear to them that they were not alone, that God was very much with them, that the Holy One was leading them into God’s future.
And this morning…..here we sit, in our room, waiting – for God knows what. And the question is – are we satisfied with the way things are? In our lives, in our world, in our church? If so, the Holy Spirit is very likely to leave us alone. We can safely read these lessons, and say a few kind words about spirituality, and be safe for another year.
But, if we are aching and yearning for something more; if we look upon our lives, and upon our world, and upon our church with a combination of fear and hope – fearing that things won’t get better and hoping in our heart of hearts that they will; then we had best watch out. It is entirely likely that the Holy Spirit will soon burst upon us, lifting us up and pushing us out into the world with words of true hope and acts of divine love.
Let us pray:
Bring it on, Holy Spirit.
Prod us to speak up, speak out for you
and your Lordship and reach out in your name.
Give us the right words to say
when we are given the opportunity to witness to you.
Make us unafraid
when our testimony is resisted or ridiculed by the world.
Inspire us to say what we know:
that you are determined to have your good news heard
and experienced by all that all might hear about who you are and what you are up to in the world.
All Holy God without your Spirit we are nothing;
we are not a church, not your people, not able to be ourselves.
Give us your Spirit again, Lord;
let your power sweep in among us,
breathe upon us,
and enliven us by your presence,
that all our speaking and all our listening and all our outreach
might be empowered by your Holy Spirit.