This is the manuscript from my sermon on the Day of Pentecost, June 9, 2019. The lectionary for the day is found here. We used the reading from Genesis as the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures and then the reading from Acts as the lesson from the New Testament.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, sometimes called the “birthday of the Church.” It is the day the Holy Spirit entered the room in which the disciples and a few friends were gathered and entered into each one of them so that they could go out and become the Church. When this happened, crowds of people were aware and astonished at what they heard. After being assured that this was not the result of drunken exuberance, they believed in what was happening. No matter where they were from, no matter the language they spoke, they all could understand each other. God’s Spirit brought the people together to be God’s people, the Church, together.
Can you even imagine being one of the disciples? Secluded in a locked room, trying still to figure out what has been happening? You’ve spent time upending your lives to follow Jesus, believing him to be the long-prophesied Messiah. You are eager, desperate, perhaps, for the kind of change he promised, the kind of change you saw and felt happening as you traveled with him through Galilee. Then he gets arrested, tried, and executed. He is resurrected. He shows up again, reassuring you that all is well. He offers you his peace, encouraging you to receive the Holy Spirit. As John tells it in today’s Gospel, this is a rather nice conversation, comforting and reassuring.
The reading from Acts, on the other hand, tells it quite differently. The Holy Spirit entered the room with “sound like the rush of a violent wind, and then there were tongues of fire. I’m guessing this was a bit unsettling, to say the least. Can you imagine looking around the room and seeing flames above the heads of your friends and then realizing those flames are above your head, too? How shocking to realize these flames are not destroying everything. You are not burned. You do not perish. Instead you are filled with the Holy Spirit and given the gifts you need to be able to share this good news with the whole world. You look around and it is apparent this same thing is happening to everyone there.
And the people in the streets, people who don’t speak the same language, or share the same customs, gathered to celebrate Shavout, also known as Pentecost, the festival commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Horeb. These people all hear what is going on. Wherever they are from, whatever language they speak, after being reassured this is not a drunken hallucination, understand that something life-changing is happening.
On that day over 2000 years ago, 50 days after the first Easter, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and they are given the gifts they need to be able to share the Good News of God in Christ with the whole world. They understand that following Jesus, a command they are have heard from him over and over again, means something more than following him around the countryside, participating in his ministries. Following Jesus means listening to God’s Spirit. They are empowered, enlivened, and emboldened to go out into the world sharing the radical love of Jesus the Christ with everyone they encounter. They are, to paraphrase our Presiding Bishop, “The original Jesus Movement, sent out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many, into the dream God has for it.”
This, my friends, is the call to the Christian Church. The Church was not born so that the Good News could be shared with an in-group or only with a select few. The Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, violently awakening in them gifts they needed to look beyond themselves and their communities so they could go out and do God’s work in God’s world. Pentecost is the day the Church was born to be a beacon of hope in a broken world.
The Holy Spirit changed the disciples, just as she continues to change us. The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the capacity to meet others where they are, relating across all kinds of difference, just as she continues to grow that capacity in us. The Holy Spirit increased their understanding, opening their hearts and their minds to the realities of other people, just as she continues to do for us.
As much as I am grateful the Holy Spirit seems to work a bit more sedately and politely today, I admit that I do sometimes wonder what we would look like as the Church, as the household of God, if we took a page from the Holy Spirit who storms into the room to enter into the disciples as they sat together and prayed, separate and secluded from the world around them. What would we look like if we trusted the Holy Spirit to ignite the power of God’s love in us as we set out to be a part of the healing the world?
And I’ll confess that I do love the image of the wild, untamed Holy Spirit surprising the disciples and changing them and their lives forever, changing them is a way that is so big, so powerful, that talk about it over 2000 years later. This is the Holy Spirit who breathes new life into everyone who is open to receiving it. The best kind of impolite, not waiting for an invitation but showing up to do what has to be done – filling each and everyone of us with the knowledge of God’s grace- changing us so that we can go out and change the world.
This is the Church. It is a household filled to overflowing with the power of the Holy Spirit to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. We are called to reach out and gather together, to love and serve each other, striving for justice and peace, respecting the dignity and worth of every human being, seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
As the disciples experienced firsthand, this does not always happen in the ways we expect, or even in ways we might want. God really does work in mysterious ways, in uncomfortable, sometimes unwanted ways. Being Christian is (and I quote theologian John Stott) “inconvenient because it requires a rethinking and reworking of all manner of things.” It can be challenging to be open to hearing the Holy Spirit and even more challenging to listen to where and how she is calling us to be. Knowing that and still be willing to listen and respond is an amazing gift.
The Christian Church is founded on the life and ministry of a radical man, who hung out with sinners, performed all sorts of awe-inspiring miracles, owned nothing, and offered outrageous hospitality to everyone he met. A man who did this prayerfully, with an understanding that all that is comes from God. Jesus, who lived as faithfully as it is possible to live, and refused to abide by rules that ran contrary to the will of God, that denied the reality of God’s love, justice, and mercy for all people, especially the poor and those on the margins. Jesus who promised to be with us always, who gave us his peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
My hope and prayer for us as we celebrate this day and enter into the season of Pentecost, is that each one of us will be open to the wild, untamed Holy Spirit working in our lives and in our community. May we be surprised by the joys, challenges, and inconveniences of life with Christ in ways that empower, enliven, and embolden us to go out into the world and be God’s Church.