Sunday, May 27, 2012

Coming Down

Acts 2:1-21
May 27, 2012/The Day of Pentecost

            In the opening scenes of the movie Chocolat the people in a small village in France are attending church as is their custom on a Sunday morning in the 1950’s.  The viewer has already been alerted to the fact that the people in this village believe in “tranquilite” or tranquility.  Everyone knows what is expected of them.  Everyone understands the particular roles they are expected to play in the daily drama of village life.  Tranquility, evenness, unwavering lack of surprise or change; that is the ongoing, monotonous theme of the villager’s lives. 
            Until this particular day.  What I love most about this scene is that as we see them gathered in the church they are singing.  What are they singing?  “Come, Holy Spirit, Come.”  They sing without passion, fire or zeal.  They sing dutifully; just as they probably sing every hymn they encounter in church.  As dutifully as they approach every aspect of their lives, family, home, work, play. 
            But as they are singing this particular hymn on this particular day all of a sudden a great wind blows through the town.  It blows open the church doors, whooshes through the parishioners, teases the flame on the candles, rattles the light fixtures and the young priest at the pulpit.  It fills the church and everyone there until the Count, the village’s most influential leader and citizen and the greatest proponent of tranquilite, makes his way down the center aisle and fights against the wind to close the doors.  He shuts out the wind – at least for the time being.
            I won’t tell you the rest of the story, but trust me this will not be the last time the Count tries to slam the doors on the winds of change that are blowing through that sleepy, tranquil little village. 
            How many times do we act as the Count does without even realizing it?  Think about how often we pray and sing and ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to come into our lives.  You know we’re hoping the Spirit will be with us today, especially.  But Pentecost isn’t the only day that we reserve for the Holy Spirit.  According to our words, our prayers, our music, we’re hoping for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be ours as soon and as often as possible.  But when the Holy Spirit does come, how often do we slam the doors against it?  How often do we close the doors on the Spirit because when it comes, change inevitably follows.
            That’s the reality that every one of our passages points to today.  Although each passage describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in a different way – the Advocate or the groaning as if in labor – and for a different purpose, the underlying reality is this – when the Spirit comes everything and everyone is changed. 
But our focus this morning is primarily on our passage from Acts and the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival known as Shavuot, fifty days after Passover.   On this day the disciples and followers of Jesus were all gathered in one place.  They were devoting themselves to prayer, waiting for the Advocate, the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised.  Waiting for the one who would guide and lead them now – now that their beloved Jesus was gone from their sight, ascended into heaven.
They were together praying, waiting.  When suddenly from heaven comes a roaring, heart stopping sound, like the rush of a violent wind.  And that sound, that powerful, violent wind filled the room where they waited.  It filled the room, it filled them.  Then divided tongues of fire appeared among them and rested on each of them, and something even more crazy and wonderful began to happen.  They began to speak in different languages.  Languages they’d never been able to speak before. 
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it like this:
            “It starts with a sound like the rush of a violent wind . . . and it fills the entire house where Jesus’ followers are sitting.  Then it bursts into tongues like flames above their heads, but when they open their mouths to shout, “Watch out!  Your head’s on fire!” that is not what comes out.  [The Spirit] comes out instead, speaking languages that none of those Galileans ever learned, so that perfect strangers from the four corners of the world have to tell them it is God they are talking about – God and God’s deeds of power – the latest of which is now featuring them, behaving so bizarrely under the power of God’s spirit that the only paradigm some bystanders can come up with is drunk.”
But they weren’t drunk.  Something far more powerful than wine had been unleashed around them and in them.  The power of the Holy Spirit had unleashed itself in their midst.  What happens when the Holy Spirit comes?  For the disciples it meant a complete transformation from their previous selves. 
Again quoting from Barbara Brown Taylor, “if you believe the Bible, then there is no better proof that Jesus was who he said he was than the before and after pictures of the disciples.  Before Pentecost, they were dense, timid bumblers who fled at the least sign of trouble.  Afterwards, they were fearless leaders.  They healed the sick and cast out demons.  They went to jail gladly, where they sang hymns until the walls fell down.”
This transformation occurred when the Holy Spirit came.  When its power filled them and changed them and pushed them and moved them.  It poured out upon them and they were never the same again.
Peter, so empowered by the Spirit, got up and delivered the kind of sermon I can only dream of preaching.  Just as it was spoken through the prophet Joel, “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”
Pastor Amy carries a Spirit Stick.  That is a change!
That’s what was happening right before their eyes, Peter told them.  The Spirit was being poured out upon all flesh.  And nothing would ever be the same again. 
When the Spirit comes down, nothing and no one is ever the same again.  So I guess we should be careful what we pray for.  We pray for the Spirit’s coming down, but then again, are we ready to be changed by it?  Are we ready to be moved by it?  Are we ready to go where the Spirit is compelling us to go and do what the Spirit is compelling us to do?
The one word that has been going through my mind as I’ve prepared for this day is “unleashed.”  I’ve already used it a few times as I’ve spoken.  When I hear the story of Pentecost from Acts, I can’t help but think of the power of the Holy Spirit unleashing itself upon the disciples and the Jews from every nation gathered around them. 
To be unleashed sounds somewhat violent, tumultuous and even a little bit frightening.  I imagine there were many that day who were frightened when the Spirit came upon them so suddenly, so wildly.  I probably would have been frightened as well.
And I wonder if I’m not still a little frightened of that power unleashing itself in our midst.  As I said earlier, Pentecost or not, every Sunday I pray in some form or fashion for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon all who are gathered.  May it open our hearts, open our minds, open our hands to the will of God. 
But I think that when I pray, deep down I’m praying for a much milder version of the Spirit than what those gathered in an upper room received.  I’m not sure I’m ready for the rush of a violent wind or tongues of flame to descend on my head or to be so completely turned upside down that I appear drunk and unbalanced. 
 That may be a little more Spirit than I can handle.  No, I want the Spirit to be gentle, to sweetly nudge us just like my dog Belinda nudges my hand when she wants me to pet her.  I want the Spirit to just glide among us, giving us the option to follow Jesus, to be disciples or not.  Whatever suits our fancy.
But when the Spirit comes down, what happens?  What happens is not what I want.  What happens is change and upheaval and everything I thought I knew and understood being different.  What happens when the Spirit comes?  I am changed, we are changed, like it or not.  And let’s face it.  Our tendency as human beings is to not like change more often than we like it.  We are empowered to speak, to act, to be who God created and called us to be.  What happens when the Spirit comes?  Everything.
So does this mean that we should reconsider our prayers for that Holy Spirit to come?  No, in fact I think we should pray all the more and that much harder that it does come, suddenly, violently unleashing itself upon us just like it unleashed itself upon those long ago believers. 
What happens when the Spirit comes?
In the middle ages, churches would often be built with holes in the ceiling.  They were called “Spirit Holes.”  On the festival of Pentecost young boys would be sent to wait by the holes and when the story from Acts would be read, they would throw thousands of red petals down on the believers below just as the red tongues of flame descended on the disciples’ heads.  Before the congregants could process this sudden deluge of “fire”, doves would be released and they would swoop and soar in and around the congregation.  All this was so the congregation would not only think about what happened that day so long ago, but they could, in some form or fashion, live it.  This might give them a small glimpse into how the disciples felt and responded to God’s rush of powerful love.
I guess it would be far too much to ask that we add a few spirit holes to our ceiling; although we have seen a fiery spark descend upon us.  But perhaps we could add them to ourselves.  We could create them in our hearts and in our minds.  We could be open and ready and waiting for that rush of violent wind, for those dancing flames of fire. 
What happens when the Spirit comes?  Let us pray that we find out.  Amen.
Chocolat to start.  Chocolate to end!

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