May 19, 2013
Come Holy Spirit, come! Welcome to my favorite Sunday of the year. Christmas and Easter are great, but Pentecost is the Sunday I prefer. Certainly there's work involved in getting ready for it. But that work doesn't carry the same pressure for me that Christmas and Easter do. It also doesn't require the kind of preparation at home that the other big holidays do. I don't have to decorate the house for Pentecost or buy Pentecost gifts, dye Pentecost eggs or make Pentecost baskets. I get to wear red on Pentecost, which is great because it's one of my favorite colors. This day is known as the birthday of the church, so after worship we get to have cake and cake is good. On this day we sing some of my favorite hymns about the Spirit and someday I'm going to find a way to recreate a tradition of the church in the Middle Ages. Churches were often designed with "Spirit holes" in their roofs. On Pentecost young boys were sent up to the roof and at specific times during the service they would send down rose petals to represent the tongues of flame and then they would release doves to swoop and soar about the sanctuary. Perhaps the problems with our roof are really just Spirit holes trying to create themselves for our edification? Perhaps not.
I really do love Pentecost. On the surface it just seems like a joyful, fun day in the life of the church. It's a birthday party for the church in disguise, and who doesn't love a birthday party? But there's a problem with my thinking. Where did I get the idea that the coming of the Holy Spirit was fun?
Every Sunday that I preach and lead worship, I pray in one way or another for the empowering of the Holy Spirit. I pray come Holy Spirit, come. I pray that it moves within us and through us and that it quicken our hearts to love God and tell the story of God's good news. If the old saying admonishes us to be careful what we wish for, then maybe we should also be careful what we pray for.
The Spirit does all of those things. It emboldens. It enlivens and empowers and quickens the hearts and minds of those gifted with its power to do whatever it is that God is beckoning them to do. Think about what happens with the disciples in our story from Acts. It is Pentecost, fifty days after our Easter and for devout Jews, the Feast of Booths. They are in a room, sitting, praying, waiting. Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit, so they wait and pray for it. But what will happen when the Holy Spirit actually arrives? They get their answer.
Suddenly the house is filled with the rush of a violent wind. Divided tongues of flame descended, and a tongue rested on each of them. With that they began to speak languages they'd never spoken before. Jerusalem was a city of diversity with Jews from many lands living together. Suddenly they could understand the words these Galileans were speaking in their own languages. Many were awestruck at this strange and unexpected event. But others were cynical and suspicious. They sneered at the disciples and accused them of being drunk.
But the suspicions of others were no match for apostles emboldened by the Holy Spirit. Where before they were timid, afraid and uncertain of their abilities, now they were able to speak, preach, teach and witness to what they knew to be true -- Jesus Christ, their rabbi, their beloved friend was and is the Son of God.
Come Holy Spirit, come.
It's exciting when the Spirit comes. It's noisy. It's chaotic. It's unsettling. For the disciples to move from waiting and praying to being caught up in the Spirit's power must have been unsettling. From that point on, they were no longer waiting, they were on the move. As William Willimon wrote the first gift of the Spirit was proclamation. They were gifted with speech. In the words of the spiritual, that gift “guided their feet.” They were on the move. Preaching, teaching, sharing their witness to the good news, telling people this new thing that God is doing. It must have been exciting. It must have been unsettling. It took the disciples to places and people they never expected. It called them to trust, to act with courage in ways they couldn't have imagined before the coming of the Spirit. But the Spirit shook off their doubts and strengthened their courage. Through the coming of the Spirit the Word was proclaimed to the world. We all stand on the shoulders of these early believers. It was their witness that opened the door for centuries of believers yet to come. Come, powerful, exciting Holy Spirit, come.
So that's Pentecost. The day when the Holy Spirit came and gifted those first disciples with speech and power and the world was changed, amen.
Except the story doesn't end there. Pentecost isn't over. If we think of Pentecost in terms of one day when the Holy Spirit swooped in and changed everything, and this is our annual remembrance and celebration of it, then I'm wrong, it is over. But if Pentecost is the name we give to the coming of the Holy Spirit, then it is far from finished.
All we have to do is search through Acts to see that it is true. There is more than one Pentecost in Acts. They may not have occurred as this one did, but they are no less unsettling and exciting. Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus and the story around it is a Pentecost story. Not only is it a Pentecost for Saul who became Paul, it is for all the other players in the story. Those who had to care for him, guide him, this man who persecuted them. This man whom they knew had spent a great deal of time and effort up until that moment on the Damascus road wanting them dead. His conversion was Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit, come.
Phillip encountering the Ethiopian eunuch is a story of Pentecost. The Spirit placed Phillip there to meet this man, interpret for him, baptize him, and just as suddenly Phillip is whisked away again. Come Holy Spirit, come.
These are just a few examples of Pentecost. Consider the history of the church. The Reformation, that was a Pentecost. The first and second Great Awakenings, those were Pentecosts. What about the Civil Rights Movement? That was a movement of faith by people of faith. Pentecost.
Think about our own lives. When has Pentecost occurred? When has the Spirit descended on us, moving us, emboldening us to do or proclaim what we didn't think we could? I suspect that it wouldn't take much reflection to look back over the course of our own lives and see the moments of Pentecost in them.
And here we are today. Praying for the Spirit to come as we do every Sunday. It seems that we've been sitting and waiting and praying for a long time now. We want our Pentecost to happen, we want the Spirit to come. But if the stories of scripture teach us anything, they teach us that when the Spirit does come, nothing is the same. People are changed. Ideas are changed. The world is changed. The Spirit disturbs and disrupts and calls us to do what we think we can't. But we do it anyway.
Remember, the first gift of the Spirit was speech. It was proclamation. The disciples had a story to tell. The people were hungry for that story, so the Spirit made it possible for them to hear it.
We have a story to tell. We have good news to proclaim. There are people all around us who are hungry for that story. They need to hear it as much as they need air to breathe. And we need to tell it. We have good news to proclaim. So as we wait and pray, let us pray on this day of Pentecost that our Pentecost will be upon us. Let us pray that we will be empowered and emboldened and disturbed by the coming of the Spirit. Let us pray for that wild, unsettling, exciting Spirit to soon be in our midst. Let us pray for our Pentecost to arrive. We have a story to tell. Our feet are itching to move. Come Holy Spirit, come. Let all God's children say, "Amen."