May 24, 2015/Pentecost Sunday
I had a different opening planned for my sermon this morning. But last night when the sirens went off, I went into my bathtub, which is about the only semi-safe spot in my house, put pillows over my head, and waited. While I was lying there – and I admit that I went back to the bathtub even though the sirens were no longer going off – I listened to this fierce wind blow and bluster and rage around my house. It was so loud, like this never-ending roaring. I wondered if maybe this was a taste of what the disciples heard when they were sitting together, waiting. I don’t believe I’ve ever really given much thought to the noise of that wind from heaven before, but it must have been deafening. This cacophony of sound and noise was not limited to the wind. From the hissing of the flames as they descended to the jumbled tones of all of them suddenly speaking different languages at the same time; I cannot begin to imagine that enormous sound. But I can imagine this. I can imagine that all of that noise was probably more than a little frightening to some. Maybe the people who were witnessing this were a bit scared. Maybe the disciples themselves were scared at what was happening to them and in them and through them. I would have been. But whoever said that Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, wasn’t scary?
Scary isn’t usually a word that we associate with Pentecost, is it? Honestly, it has become one of my favorite feast days in the whole church year. It’s a celebration like Christmas, but gifts are not required. We have a cake, and in some churches the congregation will sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, but I don’t have to buy anyone presents. We get to wear red, and I love wearing red. And I don’t have to buy anyone presents! Pentecost is fabulous! But last night in my bathtub, that wind was not fabulous, it was frightening. I couldn’t tell what was happening outside of my house, all I could hear was the wind, and it was scary.
It must have been frightening for the disciples, heck it must have been terrifying. When Jesus ascended, he told them that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So they knew that was what they were waiting for, but what would the coming of the Spirit be like? Let’s face it, Jesus told the disciples many times that he would be crucified and resurrected, and they could not grasp that until it happened. I suspect that it was the same with the coming of the Spirit. They were waiting, but for what? Then when it came?! This loud, rushing wind; these tongues of flame dancing above their heads; their sudden ability to speak languages they could never speak before; Pentecost is scary, people!
When I say that Pentecost is scary, I don’t mean that it is scary in a horror movie kind of way. It is scary because it can’t be controlled, because the Holy Spirit blows where it will, because it calls and compels us to do and speak and act in ways we could not fathom before. The truth is, if we don’t find Pentecost a little scary, a bit unnerving, then we have lost what it means for the Holy Spirit to come into our midst. If we are not shaken up by the coming of the Holy Spirit, then we are probably guilty of domesticating that Spirit, of trying to tame it and lasso it to do our bidding.
I suspect that we do that often, don’t we? I know I do. I pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to be with us and work through us just about every week. But I’ve realized that often what I’m really praying for is not that Holy Spirit will work through me or guide me, but that the Holy Spirit will just come along on the path I’ve chosen. Instead of praying, “Come Holy Spirit, come,” I think what I’m actually praying is, “Follow, Holy Spirit, follow.”
But maybe the Holy Spirit coming is more like what it was when I was lying in my bathtub last night. It’s unnerving. It’s loud. You don’t know what’s happening, and you’re afraid to get up and look. Yet even when I was lying there, praying, I had a deep sense of trust that it would be okay, that I would be okay. I know that if a tornado had actually hit, my house and my person might not have been okay. But I still trusted. Me, the one who struggles to trust, who struggles to let go of my need to control, trusted that somehow all would be well. A mess true, but still I trusted it would be well. Eventually. I think that’s the key. Trust. The Holy Spirit is not a tame little breeze that we can manipulate to do our will. The Holy Spirit is God rushing into our midst. The Holy Spirit is God pulling us, pushing us, calling us, compelling us to go a new way, do a new thing, live a new life, answer a new call. The Holy Spirit is God’s great whoosh of strength and courage and love. Thanks be to God for God’s almighty whoosh of the Holy Spirit, and may we go in trust where it calls. Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.