Pentecost 2013

It was Pentecost. The disciples were gathered all together in one place. And the Holy Spirit came among them like a rush of wind, like the breath of god, the sound of a mighty exhalation, god whispering in what might seem to the vastness of the universe like a still small voice; a whisper which deafened the disciples like the roar of a hurricane, with the timbre of a tornado, rushing and beating and throbbing and insisting,
I am here.

They all knew the stories of Moses. They were Jews; they had been raised on the Exodus and the covenants and the burning bush, so when tongues as of fire divided and settled on each person’s head, then their neighbours saw and recognized the sign of the Angel of The Lord, the presence of god come to earth, the fire that burns but does not consume.
Their shoes would already have been removed, since they were indoors; truly, surrounded by burning women and men, every one knew themselves to be by the sign of the others to be in the presence of the divine.

Did each know that his own head burned, too? Yes; he must have seen the flames reflected in his astonished sister’s eyes.

Silence. First the noise, then the shear shock robbed them of words, of their sense almost. Then, as the wind died down and the flames began to diminish, the impulsive one said,

“Dude! Your head was on fire!”
And the dude said, “Ja, ganz recht es war!”
And another said, “C’est incroyable!”

Whose idea was it to go outside and try out their new voices on the crowd? One who remembered, perhaps, Jesus’ injunction to them: you will do even greater things than these, after I have gone to the Father.

These were people who knew their history, who knew the wonderful deeds that god could do when a bush was set on fire in the path of a reluctant refugee like Moses. They had recently witnessed much greater deeds than these, travelling with Jesus before and after his execution, his resurrection. They knew, by now, to take his predictions and his promises seriously. They knew their history, and they gathered together in one place to rehearse that history, to praise God and pray together, so that when the call came, the urging of the Holy Spirit upon them, they were ready to do great things. They went out declaring, so the crowd reports, the wonderful deeds of god, confident that they would be understood, even if they themselves weren’t entirely sure what they were saying.
Jesus said, you will do greater things than these.
They were ready to rock Jerusalem’s multicultural world.

Do we believe that? Do we really claim the baptism of the Holy Spirit poured out upon us? Do we read our salvation history and expect that we, like they, will be touched by a burning flame, passionate and lively, powerful yet gentle, and sent out to proclaim, to demonstrate, the greatness of god in the world? Do we look for the tell-tale signs of God’s presence with us, among us, the tongues of fire, the blaze of the Spirit of God within everyone we meet? Do we remove our shoes to acknowledge the ground upon which they stand, upon which we meet, as holy ground, touched by the presence of God?

Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit is with us, is in us. The Holy Spirit is God’s continuation of the Emmanuel story, the story that tells how god lives among us and loves us intimately, pouring upon us the life of the divine, eternal life.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God, says Paul. For we do not receive a spirit of slavery, but of adoption. We are not mean minions, cowed and bowed before God, but we are heirs with Christ, children adopted into the family of God. Adoption means that whatever has been, wherever, whoever we have been, whatever names we bring with us, we are from henceforth now and forever family, with all of the rights and responsibilities, privileges and advantages of blood-born children. We are God’s family, and we can do anything, be anything that we are called to be, in the family business.

I met a woman once who had given up praying because she felt unworthy any more to approach god. I asked her what would it take for her to know that god still loved her, that god missed her and wanted to invite her back into the relationship that she once enjoyed through her prayer; that God forgave her,. She said she would need a sign.
This was well before I was ordained. I wasn’t at all sure that I had the authority to say what I was about to say, but since she had asked for a sign, I suggested that maybe god sending someone to listen to her, and then to tell her unequivocally that god had forgiven her and loved her and wanted her to come back into the divine embrace – could that be a sign? She agreed that could work, and together we prayed.
I was afraid, honestly, to claim that I might be a sign from god to anyone, but I am convinced that the Holy Spirit was indeed burning in that room, between her and me, and that the power of that flame was what burned away enough guilt, shame and fear from both of us to achieve and pretty great outcome.

In the Holy Spirit, with the Holy Spirit, you have become the signs of God’s presence in the world, the dwelling place of God. In the Holy Spirit, we know ourselves to be children of God, with all of the rights and responsibilities and privileges of family. It is a bold claim, but we are not given a spirit of fear but of fire, to do great things. In the Holy Spirit we have the boldness, the confidence to do great things, and those great things can start with a simple word, spoken to someone in their own language. And they can happen anywhere: at work, at play, on the bus, on the beach, even at church.

Teilhard de Chardin says,

“There are, of course, certain noble and cherished moments of the day – those when we pray or receive the sacraments. Were it not for these moments of more efficient or explicit commerce with God, the tide of divine omnipresence, and our perception of it, would weaken until all that was best in our human endeavour, without being entirely lost to the world, would be for us emptied of God. But once we have jealously safeguarded our relation to God [thus] encountered …, there is no need to fear that the most trivial or the most absorbing of occupations should force us to depart from him. … Nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see …Try to realize that heaven itself smiles upon you, and through your works, draws you to itself; then, as you leave church for the noisy streets, you will remain with only one feeling, that of continuing to immerse yourself in God.”[1]

We come together, continuing in the apostles’ teaching and in the prayers, so as to equip one another, to draw water from the well of god’s praise, to rekindle the flame of passion for God’s mercy and love, then we are sent out to proclaim god’s greatness in many different ways and languages; the language of work, of play, or forgiveness and love, of generosity, of music and the arts, each of them the language of the family of God.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came … divided tongues, as of fire, … and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” And as they looked at one another, and recognized the presence of God in each and every one around them, each saw reflected in their neighbour’s eyes that same fiery passion of God anointing their own heads.

Amen.


[1] Teilhard de Chardin, The  Divine Milieu (London: William Collins Sons & Co, Ltd and New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1960),  pp. 65-66

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