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Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey.
May 20th, 2018
Today is Pentecost Sunday
Today we commemorate the remarkable, and very mysterious moment, that we are told about in the second chapter of the Acts the Apostles, when Christ’s disciples gathered in an upper room and…
…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
tongues of fire…
The sudden ability to speak other languages…
This scene is dramatic…
Today, with our blockbuster summer movies and our laser-light-show- fogbank-quadrophonic-surround-sound-stadium-sized extravaganza performances, you and I can easily imagine a scene like this.
But for the people of the first century AD?
They had no context for it.
Or almost no context…
If you think about it — the disciples actually had some experience with this kind of scene, in which things are not exactly what they seem.
This was the kind of thing that used to happen when Jesus was around.
It probably reminded them of the time Jesus turned water into wine, or that time he fed the 5000 with a few scraps of bread.
Something that we assume to be limited — like wine, bread or, in this case language — becomes virtually unlimited.
It probably reminded them of the time Jesus walked on water or cured the blind man by putting mud on his eyes. Jesus was fond of taking natural things — like water, mud or, in this case wind and fire — and giving them strange new power.
This amazing Pentecostal moment may not have been all that unbelievable to the disciples.
They could understand it.
It had “Jesus” all over it.
But there was a problem.
At this point in the story, Jesus himself was no longer present.
According to tradition, he had ascended to heaven ten days prior.
So, for the disciples, this experience must have been more than a little disorienting.
Christ had been a surprising and unpredictable teacher at times, but when was alive, the disciples at least had someone to point to when amazing miracles occurred.
They could nod at each other knowingly and say: “that was Jesus alright.”
But Pentecost happened after Christ himself was gone.
The disciples couldn’t nod knowingly at each other, because Jesus was gone.
They had to find some other way to explain what this amazing rush of wind and descent of flame.
And they pointed, of course, to the Holy Spirit.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Did you catch that?
The story of Pentecost does not say that the Holy Spirit descended and transformed the disciples and then rushed off again.
The story says that they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is a big deal.
This is a big change in the story of our religion.
Before this moment, if something miraculous and amazing took place in the story of our religion, we know where to point — we pointed at Jesus.
But in this story, something amazing happens…
We point at the Holy Spirit
and the Holy Spirit becomes a part of us!
This narrative moves from distance to intimacy.
God was far far away.
And then there was Jesus — a man who was alive, walked the earth, taught and suffered and was, at the same time, in some mysterious way, also God.
And after Jesus, God — in the form of the Holy Spirit — filled us. God became part of our nature.
But what does this mean?
Are all humans — as God’s children, made in God’s image — are we all filled with the Holy Spirit?
I want to affirm this to be true, but its not easy.
Your mind does not need to travel far before it stumbles upon people like Adolf Hitler, for example — who seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with the Holy Spirit.
Are we OK with idea of Adolf Hitler, filled with the Holy Spirit?
I think of Auschwitz and I have a hard time with that idea.
And what about a radical atheist like Richard Dawkins? He’s not evil like Hitler, but Dawkins was an intellectual who dedicated his whole life to proving that all religion is nothing but a dangerous human folly.
Could he be filled with the Holy Spirit?
If he was, I’m sure he’d be none too pleased about it.
What about a Buddhist or a Muslim person?
Buddhists have no interest in God, and Muslims are so interested in God, they believe the very idea of the Holy Spirit is blasphemy.
Perhaps you have to be Christian to be filled with the Holy Spirit…
Its not that simple is it?
In the excerpt from the 8th chapter of Romans that Brenda read for us, the Apostle Paul has something to say about all this.
Regarding the Holy Spirit, Paul says that
the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Here again it seems as though the Spirit is not outside us, but within us —
When we, in our “weakness” fail to connect with God, the spirit intercedes to help us.
But how? How does Paul describe the help given by the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit give us winning lottery ticket?
How about a new more fuel efficient car?
That would be helpful — but no. These are the external ways that we humans help each other.
When the Holy Spirit helps us… our help comes from within.
The Holy Spirit is not a hand to help you up, or a shoulder to cry on. According to Paul, the Holy Spirit is a shuddering exhalation of breath…
A desire so profound that it cannot even form a word.
The Holy Spirit helps us by going deep inside us and compelling us with a intensity of feeling that goers utterly beyond meaning — making our bodies themselves the vibration of pure mystery.
Jesus also speaks on this subject.
The short passage that Brenda read from the 16th chapter of John, Jesus says:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
This sounds different from Paul — it sounds like the Holy Spirit is an external guide, not an internal vibration.
But then Jesus says:
he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears
Did you catch that?
The Holy Spirit will be a guide, but not a tour guide who just tells you things about what you see along the way.
The Holy Spirit speaks…
But the Holy Spirit also listens.
And the voice of the Holy Spirit, is our voice.
We are, in this way of thinking, vessels that contain the Holy Spirit’s voice. Instruments that are being played by the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus calls the spirit by a new name — the spirit of truth.
We are instruments, being played by the spirit of truth!
I love this.
But it doesn’t solve the Hitler problem.
If I am going to stand up here in this pulpit and say something on this question, it is the conviction of my faith, that not everyone may be filled with the Holy Spirit, but each of us — each and every one of us — can be filled with the Holy Spirit — if our soul is open.
We can turn away, if we choose.
Or we can try — try to open our souls
Try to live in a way that is vulnerable to truth.
This is not easy.
It is not a passive stance.
It is a discipline — the discipline of finding love and acting on it.
A discipline of faith.
Hatred is easy.
Love is hard.
Opened by our faith, we breath in the spirit of truth.
We breath in a mystery that trembles within us with sighs too deep for words,
And we become God’s collaborators, involved in a conspiracy to bring love into the world.