The power of the Holy Spirit is like the rising tide, Day of Pentecost (B) – May 31, 2009

(RCL) Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104: 25-35,37; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

“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 game them ability.”

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. While today’s Christians associate Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it would be incorrect to think that the Spirit was not in existence prior to the Pentecost celebration described in today’s reading from Acts. In fact, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explains that in Old Testament times, the Spirit was understood as the “active but impersonal power of God.”

However, in the New Testament, the Spirit undergoes two developments. First, it is understood that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon all Christians at their baptism. This morning’s reading from Acts is a prime example of this, as the Holy Spirit fills all those gathered in the form of violent wind and fire.

The second development of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, is that it is “personalized and given ethical content.” Examples of the personalized nature of the Spirit come from today’s reading from John, when we hear Jesus’ assurance that the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, will be sent to us and that the Spirit will be with us, and guide us, guiding us into all truth.

In First Corinthians we are assured that anyone united with the Lord becomes one with him in Spirit. Examples of the ethical content of the Spirit can also be found in today’s gospel reading. For example, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Because we live in a world that is known by being seen, touched, and measured, the idea that the power of the Holy Spirit is at work within us at all times is a difficult concept for many Christians. But just because we cannot see, touch, or measure the Spirit, does not mean that its power is not at work. Gerard Fuller in his book Stories for All Seasons tells of a beached tanker:

“All day efforts had been made to return the huge vessel to the water, but with no success. Finally, the captain told all crews and companies to stop; he went to his cabin and waited. When the tide came in that night the waters lifted the thousand-ton tanker off the beach and carried it, light as a feather, back to the deep.”

The power of the Holy Spirit is like the rising tide – imperceptible, yet with the power to do far more than we can ever imagine. Even when we can’t see it, we can know that the Spirit is at work.

So the question for today is, “How can we, who live in a world that is wary of the mysterious, better connect and trust in the unseen power of the Spirit?”

First, we can remember that the Spirit acts in God’s time, not necessarily ours.

There’s a story about two young priests, both parents of school-aged children, both of whom had lost their spouses due to untimely deaths. One had lost his wife several years before, the other, only recently. One day they met over coffee, and the recently widowed priest asked his friend how he had endured such pain and loss.

The more seasoned priest used a metaphor to answer his friend’s question. He asked him to visualize walking through a beautiful, thick forest of ancient redwoods. Suddenly, there is a terrible sound, and one of the largest redwoods violently crashes to the ground. It is lying out of place, unnaturally on its side, roots exposed. An enormous hole in the forest floor is all that remains of its former life.

The priest then asked his friend to imagine returning to the site of the fallen tree years later. While the hole is still there, and always would be, the edges had softened. Where freshly exposed, barren dirt once was, ferns and wildflowers now grow. Water was now collecting in the hole, and wildlife would drink from the spot. And the fallen tree was slowly becoming part of the landscape. Over time, the scene had been transformed from a brutal, lifeless, unnatural one to one that, while still was out of place – after all, thriving redwoods should not fall in their prime – was at least now producing new life and beauty.

The Power of the Spirit is at work to transform even the most painful of circumstances, but we must remember that God’s time can sometimes take longer than we would wish.

The second thing we can do to better connect and trust in the Holy Spirit is to pray, knowing the Spirit is at work as our intercessor.

In Romans 8 we hear that “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” During these hard economic times when many of us feel fearful, it is important to remember to turn to prayer. There is a resource available through the national church’s Office of Stewardship called “Hope in Hard Times.” It suggests that we need to count our blessings as well as acknowledge our anxieties as we live through these anxious times. As we count both our blessings and our worries, it advises us to write them down and share them with someone we trust. Then we should share them with the Lord in prayer, knowing that the Spirit is with us even if our prayers seem inadequate.

And finally, to remain open to the power of the Spirit we must remain in motion. We must not withdraw into inaction, regardless of situation.

In the book of Acts we hear the Spirit referred to as a rush of a violent wind. Imagine you’re sitting on the shore of your favorite body of water. There’s a brisk wind, and a small sailboat is just off shore. But the boat doesn’t have its sails up – just its bare mast. The winds become stronger and the currents push the vessel until finally it runs aground.

Think how different the outcome would have been if the captain had simply raised the sails and worked with the wind. Instead of being beached on the shore, helpless, the small craft could have moved with the wind, working with that unseen power to overcome the forces of the earthly currents.

The power of the Holy Spirit is working in each of our lives right now, but it requires us to be in motion in order to act. Complacency just isn’t allowed.

The power of the Holy Spirit: overwhelmingly powerful, yet an elusive concept for many Christians. But we can be assured that the Spirit is with us. The power of the Holy Spirit is with each and every one of us. This is the promise of Holy Scripture, and the Good News of today.

 

— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson has worked at the Episcopal Church Center in New York for over three year in the areas of strategic planning and collaboration, Center direction, and small-church ministries. Prior to her current position, she served in congregations in New Zealand and Carmel, California. She is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a proud mum of three teens and a tween.

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