Come Holy Spirit: Saying Yes, Pentecost (A) – June 4, 2017

[RCL]: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The disciples were afraid! Their world had come to an abrupt end on a Friday afternoon as their teacher, leader, and friend had died in shame outside the city walls. There was no good news as they scattered from the city in search of safety, security, and something that resembled sanity. The preaching and teaching, traveling and telling seemed for nothing. The miraculous healings and even the raising of Lazarus were distant memories. The peaceful kingdom Jesus preached now lay in ruin, like his body on the cross. The blessing of the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the mournful felt like empty words. The disciples were heartbroken.

But some of their number, following the lead of Mary of Magdala, had gone to the tomb when others couldn’t muster the courage to even venture into the garden. The pain of loss was too new. The longing for the past, the good times, offered little comfort. But Mary had brought strange news: Jesus is alive! That cannot be. We saw the soldiers, the slow agonizing march through the city, the nails, and the cries. The news couldn’t possibly be true. The disciples were confused. They gathered together behind locked doors to comfort each other, to connect with the familiar, to feel safe. Safety in numbers behind locked doors. The world, the pain, the fear all safely kept at bay on the other side of a lock.

The locks, no matter how carefully crafted, cannot keep resurrection out. Even in this room flooded with memory and saturated with grief, resurrection seeps in.  “Peace be with you.” Jesus stands in their midst. Flesh and blood and body. Resurrected. Their fear turned to excitement, the locks forgotten because the one lost is alive with the scars to prove it. Look. Touch. It is really Jesus. Hope lives.

No matter how carefully barred, not even locked doors can keep the risen Jesus, the Anointed One, out. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The voice is familiar but it resounds with urgency and love. In that moment their lives are transformed. They can no longer hide behind doors frozen by fear, seeking to keep the world out. Jesus is alive, out there, out in the world, hidden in the guise of those in need. Come Holy Spirit.

On Easter evening, the disciples once more gather to find comfort in the familiar. Jesus is ascended. After the walk to Emmaus and breakfast on the shore, his work is now done. Once more, in a house behind closed doors, they gather. A violent wind engulfs the house, filling every corner and crevice.  Tongues of flame hover above their heads and unstop their tongues. Out into the world, out from the house, out from behind the doors, out to tell Good News to every nation, tribe, language, and people. Full of new wine? No, filled with God’s renewing Spirit. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit had come.

On Pentecost, we gather like the disciples behind closed doors. We come with hopes and fears, with doubts and certainties, with pain and joy looking to be transformed, to be resurrected, to be made new. We offer a simple prayer. A prayer that the followers of Jesus have whispered and sung, have shouted and signed: Come Holy Spirit. It is a plea, a prayer to be once more filled with the breath of God that called creation into being, to be replenished to enter the wilderness of doubt and uncertainty.

We whisper, we sing, we shout, we pray, we proclaim, “Come Holy Spirit.”

But do we really want the Holy Spirit to come among us? Jesus, after his Baptism, found himself driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness, where things happen, where we are forced to face ourselves laid bare. Do we really want to be filled with that Spirit? The Holy Spirit makes things happen, compels us out into the world to find Jesus present in our sisters and brothers. She opens our eyes to more clearly see Jesus in those we would rather keep at arm’s length, the ones we are more comfortable serving from a distance, from behind the security of locked doors and the safety of a checkbook.

Do we really want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit?

Like the disciples, we the church can sometimes crave the safety of locked doors, locked hearts, and locked minds. Behind locked doors, we can find comfort in the familiar, but if we truly seek to follow Jesus, we know that no locked doors will keep him from appearing in our midst and compelling us out in the world. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” are words of promise if we are open the moving of the Spirit in our lives, in our church, in our world. “Come Holy Spirit.”

Our prayer on this day is a dangerous prayer because it means that we must be open and vulnerable, willing to be challenged and changed so that we can seek and find Jesus in the ones we serve. “Come Holy Spirit” means that we must become open to the transforming power of God in our lives. It means that we will find ourselves standing with those on the margins, on the edges, on the outs.

Our simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit,” is the first step towards saying “yes” to God’s desire in our life of faith. We are called, with the Spirit’s help, to say yes to God!

The question for us is can we say yes to God at work? Can we say yes to stepping out from behind our closed doors and into the deep waters of loving our neighbors? Can we say yes to allowing the locked doors of our hearts and minds to be opened again and again and again?

Edwina Gateley sums up our longing to say yes to God in her poem Called to say yes.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

God’s crazy dream of love is our crazy dream of love. We are called to say “yes” to allow the Spirit of the Living God to fall afresh on us and unlock the doors that keep us from loving our neighbors. God’s crazy dream of love calls us to stand with and work for the homeless, the working poor, the outcast, the refugee, the persecuted, the put-down and the putout. Our sisters and brothers, Jesus in disguise, can no longer be simply petitions in our prayers but persons deserving of dignity, justice, and love.

Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Come Holy Spirit. Yes! Amen.

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, MI, for the last eleven years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time, Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.

 

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Things like that don’t happen anymore, right?, Day of Pentecost (A) – 2014

June 8, 2014

Acts 2:1-21Psalm 104:25-351 Corinthians 12:3b-13John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Picture it: The disciples are gathered for worship, as was their custom. They’ve brought with them some bread and some wine, and perhaps some olives or a few pieces of broiled fish. They arrive at the specified location, greet one another with the kiss of peace, and then begin their simple and intimate worship service. One of them reads from the Hebrew Scriptures, another offers a meditation and all of them share in the communal meal.

But all of a sudden, a violent rush of wind bursts into the room and flames descend upon the heads of the disciples! They try to communicate what is happening, only to discover that they are all speaking different language! The commotion in the house where the disciples are gathered is so loud that it quickly draws the attention of the people outside. As a crowd gathers and sees what is happening, many are amazed.

“What does this mean?” some wonder. Others approach the scene with a healthy dose of skepticism: “They are filled with new wine,” they scoffed. In other words, “They’re drunk.”

Just then, Peter jumps up and says something to the effect of, “Hey, we’re not drunk. It’s only 9 o’clock in the morning. What has happened to us isn’t because we’re full of wine, it’s because we’re full of the Spirit!” Peter continues, repeating the prophet Joel’s foretelling of the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh.

In the two millennia that have passed since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that first Day of Pentecost, Christians have associated this day with the beginning of Christianity as its own distinct religion – the experience of God doing a profoundly new thing.

Through the centuries, this day has become a celebration of that new thing – a celebration of something that happened a long, long time ago. After all, we’ve come here today to read ancient scripture about an ancient event, and aside from a few of the liturgical trappings, our worship surely doesn’t feel all that different.

But when Pentecost becomes just another nice, neat conclusion to a story that began thousands of years ago; or just another nice, neat liturgical celebration of something that happened a long, long time ago, it loses its ability to speak to us in the here-and-now. It loses its power.

Imagine a Sunday, not all that different from today. The weather is getting warmer, the flowers are blooming and final plans are being made for summer vacations. The faithful gather here at the church for the annual observance of Pentecost – or as our Anglican forebears call it, Whitsunday.

The service leaflets are proofed, folded and distributed with a caring smile; the baptismal font is adorned and prepared for the congregation to renew their baptismal vows; and the red paraments have been set out on the altar for the morning’s services.

The music begins to play, the people begin to sing, and the acolytes begin to make their way down the aisle when, all of a sudden, a violent rush of wind bursts into the nave and flames descend upon the heads of everyone who has gathered for worship! And just as the faithful attempt to put the experience into words, they realize that everyone is speaking a different language!

Of course, we can be assured of two things: If that happens here today, all of us will make the six o’ clock news and somebody is going to be having a lengthy chat with the bishop. Things like that just don’t happen anymore, right?

But what is still happening is that, just as they were 2,000 years ago, people are still crying out for salvation. Everywhere we look, people are imprisoned – physically, mentally and emotionally – behind walls of depression and loneliness and addiction, shackled with burdens that keep them from living into their identity as beloved children of God.

The cry for salvation is not a simple problem with a simple solution; it is a deep, guttural groaning for deliverance. It is a cry that the quick and easy formula of  “Say these six words and the rest of your life will turn out OK” can’t hush. It is a cry that a date on a calendar or a memorial of what happened a long time ago can’t soothe. And it is a cry that Christians who are content to let somebody else do the hard and dirty work can’t pacify. No, this cry can only be answered with a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit – a Pentecost right here in our midst!

But that’s impossible, right? Rushing winds and howling storms and spontaneously learning to speak different languages – the whole bit – that just doesn’t happen anymore, right?

Well maybe it doesn’t happen anymore. But that’s not the question Pentecost dares us to ask.

The question Pentecost dares us to ask is, Could it happen?

Could a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit happen?

Well, chances are that if we sit and wait for the Holy Spirit to send fire and wind and all of the trappings we’ve come to associate with the first Pentecost, we are going to be disappointed. But if we allow ourselves to imagine what a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit might look like, we may be surprised at what we find.

Maybe a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit causes us to approach a long-severed relationship with a loved one with new hope and fresh patience. Perhaps a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit nudges us to commit to a ministry – either here at the church or in the community. Or it could be that a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit draws us into a deeper, stronger, more life-giving relationship with God.

The Day of Pentecost calls us to keep watch – to imagine what a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit might look like in our own lives. Of course, if we sit and wait for the same old thing to happen, we’ll always get what we ask for. But if we allow ourselves to imagine something new, something fresh, something holy, then anything is possible.

God promises, not that the Holy Spirit was poured out a long, long time ago; not that the Holy Spirit might be poured out a little bit, here and there, on a chosen few; but that the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!

Can you imagine that?

 

— The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly is priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Florence, Ky., in the Diocese of Lexington. He earned a B.A. in American Studies from Transylvania University and a Master of Divinity and Certificate in Anglican Studies from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. 

 

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This is the work of the Comforter, Day of Pentecost (A) – 2011

June 12, 2011

Acts 2:1-21Psalm 104:25-351 Corinthians 12:3b-13John 20:19-23

The story of the coming of the Holy Spirit in an almost visible form – a form that was perceived by the senses – is one of the most dramatic stories in the New Testament. Ten days have passed since the One who had filled their lives with meaning, then with unbearable sorrow and bewilderment at his death, to culminate in the supreme joy and surprise of resurrection, that One is no longer with them. He left them encouraged after his appearances, yes, but filled with longing for his actual presence. He also left them with a tender promise: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you,” he said to them as recorded by John. “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” is recorded by Luke in his gospel.

Now, they are gathered together in one place, someone’s large house. Besides the eleven remaining disciples, there are others who followed Jesus through his years of ministry – the ones who never abandoned him. So obviously there are many women among them. They are all in a state of waiting: they know their Scriptures and this time they will not make a mistake – after the resurrection, they know that they must believe in the promises.

They are together and they are waiting, probably praying in total silence. And it is at that point that their senses are invaded, assaulted: a violent wind makes a terrifying noise; those who have suffered through hurricanes and tornadoes know the sound. Fire that is seen rushing toward one is equally terrifying: they see it like a divided tongue burning on other people’s heads.

But this time they are not afraid. They look at each other and they laugh with a delight that breaks forth in uncontrollable babbling. They pour out of the house because they have something to say – aloud, and in a manner understood by others, no matter what language they speak at home. It’s a delirious moment. It cannot be contained. It must be shared; otherwise how can they possibly believe that they are not dreaming?

The streets fill with their sounds until strangers think them drunk. Peter, the man who had denied his best friend in the most critical moments of his life, that Peter, is unrecognizable now. He must be laughing as he says, “How can they be drunk at nine o’clock in the morning?” He is filled with words – the words of the prophets. He sees so many different kinds of people in front of him that he strives to address all of them. To the girls he says, “You will prophecy! You will preach through the Holy Spirit.” To the young men he says, “You will see visions.” And to the old whose eyes are clouded and who no longer see clearly he promises, “You shall dream dreams.” These are the words of the prophet Joel, but Peter makes them his own knowing that they apply to the crowd before him; he understands the meaning of “all flesh.”

The resurrected Christ is not a possession of some but a gift to all! The wondrous drama of the day continues with miracles: the miracle of language understood by all; the miracle of Peter’s ability to rise above his humble Galilean accent and upbringing; the miracle of hearts being touched and changed. What a dramatic day, that day of the coming of the Comforter, that day of understanding glossolalia

By contrast, the teaching of Paul to the Corinthians on this gift of glossalalia is subdued. We go from the spectacular to the restrained. The day of Pentecost, full of drama and energy, was necessary for the beginning of the new age. But as is the habit of the human race, even good intentions are corrupted when we forget the common good in order to promote our own ego, our personal good alone.

The Corinthians, in this first century of the new life in Christ, are quarrelling about the gifts of the Spirit. Former pagans most of them, they remember ecstatic pagan rites and they are confusing them with the speaking in tongues, no matter that most of the time they are not making sense. Reasonably and quietly Paul cautions them that speaking in a tongue not understood by the listeners is of no value. Gifts, like laws, are corrupted. Jesus refused to keep the Sabbath if it meant ignoring the needs of those who suffered and needed his healing. That law had been corrupted by those who kept the law at the expense of human beings. The gift of language is corrupted when we abuse it or when we claim it for our benefit even when no one else understands it. What good is human brilliance if it harms others instead of helping them?

To Paul, the manifestation, the presence and gifts of the Spirit, are as nothing if they are not used for the common good. He sees the Spirit as one and all- encompassing. He recognizes gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healing, faith, preaching, discernment, and interpretation as valid; but they must all work together, even when they are given to separate individuals, because we all belong to one body, that of the church, that of Christ.

How petty all our differences appear in the face of such conviction. To Paul, even the spectacular ability to perform miracles becomes as nothing when there is no love, he will write in a few minutes to the Corinthians when he presents them with “a more excellent way.” To Paul, also, divisions that move us away from drinking of one Spirit, are dangerous and destructive. The spectacular does not interest him when it comes to the communal good; it is like a clanging cymbal, he says. The working together as one body in Christ is of huge value to him.

In the years that follow, Paul will sacrifice his life to this end: teaching his churches that we are one in Christ. He was not present on the day of Pentecost, but he is filled with the Holy Spirit who reveals all these things to him.

This then is the work of the Comforter, the one promised by Jesus to his disciples: the Comforter was with Paul and the Comforter is with us. So let us not lose heart if we don’t have dramatic and miraculous events in our lives. Listen to how quietly Jesus gave the Spirit to his immediate friends in one of his post-resurrection appearances: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”

May we all feel his holy breath on us today.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of “Walking the Way of Sorrows” among other books of Biblical monologues. She lives and writes in Boone, North Carolina. 

Gifts of generosity and hospitality, Day of Pentecost (A) – 2008

May 11, 2008

Acts 2:1-21Psalm 104:25-351 Corinthians 12:3b-13John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

The family arrived on a warm June day: a mother, grandmother, and five children ranging in ages from 17 to 3. As they scrambled out of the van, it was apparent just how tired they were. Some time ago this family had traveled from a refugee camp in Cameroon to Darfur, Sudan. There they caught a plane that flew them to Paris, then to the United States. The littlest ones were teary-eyed and clingy, hanging on to the bone-thin hand of their grandmother. The mother and older children had that glazed look that comes from extreme fatigue. This family, refugees from war-torn Rwanda, was being placed by the local resettlement agency. A house had been acquired, but necessary renovations were still in progress. So for the next few days the family would live in the church.

The church had spare rooms not being used over the summer, rooms that had been hastily converted from Sunday school rooms into bedrooms and a living room. Downstairs was a full kitchen, and the bathrooms contained showers. The family would be comfortable and have a relative degree of privacy in their temporary home.

The afternoon of their arrival, members of the church greeted the family and gave them a tour of the church. The family spoke a native dialect of Rwanda and a little French, but no English. A translator, a former refugee from Rwanda and now an employee of the resettlement agency, followed the tour, interpreting for the family. “Here is the kitchen. This is a gas oven. You light it this way. Be careful. Here are the pots and pans and dishes. Watch the children outside, do not let them run off the property; cars will zoom by fast, they could be hurt. There is food in the fridge; don’t eat the rabbits in the yard or the birds.” It was clear that this family was in a whole new world. Before the tour was over, most of the family members had found and claimed a bed and fallen asleep.

Over the next week, the family fell into a rhythm with the life of the parish. During office hours the family was usually still sleeping, their biological clocks still set several time zones away, on the other side of the world. Later in the afternoon they would rise and begin their day. Slowly over the week their hours shifted. By Sunday they were able to worship with the Korean Methodist Church that shared the building with the Episcopal congregation. It was an amazing sight: a Methodist service spoken in Korean, held in an American Episcopal Church, attended by Rwandans in full African attire.

At the lunch that followed, a few members of both the Episcopal and Methodist congregations were able to speak with the family in sparse French. It seems French was a common language in the refugee camp and now a common language shared among this diverse group of Koreans, Americans, and Rwandans gathered for a meal.

Members of the church dropped by during the week to bring the kids some things to play with: soccer balls, used bikes, tennis rackets and balls, and sidewalk chalk. The kids were delighted, and ran gleefully off to play. Laughter filled the air, another common language that knows no boundaries.

Six days after their arrival, the house was ready, and the family prepared to move out of the church. A large van arrived to take their few belongings, three suitcases for seven people. Plus seven beds with bed linens, two scooters, two bikes, and a few balls donated by the church. The sum total of their possessions.

Members of the church helped them pack. As the family loaded the last of their things, the daughter turned and offered the priest a few gifts – a small wooden picture with strands of colored wheat, and two coasters with psalms inscribed – gifts a nun had helped them make in the refugee camp in Cameroon. A family with virtually nothing, and yet they came bearing gifts of gratitude. Thankfulness, another common language shared.

One parish member and his son drove the van and helped the family move into their house. With the family gone, the church seemed quieter than ever. Lingering aromas from the fragrant meals remained, but otherwise all was quiet. The church learned a profound lesson that week, a lesson about giving, sharing, and living in an abundant yet simple way.

Despite all the differences of language, and culture, and food, and customs, a bond was formed. Regardless of the inability to really speak to one another, the church members and the family members were able to communicate a shared compassion for one another and a common love of God. It was truly an experience of the Holy Spirit moving in and through them all.

Our reading today from Acts points us in this same direction. We hear that the disciples have all gathered in one place, people from all over the region, people all speaking different languages. And then a rush of wind, unlike ordinary wind, energized and fiery as only the Holy Spirit can be, comes and fills them with a sensation that changes them forever. Suddenly they have the ability to hear and understand one another. The room is electric. They stand confused, astonished, and conscious of what has happened, God was in that wind. What an awesome experience it must have been.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In his departure Jesus has let loose the Holy Spirit. The disciples describe this experience as a wind, as tongues of fire. Hildegard of Bingen has a slightly different way of describing the presence of the Holy Spirit. In this translation from Stephen Mitchell’s anthology of poetry, “The Enlightened Heart,” we hear her description:

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart
From its ancient sleep.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is given to us as a constant reminder that God is with us. The Holy Spirit comes not just to comfort us, but also to change us; for the love of God will do that – change us from the inside out, and awaken us in new ways, even when we do not understand how or why. Through the incarnation, in the person of Jesus, we are taught that God intends to be active in the lives of human beings. In giving us the Holy Spirit, Christ conveys the idea that God intends to work in and through us to bring forth the hopes and dreams of a living God. This God of ours continues to create in ways beyond our understanding.

So, whether you know the Holy Spirit as a fiery breath of wind, or a presence that awakens your heart, or in becoming familiar with a strange new land, Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to us.

Given to us in baptism and honed by a life of faith, the Holy Spirit imbues us with gifts that are intended to be shared – gifts of generosity and hospitality offered with God’s help. Our baptismal covenant reminds us that the acts of caring and sharing enable us to participate in God’s creative worldwide energy.

With gratitude for the God who has given us life, the Holy Spirit beckons us to open our hearts to the world around us, offering hospitality to those we meet, friend and stranger alike.

 

— The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is the rector of St. Francis-in-the-Valley, Green Valley, Arizona. She works with the Office of Women’s Ministry to host a feminist theology blog: http://feministheology.blogspot.com