St. John's, Centreville
June 9, 2019
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come as the wind and cleanse; come as the fire and burn; convert and consecrate our lives to our great good and your great glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"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."
Pentecost. Often called the birthday of the church. Fifty days after Easter. The day of celebration when God sends the Holy Spirit to enable and empower those who struggled to carry on the gospel of Jesus Christ after his ascension. When Jesus left this earth, he promised the disciples that he would not leave them comfortless. He would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them and sustain them. And he does that in a very powerful and dramatic way. As the glorious culmination of the Easter season, the Feast of Pentecost is the fulfillment of Christ's promise to send the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Acts, the sending of the Holy Spirit happens after Jesus' ascension into heaven. About 120 people from many different cultural and racial groups are gathered with the disciples in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, the Shavuot, the feast where the community gives thanks for the first fruits of the harvest and people from all over have come together for the celebration. They hear the rush of the violent wind, they see flames of fire, and they hear each other speak in different languages. This is not unintelligible babble. The languages spoken are recognized by people from these different nations. They are filled with the Holy Spirit, not for their own personal gain, but for the uplifting and leading of the community, for the strength and courage to spread the gospel.
After being filled with the Holy Spirit, the work of the disciples becomes much more intentional. They tell their own stories about their experiences with Jesus, what he had said and what he had done. They go back two by two to other places where Jesus had been, and they travel to new places to spread the gospel. Three thousand people are baptized after Pentecost, and more and more are baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit as the disciples continue to preach the gospel. They are changed forever and they begin to change the world.
The disciples are no longer hiding in an upper room, scared that they might be found and killed. After being filled with the Holy Spirit, they know they have to go out and preach, and heal, and forgive as Jesus did, no matter what happens to them. We can imagine the excitement, the fear, the mystery, the fulfillment of that first Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit comes upon all those who were with the disciples - young and old, men and women, Jews and Gentiles. The Holy Spirit does not discriminate as to whether someone is worthy or not, based on human standards. Those who open themselves to receive the Holy Spirit are filled with God's love, mercy and strength.
When the Holy Spirit comes upon them, Jesus' followers are able to speak in different languages. The Holy Spirit is not looking for uniformity, for everyone to be the same. The Holy Spirit thrives in diversity. Pentecost gives power to the band of Jesus' followers to speak the languages of the world, to tell the gospel in every language.
The early church is to bear witness to the ends of the earth in the languages of the people of the world. The Holy Spirit embraces different cultures, different ways of worshipping, different languages, different images of God.
God has woven differences into humanity, differences that, when incorporated into the community, make us more complete, more like the image of God, better able to know what God is like. The problem arises when one group wants power over another, and insists that its identity alone reflects the nature of God, and that those who are different should be subdued or erased for the good of all, like Hitler's Germany.
The image of God is not always something we can see by looking at someone but rather something we can know better by being in community with one another. We are created for community, and never fully live into God's image until we live in communion with others, where we share worship, share the sacraments, share our burdens and joys, share being a part of the Body of Christ. Being in community assumes difference, not uniformity, or conformity to a single nationality, or ethnicity, or tribe or age or gender.
The story of Pentecost, with its infectious energy, should fill us with a renewed sense of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. It should remind us of who we are as a church, what we proclaim and why it is important. It should fill us as individuals as we live out the gospel in our lives. Each time we pray "Come, Holy Spirit, come" we are filled with God's life-changing presence.
One experience of the Holy Spirit may be in restoring broken relationships. You are estranged from someone you care about. One of you did or said something to hurt the other and a wall has been between you ever since. Then a "chance" encounter happens, words of forgiveness are exchanged, and the walls come down and relationships are restored. That is the Holy Spirit.
Or a group gets together to make a major decision. Lines have been drawn, the battles are set. Everyone has their own agenda. Then someone says a prayer, people begin to talk to each other, not at each other. People listen to the opinions of others. They become creative, coming up with more ideas none of them had thought of before. The discussion becomes more about what is best for the group, rather than "will I win or lose." That is the Holy Spirit.
(last three paragraphs paraphrased from Taylor's book "Home by Another Way")
As we open our eyes more, we can see the working of the Holy Spirit a bit more clearly. Actions that we wouldn't normally give a second thought to, or label as a coincidence, we now see as the work of the Holy Spirit. We begin to pray more for the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. And we see that work more and more.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is an ongoing gift from God, not just for us individually, but also for us as a congregation. In just a few moments, we will welcome into this community of faith Reyan Walker Nayyar, by the sacrament of Holy Baptism. He will be sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever. The Holy Spirit will lead him and guide him as he grows in the Christian faith. And we will surround him with the love and prayers and spiritual support he will need, because, as a community of faith, that is what we are called to do.
Pentecost reminds us that we are called to spread the gospel with renewed energy, to live the gospel as one who has been filled with the Holy Spirit and to reaffirm our participation as disciples in the Body of Christ in the local and world community.
May God's Holy Spirit lift us up, renew and strengthen our faith and commitment, and lead us to further God's kingdom in this world. Amen.