“Come, Holy Spirit”
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 31, 2020
Day of Pentecost
“Flame of the Spirit,” by David Adam:
Flame of the Spirit,
Burn within us,
Set our hearts on fire,
And we shall be changed.
Wind of the Spirit,
Blow through us,
Move us by your power,
And we shall be changed.
Breath of God,
Fill our lives,
Inspire our actions,
And we shall be changed.
When the shutters are drawn and the doors closed,
When we are dried up and all hope is gone,
When chaos rules and we live in fear,
When our resources are gone and we cannot cope,
When we are restricted and it feels like the grave,
Come, fill us, Holy Spirit.
Come, inspire, refresh, renew us.
Today is Pentecost—the birthday of the church. It is a festival day of our faith that is meant to be celebrated. But first, let us back up for a moment to recount events prior to Pentecost. You will recall that after Easter, Jesus shows himself to many of his followers. He knows he will not be with them for long, but he has promised he will not leave them stranded. “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” Then, right before his ascension, Jesus offers last minute instructions, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”[i] The disciples and other believers stand watching as a cloud takes Jesus out of their sight. Then, they return to Jerusalem, to the upper room where they have been staying—all together in one place. They pray and they wait. They wait and they pray. The next move is up to God.
Don’t you hate that? I mean, don’t you just hate when you get to a place where ALL you can do is wait and pray. All you can do is wait on God to make the next move. Waiting is hard for us. Often, praying is hard, too. We long for something to do. But sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a place where all we can do—all we are supposed to do—is wait and pray. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Psalmist advises.
After a time, at the suggestion of Peter, the disciples pray for discernment and a replacement for Judas is found. Then, once again, they wait, until suddenly from heaven there comes a rush of a violent wind and divided tongues, as of fire, rest upon each of them. The Holy Spirit comes upon the people like a wildfire and the church is born. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin to speak in other languages—languages that just moments ago were foreign—even to them. Divided tongues, as of fire, unite people who have been scattered as everyone hears about God’s deeds of power in their own native language. Through the divided tongues, as of fire, the rush of the violent wind and the sound of every language of every land, God’s presence is both seen and heard with God’s sending of the Holy Spirit.
The people are amazed and perplexed. Some accuse the disciples of being drunk. In response, Peter jumps up, raises his voice, and proclaims to the people gathered around that this is nothing less than the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken long ago from the lips of the prophet, Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The disciples have followed Jesus for three years—witnessed his many miracles, heard his mighty teachings. Now he has gone—but he has not left them alone. For where the Holy Spirit is—Jesus is present in a special way. Where the Holy Spirit is—God is present in a special way.
Perhaps you have heard the story about the little girl who had a nightmare one night. Convinced that there was a monster in her room, she ran crying to her mother. After her mother calmed her down, she took her daughter back to her bedroom and said, “You do not need to be afraid, you are never alone. God is right here with you in this room.” The little girl replied, “I know that God is here, but I need someone in my room that has some skin on!” We all yearn for a God with skin on—a God we can meet in the kitchen, on the golf course, at work, in the hospital… We yearn for a God who can comfort us, guide us, and empower us to do God’s will. We cannot do it on our own—we know—we’ve tried. But we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is the source of life and brings life into the world—whole life, transformed life, everlasting life. The mission of the Holy Spirit is the mission of new life[ii] —no longer based on age, gender, or nationality. New life for all!
Peter gets a new life. Although Jesus’ first and last recorded words to Peter are, “Follow me,” that does not keep Peter from failing time and time again. But when the Holy Spirit takes hold of Peter, Peter is transformed. The Peter who, after Jesus’ arrest, follows at a safe distance, now stands at the head of the pack. The Peter, who, three times, cannot find the words to admit he is a follower of Jesus, now stands with the Eleven, raises his voice and proclaims the truth boldly. He addresses all who are present—believer and unbeliever alike—and declares that this was all foretold in Scripture, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that God has sent the empowering Holy Spirit to continue God’s work in the world to all people, for all people. Peter has failed miserably in the past, and there will be mistakes in his future—such is life. Nevertheless, Peter is different. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter becomes what Jesus says he is—Peter becomes the Rock!
At Pentecost, Emmanuel, God-with-us—once again takes on flesh—our flesh—and enters humanity in a whole new way. In the great mystery of our faith, God takes on skin—our skin—and becomes dependent on us to make God known to the world. The temple of the Lord now dwells in the heart of every believer—man, woman, child—no more class, race, or gender distinctions—radical equality in the making! What a glorious day! A day that still reverberates through history as God is still present, still working through the church to impact individuals, communities, and even the world, for Christ. Even one person, with the power of the Holy Spirit residing in her, can make a difference for the kingdom of God here on earth. And if one person, filled with the Holy Spirit, can make a difference, the church—oh, the church, filled with the Holy Spirit—the church can change the world—has changed the world—and will continue to change the world.
No doubt, the church looks different today than it did even 3 months ago—but make no mistake—the Spirit is still equipping us to make God known to the world—in new and exciting ways. So, dear church, celebrate! Dance for joy! God’s Spirit is on the loose and we will never be the same! Hallelujah! Praise God!
[i] Luke 24:49
[ii] Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life, 19-20.
*Cover Art “Pentecost” by Ira Thomas via Catholic World Art, used by permission.