Day of Pentecost
On Pentecost we pay attention to the mystery of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God poured out from heaven: God’s spirit alive in us, alive in our world.
What are the signs of the Holy Spirit, the signs that the Spirit of God is at work? I thought I’d see if we could come up with a sign of the Holy Spirit from each of our passages, from the four Bible passages we heard.
In Psalm 104 we hear the Psalmist pray to God, with gratitude, because God is at work, sustaining our lives: “When you send forth your spirit,” it says, “they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” God’s spirit renews our spirits; God’s spirit renews our world. God is for life, not death. The Holy Spirit is the power of life in the midst of a world of violence. So, one sign of the Spirit is renewal of life.
In Romans we hear that the Holy Spirit groans with creation, that the Spirit cries out with people who are suffering—the Spirit groans with “sighs too deep for words,” it says. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence of solidarity, in our agony, in our pain. When someone suffers, the Holy Spirit is there—in our sighs and groans, the wordless presence of God’s Spirit. So, another sign is solidarity with the suffering.
In Acts the Holy Spirit has everything to do with communication across boundaries, across differences, across languages. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit,” it says, “and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Pentecost was a miracle of communication that led to a miracle of communion, of fellowship—of people coming together, foreigners becoming family, strangers becoming friends. People opened their homes for breaking bread together, for prayer meetings, for sharing the story of Jesus, for sharing their possessions with anyone who was in need. The Holy Spirit is this life of this kind of community, the life of the church, breathing in us, flowing through us, opening our lives to others. So, a sign of the Spirit is fellowship across divisions, the fellowship found when the wealthy and needy share possessions.
In John’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, his friends, that the Holy Spirit will come upon them, that the Spirit will lead them in truth, will show them how to live as people of truth. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus says, “the Spirit will guide you into all the truth.” The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth—truth in a world of lies, truth in a world of deceit. A sign of the Spirit is truthfulness.
So, here are the four I came up with, from our Bible passages for today: 1) Life. The Holy Spirit is the God of life, sustaining life, empowering the struggle of life against the forces of violence. 2) Solidarity. The Holy Spirit is God’s movement of solidarity, present in our groaning, in the suffering of creation. 3) Fellowship. The Holy Spirit involves us in fellowship, to share our lives with others, to share our possessions with anyone who is in need. 4) Truth. The Holy Spirit declares the truth, empowering us to speak the truth even when it might cost us our lives.
It’s one thing to come up with a list; it’s another to watch the Spirit at work in a life. So let me tell you a story.
After decades of stalling, yesterday the Roman Catholic Church beatified Oscar Romero, the former Archbishop of El Salvador. Romero was assassinated in 1980 because he spoke the truth. Romero’s beatification yesterday is an important step in making him a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Saints are people who we think of as overflowing with the Spirit of God. Saints show us what the Holy Spirit looks like. Saints offer us a picture, an image, of God’s life in the world, an echo of God’s Word made flesh.
Romero was appointed archbishop of El Salvador because the hierarchy thought that he wouldn’t rock the boat,that he wouldn’t trouble the status quo, that he wouldn’t bother himself with the social, political, and economic problems in the country. He was known to be a safe churchman for the politicians and the landowners. He was known to look the other way, when politicians used military violence to consolidate their power, to silence dissent. As a priest, then as a bishop, Romero was known to look the other way when landlords exercised their rights over the peasants whose lives they owned, ownership enforced by death squads.
When he became the archbishop, nothing changed, until his friend was killed—a priest named Rutilio Grande, who had been organizing farmworkers to stand up for their dignity, their humanity, to resist the oppression of the landowners. Rutilio Grande’s murder was an awakening for Archbishop Romero. From his pulpit in the cathedral in San Salvador, Romero preached against the state, against the violence, against the injustice of the government, and against the economic exploitation of workers throughout the country. He heard the groaning of the Holy Spirit among the peasants, sighs too deep for words.
In protest of the regime, he refused to attend the inauguration of the new president—the first time a Salvadoran archbishop was absent from a presidential inauguration. Romero was filled with God’s righteous anger, the Spirit’s fire, as he visited rural churches, preaching about God’s love for the poor, God’s love for the peasants. In sermons and radio interviews, he made it known that he was in solidarity with the oppressed, with the families of victims of the military government.
In protest against the regime’s oppression, Romero halted construction on the new Cathedral in downtown San Salvador, a glorious church for the powerful, for the wealthy. When the war is over, when the hungry are fed, when the children are educated, he said, then we can resume building our cathedral.
Archbishop Romero was soon receiving death threats—and threats from within the Catholic hierarchy. His bishops were united against him, and were lobbying the Vatican to remove Romero as their archbishop—and pope John Paul II had begun the process to depose him.
But none of this would stop Romero from speaking the truth, the truth of God’s justice, of God’s peace—the truth about the God of life, the work of the Holy Spirit, seeking renewal, restoration. “Like a voice crying in the desert,” he said in a sermon, “we must continually say No to violence and Yes to peace.” In 1978, in a pastoral letter, Romero outlined the evils of what he called “institutional violence and repression.”
The following year, in a sermon, broadcast on the radio, he spoke to the military, to the death squads, to the commanders and generals: “To those who bear in their hands, in their conscience, all of this bloodshed,” Romero preached, “To you, I say: Be converted. You cannot find God on the path of torture. God is found on the way of justice, conversion and truth.”[i]
Romero wrote a letter to the U.S. president Jimmy Carter, begging him to stop funding the military government in El Salvador—to stop sending military aid. President Carter responded by increasing U.S. military aid—$6 billion distributed over a decade. The most ruthless members of the Salvadoran military were trained in the United States, at Fort Benning in Georgia, at what was called, “The School of the Americas.” That’s where the U.S. military trained soldiers in torture techniques, and assassinations—all the skills of counter-insurgency. The military specialists in El Salvador learned from the best, from the United States. The leaders of their death squads were trained here in the South.
On March 23, 1980, in the Cathedral in San Salvador, Romero preached to the peasants, and to the political and military leaders, to all who had gathered for worship. In his sermon, he singled out the soldiers, the commanders and the generals, he said to them, as he looked them in the eyes: “We are your people. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the voice of the man commanding you to kill, remember instead the voice of God, who says, Thou Shalt Not Kill. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people whose cries rise up to heaven, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you, stop the repression.”
The next day, Romero visits a cancer hospital, run by Carmelite nuns. In the hospital chapel he leads their worship service, and as he stands at the Lord’s Table, preparing to offer Communion, a sniper shoots him—a single rifle shot, tearing through his heart. He dies within minutes, there in the church.
Yesterday, when pope Francis spoke at Oscar Romero’s beatification service, the pope said that there are people everywhere who are full of the Holy Spirit, people who are filled with the spirit of Pentecost, the spirit of Jesus. “Faith in Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis said yesterday, “Faith in Jesus generates communities of workers of peace and solidarity.”[ii]
That’s the hope of Pentecost, our hope in God’s Spirit, our hope in the work of the Holy Spirit among us—that our faith in Jesus Christ would open us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that we may be workers of peace and solidarity. And to know that God is at work, sometimes with us, and sometimes without us, raising up saints, some we’ll hear about, some we’ll never know about, people who are giving their lives to the work of God, giving their lives to the Holy Spirit, to God’s mercy and peace, to God’s comfort and love.
Listen to God’s promise for Pentecost, from Acts: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,” God says, “and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”—Dreams and visions of a world healed of violence, a world of forgiveness and restoration, for our communion, our fellowship, in God’s peace.
I’ll close with the Psalmist’s prayer, a prayer of hope, our hope in the Holy Spirit, alive in us and around us, here and everywhere, sometimes seen but most of time hidden: Here’s the Psalmist’s prayer, our prayer: “Send forth your Spirit, O God, and renew the face of the earth.”