It is Pentecost Sunday, and I find myself up here in front of you, expected to say a word. To utter sentences that might provide comfort, clarity, insight…that speak truth derived from the passages read just few minutes ago. I find myself asking, why did I not look at the schedule earlier to see what was coming, to maybe pass this Sunday by, gently give to another one of the many voices that gather each Sunday in this room. The many voices gathered here that speak in their own language, penetrating our imaginations in a sermon or in the time of sharing.
Reading the passages this week, I found myself speechless, unsure what to say about the Spirit, God’s breath, that flows throughout each one. An inescapable situation.
The Spirit God “sends forth” in the creation of this world, in the giving of life. The Advocate promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John. The Spirit that descended on bodies and tongues at Pentacost. The Spirit Paul writes about, that “When we cry, ‘Abba!” bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
I’m confronted by what these passages speak of – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which we pray is present each Sunday when we gather here in this place. The Holy Spirit that we call to rest on our bodies and our tongues. To rest on our words. To disrupt our imaginations. The Holy Spirit of the Triune God that molds and shapes our beliefs at their core. If you are like me, the story of Pentacost brings with it some anxiety. It brings questions. Questions that beckon back to the early days of the church and its articulation of God, three in one. What does this mean? What does this look like? Uncertainty in how to think thoughtfully about the dramatic entrance of the Holy Spirit in light of the diversity of claims about how the Holy Spirit may or may not act in the world. Perhaps, some of you have been exposed to different expressions, while also feeling an absence. A strongly felt conviction – I don’t feel the Holy Spirit. I don’t seem to have any gift. Maybe you’ve confronted people who might assert some authority because they claim to have something others do not….and, whether implicitly or explicitly, they end up asserting some dangerous ideal of superior faith. At its worst, and with our propensity to self-criticism, we might even begin to imagine the Holy Spirit as something IT IS NOT, a self-critical, judging voice in our head that tells us lies about ourselves. You don’t have it, you’re not “Holy” enough. It is tempting then, and understandably so, to think of the Spirit as an after thought…to have an impulse like I had when I first saw the passages for this week. To pass it by. To ignore its existence in the Scriptures and acknowledge the presence in the being of God as crucial for our beliefs. It may be tempting to minimize the desire people may have to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in whatever form of expression or experience this takes. It may be tempting to not take seriously or recognize the desire one may have for the Spirit to do something miraculous in their life, and in the life of their community. To believe through the Spirit they are able to speak things they did not know. Perhaps, things, we do not know. To rob people of this, may simply lead to upholding status quo, creating world bounded by chains, ignoring the way the Spirit brings freedom, resting on all tongues and bodies that cry “Abba!.” Justo Gonzalez, describes the dilemma this way:
“Christians, precisely because we are Christians, are always tempted to trust in our own advantage, in our own religious experience, and not in the surprising power of the Spirit . . . We claim the Spirit as our own possession. We demand that the Spirit be always manifested in a particular way that we have determined. For some it is speaking in tongues. For others it is worship done ‘decently and in order.’ If we demand that the Spirit always be manifested by speaking in tongues, when someone does not share that experience we claim that person does not have the Spirit. If we think that the Spirit always acts according to the order our rituals prescribe, we refuse to acknowledge the presence of the Spirit when someone does speak in tongues. Both are denials of the freedom of the Spirit.”
In this sense, we are reminded the Spirit is unpredictable. It surprises us, astonishes us, shocks us by making what appears impossible possible. Whether expressed in some emotive expression/speaking in tongues, or in something that appears ordinary ritual. It leaps over one boundary after another. It might feel as the freedom of rushing wind across a field of tall grass, or the power of a crashing waterfall, other times, it might be a gentle breeze or a trickling stream.
But, we may think of it this way…we may find consistency within the mysteriousness of the Holy Spirit, if, we remember it always bends us…pointing us towards the one it desires, the one it loves. It is always telling this story…the life, death, and resurrection of an incarnate God, of Jesus. The Spirit’s unpredictability, its out of control style, perhaps even its ambiguity, becomes then not something to fear, nor something we need to possess or fully understand. Because, ultimately, it is…embodied.
For me, I find comfort in our belief that the Holy Spirit is more than ghostly, more than ethereal. Eugene Rogers has described, the Spirit has a “proclivity for the material, in particular, the materiality of the body.” The Spirit at the beginning of creation, breathed into the dust to form God’s creatures, that raised Ezekiels bones, the Spirit that rested on Jesus’s body at baptism and the cross. The Spirit is drawn to and desires the body. And, when we read the Pentacost story, we read this same spirit fills the bodies and rests on the tongues of the disciples, giving them breath to speak out in their own languages. In the community they were gathered in, surrounded by a crowd that says, “how is it that we hear each of us, in our own native language…speaking about God’s deeds of power.” Voices once not heard, their own voices, are now being heard, and perhaps more importantly being listened too. Voices that speak truth. That share visions and dreams. That speak out in their own language of cries…drawing the attention of others, drawing our own attention. Voices that have always been present, but now given the space to be heard, living off of “borrowed breath,” given indiscriminately, making prayer possible and life together possible.
When we gather on Sundays in this place, we gather and pray that the Holy Spirit comes! We gather and believe something can happen, something unpredictable and wild, but again, something embodied. We pray not only that the Holy Spirit does something with our words, our speech, our language, but perhaps the Holy Spirit does something with our ears, with our listening…bending our ears to the voices and stories of one another. Voices and stories through which we might be amazed and astonished. And to pray the “Holy Spirit come!” is to pray for the Advocate, promised by Jesus in the Gospel reading. An Advocate that continues to show us, to remind us who Jesus is, and who we are as children of God. What is an Advocate? Perhaps, nothing more than a friend. Giving us a way to think of the Holy Spirit as a Spirit of Friendship, and perhaps holiness itself, the many extraordinary and ordinary acts of friendship.
Ordinary moments of listening to one another, sharing food or drinks. Moments of speaking truth into one another’s lives, reminding one another you are a beloved creature, you are utterly and wonderfully human, a beloved child of God. Moments of caring for one another as we each face our own struggles. Whether it is something like physical illness, or the feeling your life is falling apart. Moments of caring for each other’s children. Sending thoughtful text messages or giving a phone call to see how you or your loved ones are doing. Letting one another know their cries, their words, do not go unnoticed, but are given witness through the Spirit as we gather and pray together.
In my desperation to find something to say about these texts this week, I came across a book, entitled simply, “The Holy Spirit” … I found the authors words here helpful and something I would like to close with:
“To be made holy by the work of the Holy Spirit is to be made a part of a community of truth that makes Friendship possible in a world of violence and lies. We are violent because of the lies we tell one another in our desperate attempts to force others to love us. To be sanctified is to be made a participant in a way of life through which we discover friends who tell us the truth…to be made part of a community in which our lives depend on those we know and who know us.”