1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Let us pray: Gracious and Loving God, quicken our hearts again, that we may receive Your Word afresh and anew. May your Spirit's voice be heard, and in hearing may we respond in service and in witness to Your Name through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Easter Season officially ends today, Pentecost Sunday----a day when the Christian Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit into our midst.
In the Christian Church calendar, there are three days that are usually considered to be the most important. They are, quite obviously, Christmas, Easter, and this day, Pentecost. We recount today the coming of the Holy Spirit which, in many ways, marks the birthday of the Church.
Today we hear the reading from Acts of the Apostles recounting Luke’s rendition of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the early church. And then in John’s Gospel where Jesus breathes upon the disciples telling them to “receive the Holy Spirit,” and giving them and the church, the charge over forgiveness of sins.
As a child, I was often bullied by my grade school classmates, so one of my favorite comic strips was Popeye the Sailorman. Popeye was regularly bullied by Brutus. Brutus would often seek to cause mayhem in the life of Popeye in all kinds of ways. He would try to steal Olive Oil. I never quite understood why, but that was part of his program. He was always beating up Popeye until Popeye just couldn't take it anymore. And after he had taken all he could stand he would reach for that can of spinach. After he had done everything he could to get that can of spinach and swallow it, things changed. Brutus was now the victim and no longer the victor. Brutus was now subject to this new infusion of power that Popeye possessed, and for a while at least Popeye was on top. But you could bank on this one thing: by the time that comic strip ended, and another Popeye strip came, he was losing again. So, he needed another can of spinach. I was always wondering if there was something besides spinach I could eat that would give me the strength of Popeye.
I am here to declare that we serve a risen Christ that has given us peace and a power by breathing on his disciples that is not subject to how much spinach we consume, but is a power that can transform our trials into triumphs.
In reflecting on this day, and the readings, there are several things to say about the importance and power of this day.
One quality of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is disruptive. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are fruits and gifts that bring us together; but the Holy Spirit is, by the nature and grace of the Holy Spirit, quite disruptive.
In John’s Gospel, in a conversation with Nicodemus Jesus said: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit lives and moves among us, but often moves in directions we don’t always like or appreciate.
A lot of people of have faith believe that God calms things down, that God makes everything go according to plan. It’s usually not the case.
We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter,” “Advocate” or “Counselor” and nice soothing things but in our first reading from Acts we heard of the disruptive power of the Holy Spirit. Violent wind, tongues of fire, speaking in other languages. The neighbors claiming they were drunk.
So the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, tends to be disruptive, especially about such issues like faith and religion. Little things.
And we who live and breathe in organized religion should take note of this. Jesus was known, on occasion, to be disruptive in his interaction with the religious community.
In Matthew, Mark, and John’s Gospel Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem in great triumph, goes to the Temple, and overturns the tables of the money changers and, generally makes a scene. He was totally disruptive.
And that’s what the Holy Spirit is all about. Being disruptive—moving us out of our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. This day, Pentecost, is a day when we are challenged to be moved from that which is comfortable. To be around God, to be open to the Holy Spirit, is not necessarily to just be comfortable.
Secondly, John teaches us that Jesus taught the apostles they had the power to forgive sins or bind people to those sins. In the Gospel of Matthew, in Peter’s declaration of faith, Jesus gives to Peter, and the Church, the power to “bind and loose.”
Over the centuries the Christian Church, and Christians have been good with the “binding” part and have struggled with the loosing part. We’ve been, historically; better, at rendering judgment on people than we have at forgiving them. In the Middle Ages the Bible was reprinted, by hand, in monasteries spread out over Europe. There was a debate amongst some of the monasteries about the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman--the story that culminates with the line, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Some of the monks struggled with this story. Some felt it seemed to be condoning the sin of the woman, condoning adultery. But the bigger problem was that Jesus forgave the woman, in the minds of the monks, way too easily. The issue, of course, was resolved because the story was in the Bible and the monks believed that they had no right changing the story--or Jesus’ intention.
But it’s actually a story that does impact us. The cry for salvation is not a simple problem with a simple solution; it is a deep, cry 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 fix. It is a cry that a date on a calendar or a memorial of what happened a long time ago can’t soothe. 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 perhaps it doesn’t happen anymore in a dramatic and spectacular way such as 2000 years ago. But that’s not the question Pentecost dares to ask. Do you believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life bringing you comfort and peace when you invite and ask?
I don’t use wooden pencils very much anymore, but I remember, when I was in school growing up, using pencils and wearing out the erasers. I made a lot of mistakes and I used my eraser a lot.
Pencils had different kinds of erasers. Some of the erasers were really soft, and pink, and they worked great.
But some of the pencils had erasers that dried out and lost their softness and were really, really hard. Whenever I’d try to erase with them, they’d smudge the lead on the paper and, all too often, tore the paper.
I sometimes wrestle with being either type of eraser. When I am kind, loving, and forgiving, I tend to do good things and I interact with my family, with friends, and with everyone a lot better. But when I’m like that hard eraser, angry, mean-spirited, and unforgiving, I just make a mess and tear into people and things. It’s pretty ugly, actually.
In this time of health and social and faith challenge, we need the reassurance of God’s healing grace. We need the memory of Pentecost to inspire confidence in God’s welcome for all people. We need an enlarged understanding of the Body of Christ. We need to believe that God is good enough, big enough, generous enough, to make a place for each and every person in the Kingdom of God.
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.