Anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are all raised to new life
This last week, Tex and I were driving during a thunderstorm. There’s something about all that energy in that vast flash across the dark sky that pounds us with such a sense of its power. Then came one that, instead of ‘across’, was vertical – and, really long. From as far up as we could see down to the horizon. Just a flash. Did it really reach to the ground? I told Tex how vulnerable it made me feel. And then I thought of the Pentecost story.
Pentecost is the Greek word for 50 – the church celebrates40 days of appearances of Jesus, his Ascension, then 10 days later the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples. As in so many of the really important events in Christianity, Pentecost is about the mystery of faith, and what God does in our world.
This is not the giving of the Holy Spirit in a way that means it hasn’t been around all along. Of course it has – it was there over the water at the time of the creation stories. In the second chapter of Genesis, God’s creative breath brought life into being; in Ezekiel 37 it brought life into dry bones. It worked through the prophets. So, this breath is what makes possible our very being.
Of all the many ways we can look at what Luke tells us in Acts happened on that day so long ago, a couple of very important things do come from the event that we might think of. First, all those people who couldn’t understand each other suddenly could. People were no longer separated by language. They could talk to each other and work together. As Jesus taught us to do. And, this is a time to broaden our thoughts outward from the literal – aren’t there times when someone is speaking to us in English, and we still don’t understand what they are about, or how they can have that opinion? The way of Jesus, now present through the Holy Spirit, is about really hearing the other, and trying to put ourselves in his or her place. We all see through the lens of our personality, our upbringing, our culture, our life experience. Now, we can truly be community. The Holy Spirit is the agent that makes the Risen Christ present to the church, but more essentially, really, the Holy Spirit made the church possible.
The Day of Pentecost in Christian worship is about the work of the Spirit in the hearts of individual believers. But, primarily, we think of it in relationship to the church as corporate community. In other words, this day is not just our personal openness to God and God’s spirit. It’s about the formation of the church out of a frightened band of followers; that tight-lipped crowd, which had huddled timidly behind closed doors, is thrust by the Spirit into the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim the gospel in terms everyone can understand. To reach out to others in help and love and healing.
So, a second new thing we might think of is that mission, then, is made possible by the power of the Spirit, who represents the continuing presence of the risen Christ with his disciples and the creative power of God always at work in creation itself.
I really think that lightening reaching from the heavens to the earth is wonderful image of Pentecost. That electric energy is always around and in us, just as the spirit of God always is. Like lightening, God gathered it on Pentecost and sent it to us in a great rush of wind and tongues of fire, filling us with that great energy that’s meant to be the character of the church.
So, today, on Pentecost, we have an opportunity to consider what church is. Since I’ve been here at St. Margaret’s, I’ve heard from many of you how much this warm and caring community means to you. And, that is so, so important, and essential.
But, we also might consider the effect that this fiery Spirit has on us, as the church. By definition, by definition, the church must reach out beyond its own four walls, into the community. God will pour out the Spirit upon all flesh.
Please consider how world-changing that is for a moment. Up to this point in God’s story, a small select few have been given the Spirit of God, and it’s been a limited-time offering. Saul got a turn, David got a turn, the prophets got a turn, and so on. It was all very contained. Now all of a sudden the Spirit comes whooshing through and starts anointing people left and right.
The Spirit of God has been released into the world. Not contained but set free.
Not limited but expanding. And what else would we expect, if this Spirit of Life is indeed the One through whom God raised Jesus? This is the Spirit of Life, who God has called not only to raise Jesus to new life but to raise all of creation to new life.
Why is Pentecost important? Why is the resurrection story not completed until Acts 2? Because we are not equipped to be who God wants us to be in this new world moving toward new creation until the Spirit comes whooshing through the room. Pentecost is the day that makes the future of the church possible. Without Pentecost, we’d just be people who tell Jesus’ story. With Pentecost, we’re people who live into Jesus’ story.
We don’t have any idea what the Spirit will do next, so let’s not pretend that we do, or try to limit our assumptions about what the Spirit might do. The one thing we know for sure is that the Spirit is bringing us toward new creation, so whatever it is, it’s going to be good.
In truth, Pentecost is not the complete reversal of Babel. We still can’t understand each other; we routinely miscommunicate; we gather and we gripe, betraying the unity Christ has called us to as his Body. But the good news of the Acts 2 story, the good news of all our gathering “together in one place,” is not that the Church has a mission, but that God’s mission has a Church.
The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something that we chose to do – and could equally not do – but rather something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church means ‘those who have been called forth or summoned,’ much as one is summoned into a court of law. In other words, if we are Christian, we are called to be a body of interdependent parts, not as separable individuals.
The Risen One, who is present at all times and in all places, seeks to bind together by the action of the Spirit all things that have been wrongly separated. The Genesis Tower of Babel story explained our separation by diversity; the Pentecost makes that wrong right. The church is formed out of and inclusive of diversity; and, participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being a Christian. The church – not the individual – is the irreducible unit of Christianity.
Do you know why, according Marion Hatchett (who worked on the 1979 revision of the BCP) it is customary to stand during our Post-Communion Prayer? Let’s hear with new ears something from one of our Post-Communion Prayers:
And now, send us out to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
And, a Dismissal:
Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, Alleluia, Alleluia.
These are words that are meant to send us out into the world full of the Holy Spirit’s fire, to be the Body of Christ in the world.
I encourage you to feel that energy, that fire of the Holy Spirit. Listen to it – and let it guide you into being the Church in the world. It is so needed, and it is the holiest of work. That heat of the Spirit needs to move, to explode out from these walls into the world. Let’s don’t let Pentecost be a day that just comes and goes; rather, let’s all take on that most holy work of being guided and energized by the Spirit.
Thanks be to God – Amen, Amen!