June 8 All Together Now
Pentecost A 2014 June 8, 2014
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I was mesmerized the other day in front of the TV screen watching the Weather Channel use all their highfalutin technology to cover the severe hailstorms and tornadoes that tore through the Plains States. But then my attention was shifted away from the radar maps and such / by the reporters who talked about the wall of wind that went before the line of storms.
The reporter was trying to describe the sound of it all and what I was thinking of was the sound of a runaway train roaring through all those cornfields and little towns.
The sound of the roaring wind must have been something like that at the first Pentecost—just without the hail. The story of the coming of the Holy Spirit that we have in the reading from Acts gives us some great images, doesn’t it? We have the sound of a violent wind; the divided tongues of flame above each head; and the sound of all the languages coming out of the disciples’ mouths in some great cacophonous utterance.
Let’s take a brief look at each of these manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
The Wind recalls the “ruach” of God—the Spirit that moves over the waters in Creation. That Hebrew word “ruach” means both Spirit and wind. And so the idea of the rush of a violent wind works well as a symbol for the Spirit. And the wind from Genesis reminds us here, in the New Testament, that the empowering of the disciples begins a New Creation—a Creation in which the church is called forth to work signs and wonders and to be about God’s mission. A Creation in which all people are invited to know and live in the knowledge that each of us is God’s beloved. This holy Wind got the disciples out of their room and out into the streets—on God’s mission.
(And just so you know, that word “ruach” is feminine. So I’ll use the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit. Even though we know that Spirit has no gender. It’s better than saying “it.”)
The many languages in the mouths of the disciples remind us that God’s communication comes to us in words: in the words of Holy Scripture, and through the Word made flesh.
The divided tongues of flames over the heads of the disciples are an interesting touch. They actually echo a Roman coin from the First Century, whereon the emperor was shown with a divided tongue of flame over his head. That was apparently a sign that he was for all intents and purposes both royal and divine. And so the first disciples were given divided tongues of flame over their heads, a sign that they are about the business of the great King—and a sign that they are holy—set apart for God’s work.
Now these are the flashy signs of Pentecost. But there’s something else in this text—as well as in the gospel. Note that Acts tells us that “they were all together in one place.” [2:1] Our gospel tells us, “When it was evening . . . and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked . . . Jesus came and stood among them.” [20:19-20]
So what’s the point here? It’s that the Spirit was given when the people were together. When they were in community—physically together. And the same is true for now—the Spirit’s work continues and is palpable—when we are in community. If that’s not a powerful argument for meeting together here in the flesh once a week, then I don’t know what is.
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Pentecost is not just a time to ruminate on something that happened almost 2000 years ago. Pentecost is now. It’s today. It’s every day. As a clergy friend of mine [the Rev. Mary Grace Williams] said the other night, we aren’t historians here. We’re witnesses.
* * *
I would bet that we’ve all experienced the phenomenon in a group setting where the people seem taken over / and there’s an energy and excitement that comes: a kind of synergy with a life of its own. That’s the Spirit at work. And another indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence when a group is electrified is that there is left behind a sense of peace or joy, a growth in good feelings and health shared by the people in the group. These things are some of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
OK, so the key words so far—the words I’ve said that describe the work of the Spirit among us—are—“taken over, energy, excitement, transformation, peace, joy, good feelings, health.”
And so, given these indicators of the Spirit at work, when have we seen the Holy Spirit’s work with us here at Christ Church? Where have you seen signs and wonders? When have we seen energy, excitement, transformation, peace, joy, good feelings, or health?
[I would cite the Well project; staff meetings; the organ project; the renovations; the gardens outside; the Messy Church program; our music and our choir; Altar Guild making the chancel beautiful; Vestry subcommittee on Missio Dei; plenty gathered in for Stewardship; Christ Church Cares; Redding Rakes; Christmas and Easter projects . . .]
Now, I know that a lot of us find it difficult to conceptualize just who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. But when you think of the Holy Spirit as the energy and the inspiration behind all of the things we mentioned, maybe it gets a little easier. You might think of the Spirit as a gentle breeze or else a blustery gale blowing through our minds and hearts and stirring us up to action. You might think of the Spirit as a planter of seeds and ideas that we nurture into being.
The Spirit accompanies us, urges us, prods us, pokes us, invigorates us, makes things fun, wakes us up to help, uses our many and different gifts, gets us through frustrations, and leads us toward the fulfillment of God’s mission—which is to bring people to reconciliation and restoration. The Spirit energizes and transforms the church: so that we might do God’s mission in the world.
Our closing hymn will remind us:
Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry for shelter and for bread to eat and never live until they die.
We have no mission but to serve in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all without reserve. And spread Christ’s liberating word.
[Fred Pratt Green, The church of Christ in every age, Wonder, Love, and Praise, # 779]
So what’s next? What signs and wonders are around the next corner?