Karen Carpenter or Alanis Morissette?

Pentecost Sunday B 2015                                                         

May 24, 2015

In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Let me share with you one of the funniest comments about the Holy Spirit that I’ve ever heard.  Maybe a person needs to be a theological nerd to find humor in it, maybe not.  See what you think.  My clergy friend Amy said the other day, “Most people think that the Holy Spirit is like Karen Carpenter.  But really, the Holy Spirit is a lot more like Alanis Morissette.

What do you think?  Is that funny?  Karen Carpenter:  all nicey-nice and non-threatening.  Alanis Morissette:  brash, bossy, in your face.  I think there’s good truth to this.  The Holy Spirit, come with fire and a tornadic wind, is not always nicey-nice and non-threatening.  The Holy Spirit shakes things up sometimes.  And, yes, sometimes the Spirit comforts people, too.

This helps explain why I think our Sequence Hymn today—pretty as it is, is kind of anemic.  The Holy Spirit is not so much like the murmur of the dove’s song.  The Spirit is more like the roaring of the Acela streaking through the Meadowlands in northern Jersey.  So next time we sing that hymn it would sound more accurate if we punctuated it with clanging cymbals and tympani and such…all of it a little off tempo.

It’s true, I think, that sometimes we try to domesticate the Spirit, to put God in a box so that we aren’t so threatened by God’s vast being and power.  Someone once said that that’s been the function of religion over the millennia:  to “domesticate” God—to put God in a house (or a box)—so that we don’t have to have all that raw power and blinding beauty in our faces all the time.  That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?

But, really, in the Holy Spirit, God IS on the loose.

Where does the Spirit’s power come from?  From love, believe it or not.  That’s the one and only source of the power of the Godhead.  Pure love.  One famous 20th Century German theologian said that the Holy Spirit is the love that pulsates between the Father and the Son.  That’s why we don’t say that the Holy Spirit, as the third member of the Trinity, is a son or daughter of God.  No, the Spirit is the love that flows between Father and Son, and completes the community of the Trinity.

And, in the Spirit, God is on the loose in the world.

We see the Spirit in creation—the original creation of the Cosmos, the formation of the Earth from primordial interstellar dust, the beginning of life on the Earth.  We see the Spirit in the renewal of the Creation as well—just glance out a window and let your eyes light on the spring green of a revivified tree.  There’s the Spirit at work, too.  Our psalm says it well:  the Spirit renews the Face of the Earth.  God is on the loose and we see it well this season.

We see the Spirit on the loose in the lives of people.  Perhaps the splashiest illustrations of the Spirit at work are people who tell their own stories of recovery from addiction or recovery of health after a long illness.  The Spirit urges people to seek help when they are addicted to alcohol or anything else.  The Spirit imbues AA meetings, and the Spirit wrote the Big Book.  The Spirit is present in the hands of surgeons and in the minds of psychotherapists.  The Spirit works through the things of the earth, like medicines, and the Spirit forms and molds the minds and hands of people who are training for careers in medicine or maintenance or manufacturing or all the other honorable lines of work that don’t even start with an “m.”   

We are treated in the reading from Ezekiel today to the parable about the dry bones, breathed upon by the Spirit and brought back to life.  I love that sentence that says, “So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.”  That’s what God the Holy Spirit does, breathes new life and possibility into things and people that were thought to be over the hill.  Dead.

The Holy Spirit breathes life into the Church.  Our reading from Acts gives us that great and exciting account about how the Spirit came upon the disciples with fire and wind, with great, splashy effects, and empowered them to go out and preach the story of Jesus.  And if you read further in Acts, you’ll see that people flocked to them in droves.  Conversions rose exponentially in the very early church.

And the Spirit breathes new life into latter-day parishes as well.  It’s interesting to consider that at least twice in the 19th century this parish almost caved in and died.  There’s the story of the split in the congregation.  A faction headed by Mr. John Meeker, who was Clerk of the Vestry, split off from the parish in 1834 and took with them much of the financial savings as well as all the historical records of the early parish.  Some of the money was recovered, but none of the records.

And then there’s the story from the late 1800’s when there was so little cash available in the parish that they couldn’t afford a regular minister.  So they limped along with very short-term greenhorn ministers that they could get for next-to-nothing.  Another near death.

So, what happened?  God the Holy Spirit went on the loose.  Our parish was re-created and renewed.  Today we have the blessing of spiritual, financial and communal health.  May it always be so!

It’s God’s world, only ours for a very little time, and I for one choose to be more of a Pollyanna than a Chicken Little.  I hold fast to the faith and the hope that God so loves the world that he gave his only Son for us.  That God so loves the world that even now the Spirit is on the loose among us, bringing love, joy, peace, and all the other fruits of the Spirit, as long as we will receive them.

How have you seen the Holy Spirit active in your own life?  (pause)

May each of us grow increasingly aware of God within us and among us by way of the activity of his Holy Spirit.  May we give thanks for the ways that God never gives up on us.  And may the Spirit help us soar and sing, sometimes like Alanis Morissette and sometimes maybe even like Karen Carpenter.