- Acts 2:1-21
- or Numbers 11:24-30
- 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
- or Acts 2:1-21
- John 20:19-23
- or John 7:37-39
- Psalm 104:25-35, 37
So, the story of Pentecost: there they all are, gathered into one place, praying.
Why are they there? Because it’s a Jewish feast day, Pentecost, 50 days after
Passover, a day of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the Jesus followers aren’t
really sure what else to do. Jesus has appeared over and over to them since his
crucifixion, apparently risen from the dead, and now somehow he’s not
appearing to them anymore, and, what are they supposed to do next? So they
come together, and they pray, because well, what else can they do? And
suddenly there is violent wind, and flames on their heads, and they all start
praising God and proclaiming the gospel in languages they didn’t think they
knew. It’s like they’re drunk. It’s like they’re crazy. It’s the birth of the church,
the beginning of the people that would carry on Jesus’ good news right on up
to our present day, and it’s all total chaos. And we’ve heard the story so many
times that we simply say, Thanks be to God, and sit quietly in our seats. Which
is why Mary Ellen thought it was time to get us taking part in the story, and
throwing accusations at each other about being filled with new wine.
And then there’s the other story, a quieter version of the same thing, the
disciples gathered together in fear with the doors locked, and the risen Jesus
shows up and breathes the Holy Spirit on them. Less chaos and drunkenness.
But the same Spirit.
There’s something to learn from these stories:
When you’re not sure what to do, get together and pray.
And when you do that, the Holy Spirit is bound to show up.
The Holy Spirit – what IS the Holy Spirit, anyway? The Advocate, the
Comforter, the Breath of God, the Life Force. The thing that gives us
goosebumps sometimes, that feeling of euphoria that comes upon us when we
least expect it; the gift of tears at a moment of grace. The force at work when
things fall together so easily and rightly, when we’re in the flow; the sense we
have when a Presence beyond our own seems to be there in our midst. The
Spirit of Truth, when for a moment the questions all fall away. The thing Jesus
promised when he left his disciples and ascended into heaven. God active in
the world, present in the church, moving among us for reconciliation and
forgiveness, igniting in us new life. Ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek, wind,
The Holy Spirit is God beyond our theological systems. It’s not like we haven’t
tried to capture it, of course. Pneumatology, it’s called, the branch of theology
that tries to say just what the Holy Spirit is. The problem is, you can’t say a
whole lot about the Holy Spirit that makes sense. The Holy Spirit doesn’t make
logical sense. She’s more like God’s intuition. You just know; we just are
known. And, um, what else is there to say?
So we come together and we pray, because we don’t know what else to do.
And the Holy Spirit shows up. But when she does, things start changing. It’s
chaos and confusion and everyone is talking at once.
We call the Holy Spirit lots of things, but ‘Comforter’ is probably the most
misleading term we use. We hear that word and we think, down quilt. Cozy.
Nurturing. We’re always trying to make God be that for us. But the intent of
‘Comforter’ is more like strengthening, building up, giving fortitude. Fortitude
we need, because there’s something we have to do – something there before
us we have to face. As one writer put it, the Holy Spirit doesn’t come to solve
our problems…The Holy Spirit creates problems. There’s nothing swaddling
about the Holy Spirit. The disciples did what made sense to them in their
uncertainty, hanging out in their clubhouse, their upper room where Jesus had
been before, praying and sticking together. They could have stayed there and
been safe and lived out their days. But the Holy Spirit came and blew them out
of there, gave them different languages to speak and different missions and
sent them out, some going here, some going there, most of them, it seems,
heading off to places they’d never been before. Out to danger and difficulty
and, for many of them, martyrdom, suffering and death. No more status quo.
No going back to the life they had before Jesus came along.
So yes: when the Spirit shows up, she may throw us into chaos and confusion.
It may not feel as sweet as our hymn makes it sound. God is always pulling us
out into what is bigger than us – God is always breaking us open in order to
widen the circle. The Spirit at Pentecost wanted the disciples to spread the
word – to communicate with people they hadn’t known before, and bring
others to God. And so they starting speaking all these different languages, so
that people could hear and understand, and as the story goes on to say, some
3000 of those who heard them were baptized and joined the movement. The
circle widened, far beyond what the disciples could imagine. And so it
continues to this day.
We gather and pray here at church, because what else are we going to do? The
world is hard and confusing, our lives have traumas and tragedies in them, we
are lost and lonely and we need other people and sometimes we’re really at
the end of our rope. So we pray. And sometimes the Holy Spirit comes too.
And she doesn’t say, you just stay right here where it’s safe with all these nice
people. She doesn’t say, just talk to each other about the things you have in
common. She pushes us to go out. She brings us other people who need to
hear about God through us. Different people, different places, who knows
where we’re going and what’s coming next. It’s a challenging path we’re
walking – the Spirit gives us the strength and courage to walk it.
This shouldn’t be news to us. The Spirit’s work is there to be seen in every one
of our stories. Have you ever spent time really looking back at your life? I’ve
led and been part of so many retreats and gatherings where we’re asked to go
back and reflect on things past, to draw a spiritual timeline so we can see our
lives visually, to reread our old journals or listen to stories of those who knew
us when, to revisit places we once knew, to write it all out like a story. If
you’ve never done this, consider it your summer project. It’s work worth
doing, whether you’re 15 or 85, especially as we come out of COVID and
remember that we did have a life before 2020 and it might just connect to who
we are now after all. Do this with the lens of faith, asking God to highlight
things and bring them to your attention. And you start to see: There was a
time when I didn’t know what to do. There was a time when I prayed, or did
the equivalent of praying. There’s a time when I was so confused and the rug
was pulled out from under me and everything I thought I could count on in my
life was taken away. And there was a time when something new started
instead, or when I felt the sweetness of life despite it all, or when I got good
news when I expected the worst. And oh, look, that happened over and over
and over again. I wonder if it might happen again, even though I’m struggling
now. I wonder if I might be headed someplace new. I wonder just what God
might be up to with me now.
If you’re like me, you can forget the story all too often. What’s happening now
seems more total and final than anything that happened before. What’s coming
next seems like things can never change. We have to go back and look – we
have to reread and retell our stories – inviting God to join us in the process,
sitting with Jesus at the kitchen table and spreading it all out to look at – we
see, even in a life full of tragedies, the sweetness of joy; in a life of routine and
duty, the unexpected chaos of the new; in a life of isolation, the strange voices
of other languages calling. Pentecost happens to us. Over and over again. In
each of our lives. In the life of our church. In the life of our world. The Spirit is
always arriving with her unanticipated hope.
When you don’t know what to do next, get together with other people and
The Holy Spirit is bound to show up.
When she does, she may throw things into chaos and confusion.
But the new possibilities that emerge? They’re bigger than us. And they
happen so that we, and the whole world, may know God and make God
So don’t be afraid. Just breathe. And let’s see what comes next. Amen.