Today, as we celebrate Pentecost, we mark the anniversary of the spirit of the Lord descending among the disciplines – some 120 people gathered together to worship who got more than they ever expected. This act is what charges the disciples after Christ’s ascension and sends them out into the world. It is the birth of a community dedicated to serving and worshiping and witnessing to the Lord. All because this Spirit of the Lord came down and touched his people.
Jesus promised us the Spirit before he left. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” The Holy Spirit is the part of God who is with us every day. The Spirit is that indwelling presence of God we feel in ourselves and we can see in others if we look.
We so often skip over the Spirit in the Trinity because the Spirit is the hardest one to grapple with. God the Father, the Creator, we have a handle on. This part of the Trinity is defined by God’s very name. Father, Creator. The one who created us all. Jesus, we have an entire life story to follow. We know how he was the Word in the beginning and how he was born to Mary and his ministry, death and resurrection. We understand him. But the Spirit… we always have trouble with the spirit. It’s almost as if the Spirit resists definition by the Spirit’s very nature. But we have some clues.
From the John passage, we know that the Spirit abides with us, dwells within us. And we cannot see the Spirit except through each other. That is what I believe “it neither sees him or knows him” means. We cannot see the Spirit on it’s own. We can only see the Spirit acting and living through each other.
The Spirit is translated from the word Ruach in Hebrew. In Greek it’s pneuma. Both mean the Spirit, but they also mean breath. Think about that. The Holy Spirit is so closely tied into our breath that they use the exact same word in both Biblical languages.
For breath is what you have when you are alive. Breath is how we know someone still lives. When at deathbed vigils we watch the rise and fall of a chest and we know they are okay. As long as he is breathing, there is still life. To breathe is to be alive. To have the Spirit is to be alive. To speak of the Spirit is to speak of the power of life that is in you.
There are those people who are so filled with life, that their spirit will affect others. I’m sure you all know those wonderful individuals whose mood is infectious. When they are smiling and laughing, it is almost impossible not to be caught up in their joy. When they are sad it puts a pall over the entire room. This is spirit so strong it can breathe itself out into other lives, becoming inspiring. Their spirit touches ours.
With God’s Spirit we are dealing with the breath of God, the very life of our God. God is the power of life itself, and has breathed and continues to breathe life into creation. Inspiring it. When the Spirit of God comes upon us, as God breathes it upon us, we cannot help but be caught up in that spirit. God’s spirit will move us, whether we wished to be moved or not.
Take a moment now and breathe in. Now breathe out slowly. Feel the air moving in and out of your lungs, filling and renewing you each time. That’s just how the Spirit works. It fills and renews us, coming in to inspire us and going out to reach others. Breathe in peace, breathe out justice. Breathe in hope, breathe out compassion.
Fill yourself with the Spirit.
Now send the Spirit out to others.
The Spirit comes to us all. We are filled with the breath of God. The question is, what do we do with the Spirit? Do we notice it’s presence? Do we open ourselves up to the Spirit’s call?
There was a church that celebrated Pentecost Sunday by the ushers handing each person a bright red carnation to symbolize the festive spirit of the day. The people listened attentively to the reading of the Pentecost story from the Book of Acts about how the disciples had heard “what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven”; about how the Holy Spirit had appeared “like tongues of fire.” Then came the sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” the preacher began. “Like the powerful win
d from heaven!” shouted a woman sitting in the first pew. Then she threw one of the red carnations toward the altar. The preacher began again: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.” The same woman’s voice rang out again, “Like the tongues of fire, the tongues of fire!” Again, she threw a red carnation toward the altar. The preacher looked straight at her and said, “Now throw your wallet.” To which the woman replied, “Preacher, you have just calmed the wind and put out the fire.”
The Spirit calls us to do more than just use words. The Spirit calls us to act. Despite the joke, that doesn’t necessarily involve money. It involves what we do with our lives, how we treat other people.
The thing is, being filled with the Spirit is only the beginning. You’ll notice this Pentecost story is at the beginning of Acts. We are filled by the holy Spirit in the first chapters. THEN we are called to go forth. To spread the good news. To help the outcast. To be the church to the world. The Spirit is what starts all of that off.
Imagine those disciples, those followers of Jesus. They are followers, even by their very names. They are trying to figure out what now that Jesus has ascended, probably confused and not a little bit frightened. And then, next thing you know, the Spirit has fell on them and they are speaking in languages they have never known. They begin proclaiming the truth and saving grace of Jesus Christ not only in ways that others can hear and understand but with a courage and strength they had not known before. They turn from Disciples, those who follow, into Apostles, those who are sent.
Through the Spirit, they become empowered to go out as they had been told to do. Aj Gordon once described it as “Before Pentecost the disciples found it hard to do easy things; after Pentecost they found it easy to do hard things.”
When we pray for the Spirit, we are praying to be shaken up, to be changed. We are praying to be driven to act. To do. To go out at be God’s presence in the world. It’s a very risky thing to pray.
Risky, but it is what brings life to the church. If the Spirit hadn’t have come down that morning at Pentecost, shaking up those lives, the church wouldn’t have been. It certainly wouldn’t have spread to the corners of the earth.
A third grader named Anthony Manago back in 2003 wrote the following poem based on the prompt “If I was a work of art”. He wrote:
If I was a work of art
I would be a picture of the wind
The wind, sort of light blue,
really hard and strong.
I would be blowing away
blowing toward love.
When people see the picture
they would know
I was going the right direction
instead of the wrong one.
That. That right there is the Spirit. The wind blowing away from hatred. Blowing towards love. Being an example for every who looked what the right way to go is. When we follow the calling of the Spirit, go in the direction of the Spirit’s tugging, we will go out and do. And by what we do, others will see the Spirit as well.
Pentecost is a day of change. A day when there are new beginnings and people are shaken out of their old routines. A day when a new world is started and begun. As we celebrate it again this year, will it simply be another Sunday on your calendar? Or will you open yourself up to the callings of the Spirit and see what changes God will create in you?
Let us pray:
Spirit of the living God, blow through us this morning. Shake up our lives that they may turn more fully towards you. Change our routines so that others may see you in us. Call us to your path, this day and every day. Amen.