Sunday, May 19, 2013

Spirit of the Living God

Spirit of the Living God
Acts 2: 1- 21
May 19, 2013, Pentecost
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Acts 2: 1- 21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Obviously, this Holy Spirit thing isn’t some kind of private party. Whoever everybody was, everybody was there, wherever they were. They were all there, together in one place. It would be a relief, later, I’d imagine, that everybody was there, so they’d have someone to validate that memory, someone who shared it. I think they struggled, even them, even then, with the whole idea of the Holy Spirit.

I mean, think about it – God the Father, Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai, Mother Hen, now THERE is a God – the one true God, world-creator, breath-of-life-blower, covenant maker, angel-sender; deliverer of captives, giver of the law, demander of justice, inventor of love, supreme being, the great I AM.

And then Jesus, of course, another spectacular person of the trinity –born of a virgin, wise beyond his years, maker of miracles, welcoming outcasts, healing the broken, turning water into wine, walking on water, turning down the devil and all his temptations, standing down the Pharisees, and facing down the soldiers in the garden, kneeling down to pray and standing up for justice, hanging on the cross and rising from the tomb, ascending to the heavens, sitting at the right hand of God, where he continues to live as Word made flesh, fully human, fully divine, lifting up the lowly, comforting the broken hearted.

But the Holy Spirit…well…just between you and me, and I know I can trust you not to spread this around… just between us, isn’t the whole Holy Spirit thing a little bit hard to get your arms around?

I’m serious.  
Is it a person, or more like a ghost?
Do you really see how something, some entity, can be simultaneously likened to tongues of flame, a howling wind, a dove, a companion, and a comforter?
Somebody has said that the Holy Spirit is the unknown member of the Trinity.

Holy Spirit, Sophia, wisdom, ruach, breath, the person of the trinity who is often described in the feminine, because the words in the Greek and in the Hebrew are feminine, she is a mystery, an enigma, somebody we just can’t quite get a grip on. She shows up and people are surprised and bewildered. Other times, when the Holy Spirit comes, they are enlightened, and they can understand, can see, can feel and do and believe things they never could before.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was all that, did all that, all at once, to everyone.
They were surprised, and amazed. People thought they were drunk.
But they weren’t. They were transformed.
This spirit was not just wind, not just fire, not just comfort. This spirit was words and story and understanding. Everyone from everywhere understood everything! And it wasn’t just any spirit – it was the Holy Spirit.

It was the Holy Spirit that rocked them back on their heels,
that whooshed into their lives like a rushing wind,
and breathed into their hearts like a breeze.
It was the Holy Spirit that comforted their skittish souls
and transformed their tongue-tied talk into a song, a symphony, a poem,
a speech of soaring prose that lifted up their minds into a new perspective

She flew into their consciousness like a dove her gentle wings brushing the brick corridors of their preconceptions, and she dropped just one feather down to the floor, and as it fell it grazed their cheeks and they found that when someone next spoke to them they listened, really listened, and they understood, and they didn’t need to dispute or quarrel.

They could move into another’s story, feel the needs and think the thoughts of the other, and invite them into this new reality, this new story of Jesus, this story for everyone everywhere. It was the Holy Spirit who came like a wind in the sails of the church, to move them forward, outward, onto the vast seas of the world, to carry the precious cargo of grace and love along with them.

It’s no wonder we can’t get our heads around the Holy Spirit. Our language is inadequate.
We say “God sent the Holy Spirit” as if God packed up a down-filled comforter in a box and shipped it off to us to unwrap when we need some warmth. But if it were a shipment, it would be more like opening a crate full of fire and wind, which explodes out of its container and goes where it will. We can’t get our heads around that, and I think that’s why we get nervous talking about the Holy Spirit.

We can write up a neat little resume for God, get Jesus’ curriculum vitae in order in just a couple of pages, but the Holy Spirit….just gets a mention in the Apostles’ Creed, and then we move on quickly.

I think we get nervous talking about the Holy Spirit in the same way that talking about God or Jesus ought to make us nervous. We think we can contain the first two persons of the trinity with neatly drawn boxes and ten-word descriptions, so we make them kind of comfy pals – God as cosmic butler, who comes when we ring the bell and brings what we asked for; Jesus as eternal buddy, who conveniently absents himself when we are mean-spirited or callous or wicked, then just as conveniently shows up to give us a friendly little side hug and tell us we are okay, really, and that’s alright, he forgives us.

But this Holy Spirit keeps acting like, well, like God or something: indescribable, uncontainable, unpredictable, generous and gentle, swooping and scorching,
fierce and demanding – intense.

Because the Holy Spirit is God – moving among us,
the flame in the burning bush that calls us,
the wind that alternately refreshes and rearranges,
the light that shines in us.

A short while ago, you heard the voices of some of God’s stars, imperfect human people who were gifted and called to serve this amazing and mighty God.

In each of your bulletins, you’ll find a star. That star is there to remind you that you, too, are gifted and called to serve this amazing and mighty God, through the power of the Holy Spirit who rushes in on the wind or drifts down on you like a feather.

I want to invite you now to take a moment and think about how you are gifted and called by the Holy Spirit. What light, whether candle or blaze, has God ignited in you?
What gifts do you have, and how will the light of those gifts illumine this shadowed world?

Take a moment and think, then write on that star a word or two that describes that gift and how you will use it to shine, to carry the light, to speak and listen, to live as one in whom the Holy Spirit is alive and active.

You don’t need to put your name on it if you don’t want to – just name your gift and say how you’ll use it.

At the back of the sanctuary there is a large poster displayed for you to place that star,
so as you leave worship today, I ask you to stick your star on the poster.

What gifts do you have, and how will the light of those gifts illumine this shadowed world?

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. 
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. 
And You shall renew the face of the earth. 
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.


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