John 14:8-17, 25-27 • May 19, 2013
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Let’s take a minute and do a little exercise in the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a deep breath in and now let that breath out. Good.
Let’s try one more – breathe in. Breathe out. Excellent.
You know what – it’s been a tough week. Heck it may have even been a tough beginning to worship today for some of us – let’s do one more. Breathe in. And out.
Today is one of the great festival days in the Christian church. The Day of Pentecost. Although this day has its roots in ancient Jewish tradition, Christians have continued to celebrate this day, but changed its focus a bit into celebrations of the Spirit of the risen Christ coming upon the church. It is a festival day that’s held on the fiftieth day of Easter each year. And since the early days of the church, it’s been known as a sort of birthday of the church. The transformation of the church from a few select followers of a guy named Jesus into a global community of believers in the risen Christ from every nation and in every language that the world will ever know. A community of believers who have received and continue to receive the Spirit of God. So Happy Birthday church!
But – let’s not get too carried away and crazy patting ourselves on the back and passing out the birthday cake, because it seems to me that we often are still asking the same question that those who first received the breath of the Holy Spirit asked so long ago – “What does this mean?”
Every time I think of that question from the Pentecost story in the book of Acts I’m challenged to reflect on the Holy Spirit and the celebration of Pentecost and whether I still even believe that the breath of God’s spirit is still alive in the world today. And as I do that, I’m always reminded of the story of the shark and the whale swimming around in the ocean.
The shark says to his friend the whale, “You are so much older than I, and wiser too. Could you tell me where the ocean is?” The whale says, “Sure. The ocean is what you are in now.”
Of course, the shark doesn’t believe it, “Come one, whale, I thought you were my friend. Tell me where the ocean is so I can find it!” The whale gently repeats what he’s already said hundreds of times before, “The ocean is here, now; you are in it my friend.” Still frustrated and unbelieving, shark swims away searching for the ocean.
It may not be a story about a shark and a whale, but Theologian and Author Barbara Brown Taylor offers this about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. “What happens between us when we come together to worship God is that the Holy Spirit swoops in and out among us, knitting us together through the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the breaths we breathe. It can happen with two people and it can happen with two thousand people. It can scare us or comfort us, confuse us or clarify things for us, but,” Taylor says, “as far as I can tell the Holy Spirit never bullies us. We are always free to choose whether or how we will respond.”
A few weeks ago I was invited to talk to about 50 of our 6th Grade God Rocks students about the Holy Spirit. I had 15 minutes to share everything I knew about the Holy Spirit to this incredible group of young men and women. So for 15 minutes we listened and watched and looked for a sign – any sign – that the Holy Spirit was present in the Youth Room that night. And even though we didn’t see an supernatural winds sweeping through the room knocking us off our chairs and as far as we could tell nobody instantly became proficient in a foreign language, we still believed that God was in that room and sensed that God’s spirit was with us in every breath that we took, in the eyes of every neighbor that we looked into, and in every moment of our day that had brought us together for 15 minutes in the holy place of the Good Shepherd youth room.
I believe that Pentecost and the receiving of the Holy Spirit is not only about celebrating something that happened many centuries ago. A day that pushed the church into existence with winds blowing and fire burning and instant fluency in every foreign language during an event that was a mad party on the streets of Jerusalem resembling something like what I imagine downtown Minneapolis will look like when the Vikings finally win a Super Bowl.
Pentecost is not just about a day in the ancient past of the Christian church; it’s also about celebrating what’s happening as God’s Spirit breathes through us right now. As you sit where you are in this holy place, how do you feel the Holy Spirit’s presence near you, with you, in you?
In just this past week, I’ve felt the Holy Spirit’s presence breathing through the congregation of Good Shepherd as we have walked with a fellow sister and brother in the body of Christ following their death. The hospitality and care that you and I offer as we serve one another in these times is the power of God’s spirit breathing through us that is alive in each one of you.
I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence breathing through hundreds of young people at Good Shepherd who celebrated the end of the church school, God Rocks, and confirmation program year around games, food – lots of food – movies and just being together as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. The fellowship that we shared in these yearend celebrations is the power of God’s spirit breathing through us and alive in the younger generations that are part of our congregation.
In one article I read this week the author said, “The story of Pentecost, after all, is not a story of a group of people who received something and then sat around admiring the gift. It’s a story about a mission. Luke’s account of those early disciples tells us they got busy and went right out to change the world, as they themselves had been changed by the moving Spirit. Luke’s entire story in the book of Acts is one of bold movement, beginning in that room in Jerusalem and reaching to the ends of the earth, always moving outward despite all odds, always inviting and including new people, despite opposition. [Anne Howard, The Beatitudes Society]”
A few years ago a theological journal that I read regularly asked several pastors to describe “How the Holy Spirit Moves Today…in 100 Words or Less”. Here’s what Presbyterian Pastor Byron Wade submitted to the journal.
“Many people question if the Holy Spirit is at work in the world today. Put on some different eyes and see –
The claiming of an infant in baptism
The faith of a spouse in the loss of a loved one
The building of a Habitat for Humanity home
Strangers assisting in areas of a natural disaster
The grace exhibited to one another after a difficult discussion
And the ability to awaken to see a new day …
Then you can say the Holy Spirit is at work.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let the Holy Spirit continue to work through you in the many beautiful and grace-filled ways that it already does. Breathe in. Out. Breathe in.