Genesis 11:1-9 Psalms 104:24-34, 35b Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 (25-27)
My dog, Zebi, is a kind of “everyone loves me” dog. She doesn’t like to miss attention. Sometimes, she will stop in the middle of the road if she sees the possibility of someone’s attention. I got her when she was a puppy and gave her a lot of attention from day one. That has only gotten ramped up to the tenth degree since her knee surgery. One night last week I got home about 8:30 and she was really agitated. She was wagging her tail, frantic and trying to run around like crazy, but her leg isn’t totally healed. I rubbed her and hugged her and gave her a treat, but she kept acting funny like in the old Lassie shows, trying to tell me that Timmy fell down in the well. I kept talking to her and trying to calm her down. I was bewildered, surprised and frustrated by my lack of communication skills. She kept wagging her tail and moving around – Help, Help, Timmy’s in the well!!
That’s how the Apostles felt. They were frantic, bewildered - the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles in wind and flames. It was fifty days after Passover, fifty days after Easter. The disciples were together “in one place.” “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like a rush of 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 ofthem were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability….And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”
The mighty wind made so much noise that a crowd gathered. People from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost came to see what was going on. They were pushing through the doors, and surprised to hear someone speaking their own language so far from home. Elamites looked in expecting to see other Elamites, but what they saw instead were a group of Galileans, all of them going on and on about God’s mighty acts.
There they were, about a hundred and twenty of them, Luke says, anxious, scared, and wondering what they were going to do without Jesus. They had made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Then they heard a holy hurricane headed their way. Before any of them could prepare themselves, that mighty wind had blown through the entire house, striking sparks that burst into flames above their heads, and they were filled with it. Every one of them was filled with God’s own breath. Then something closed around them and the air came out of them in languages they didn’t even know they knew.
Before the day was over, the church had grown from one hundred twenty to more than three thousand. Shy people became bold, scared people found courage, and lost people found a sure sense of direction. When Jesus breathed his last breath – willingly, for the love of us – that breath was sent out into the world. It was a breath, so full of passion, so full of life, that it didn’t simply dissipate as so many other breaths do. It grew in strength, it grew in volume, until it was a mighty wind, which God sent spinning through the upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath, and it worked.
Disciples who didn’t think they were able to do anything without Jesus, became capable and discovered things within themselves they never knew they had. When they opened their mouths to speak, they sounded like Jesus. When they laid their hands among the sick, it was as if Jesus himself had touched them. In no time, they were doing things that only Jesus had done. There was no explanation for it, except that they had dared to capture God’s breath on the day of Pentecost. They had breathed in God’s own breath and they had been transformed by it. The Holy Spirit had entered into them the same way it had entered into Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for the same reason. It was time for God to be born again – not in one body this time but in a body of believers who would receive the breath of life from their Lord and pass it on, using their own bodies to distribute the gift, to become the hands and heart and feet of Jesus.
When we say that Pentecost is the birthday of the church, most people picture the building, the institution, and think of all its hardware, its tradition and its history. But the great gift of Pentecost isn’t so much the birth of an institution as it is the celebration of the Holy Spirit’s ability to move – the freedom of the Spirit from the physical and geographical constraints of place and time, language and history. That day was the day those closest to Jesus accepted the freedom of the spirit of Jesus to move freely through the world. They spoke languages they had not known before, symbolizing the reach of the spirit throughout the earth, a clear message that what God was doing was not just for the people of a tiny Middle Eastern country. What God was doing is for everyone!!
Nothing could have been more important. As long as God is tied to one place in the minds of the faithful, they, we can’t move beyond it and it stays in one place. With that thinking, the life of faith can encompass the present and the past, but not the possibilities of the future. If we are tied to one place, then the Holy Spirit can only do what it has always done, in that place where it has always done it and its days are surely numbered. But when we celebrate the movement of the Holy Spirit, we experience the wonder. If we chain our worship to a particular place and time, then we must stay there, but if we worship God in spirit, then we can worship anywhere at all.
In the hymns we sing today, we are reminded of the importance of where that spirit comes from, the air we breathe –the breath of God. Not many of us here, take deep breaths after running and playing, more like climbing a flight of stairs. As children, we breathed deeply all the time. As adults, we forget to breathe deeply so that our lungs are filled with air and then the air is released into the world. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, all of the apostles are filled with the same spirit, and enlivened by the same wind. That’s what happens between us when we come together to worship God, the Holy Spirit swoops in and out among us, knitting us together through the hymns we sing, the prayers we pray, the breaths we breathe. It can happen when two people gather and it can happen when two hundred gather.
Several years ago, I was sitting with an elderly woman as she was actively dying. I had prayed, and talked, and now I was just sitting listening to her breathing. I found, in a matter of minutes, my breathing fell in line with hers. It was as if we were both striving to breathe in the rhythm of God’s breath. It was such a holy time. That’s what the Holy Spirit does!
At Pentecost, the third member of the Trinity arrives without warning, but in the right time. The Holy Spirit comes to equip the apostles….the Holy Spirit comes to equip us to do God’s will. We experience the process of growing into what God is calling us to be...in God’s time, in God’s will. This breath of God fills us, shapes us, transforms us. This breath of God helps us uncover our gifts.
Today, we re-experience the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the church. It is both the sign and the instrument that launched the church’s mission. Jesus instructed the disciples to wait “to be baptized with the Holy spirit” and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. So, they waited – until Pentecost, when they gathered together and together they felt the power, the promised outpouring of the Spirit.
At Pentecost, we learn the good news of what God did through the Holy Spirit, by resuscitating a room full of well-intentioned want-a-be’s and transforming them into a force that changed the history of the world. Of all the persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most challenging to define. Most of us can at least begin to describe the other two: God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, who makes the sun shine and the rain fall; God, the Son, who was human like us; our savior, teacher, helper, and friend. But how would you describe God the Holy Spirit to a five-year-old child? Even Jesus had a hard time with that one. “The Spirit blows where it chooses,” he said in John’s Gospel, “and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (3:8)
There is some fine teaching available on the Holy Spirit, but until you have felt it blow through our own life, rearranging priorities, opening things up, maybe setting our own head on fire, we don’t really get it. There is nothing we can do to make it happen, except to pray “Come Holy Spirit” every chance you get.
Encounters with the Holy Spirit are so powerful that it is easy to stop with them. But the truth is that the Holy Spirit can work with hundreds of people at the same time. It can happen to a room full of people who have come together to make decisions and seek direction. One by one, they come into the room with their own agendas. Some of them come fearfully, ready to defend themselves. Then someone says a prayer, people begin to talk, people begin to listen, and for no apparent reason, positions begin to shift. People really and truly hear each other, not just with their ears, but with their hearts. People begin to take each other seriously. They become creative together, coming up with ideas none of them had thought of on their own. It is as if a fresh wind blows through the room and clears everyone’s heads. You can call it anything that you like, but I call it the work of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s breaths are a gift. This is God’s moment-by-moment gift to us. It counts on us to warm it up, to lend it our lives. In return, it promises to fill us with new wind, to set our heads on fire, giving us tongues to speak things we can’t begin to understand. Let’s join with the Holy Spirit and see what amazing things God has in store for us. Come Holy Spirit, come!! Amen.