Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39
Pentecost is one of the five great Feast Days of the Episcopal-Anglican tradition, a day when we Baptize, remember our Baptism, and glory in God’s creative gift of the church, founded by God in Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. And as I thought about what Pentecost is and means I began to reflect on how little air time the Holy Spirit gets, compared to the Father and the Son, right? God may seem far from us, too powerful and mysterious to understand but we live in God’s creative world and, at the very least, we interact with God’s goodness in creation, in what God has wrought in us, yes? Of course, Jesus is the One who tore the Temple curtain in two, who brought down the barrier between God and us and gave us back to God. Jesus gave us His life, His everything, and it is hard to call oneself Christian if we do not relate, in some way, to the compassionate grace of the Risen One.
But the Spirit, well, its spiritual, right, and spirit is something that maybe we don’t give due credit for having the substance and form of God. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, wild and out of control: we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of prophesy, of tongues, of visions and, yet, how mysterious and unknowable the Spirit seems. The fact is that the Holy Spirit is God among us, the Spirit of Christ’s blessing, promised by Christ to His disciples. The Holy Spirit is the love of God poured out, like living water, from the very heart of Jesus, into our poor, yet longing hearts. The Holy Spirit connects us to each other in community, all of us, and brings us into unity with God’s never-failing and saving love; a love that is meant for all flesh, all living things, all creation…for you and for me. In the Holy Spirit we are at one with God and each other, a covenant we declare in our Baptism, a promise as old as God’s promise to Noah, a guarantee that God is forever with us, pouring mercy and grace into the cracked recesses of our hearts and minds that nothing else could ever fill.
Pentecost, too, commemorates the birth of the church, or so we often say. But the church of the disciples who received the gift of the Holy Spirit that day of Pentecost is not how we typically refer to “the church” in the 21st century. The early church, animated by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, was a disparate band of men and women who had followed the living Christ, the Holy One, the crucified and risen Jesus who had ascended to God. They still were not quite sure what to do or how to begin without Jesus. The coming of the promised Holy Spirit would breathe the breath of God into Jesus’ disciples and all His other followers in that room – all received the Holy Spirit, from lowest to highest, no matter his or her condition or station; the Holy Spirit breathed her fire into them all because, God’s promise was for all of them, as it is for all of us. From Pentecost’s baptism of Spirit, the disciples would acquire the strength, resoluteness, confidence, hope, patience, and courage to grow and grow into the “church.” Their church was not plaster, clapboard, brick or stone; it was wherever the Holy Spirit bonded people together in the sacrificial love of Jesus born through the overwhelming grace and generosity of God.
You see, growing the church isn’t about size; it is about the good news of God in Christ that renews us, rebirths us, and gives us purpose and grace. Baptized by the Holy Spirit, any group of connected folks, bound and tethered by the Holy Spirit, can proclaim, worship, pray, and go forth, as Christ commissioned His first disciples to do. The Holy Spirit, poured out on all flesh, is the holy glue that binds us all, all flesh, together in the hope of a God who forgives, establishes, supports, and saves us. We belong to God, first, but we belong to God as one people who God calls to life and faith in Jesus.
We are in a time of change, as really all time has been and will be. But, truly, we are in an era where all of us may be feeling rather disconnected – remember connection by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is one of the markers of community. How can we be community when we are not together, physically, we wonder, joined in each other’s presence to share the Sacraments of the Church, most importantly the Eucharist? How can we sing together, confess together, and pray together when we cannot be together? Being together as physical community is my idea of church, really, and it is hard for me – I’m owning this - to envision the church without a place for us to gather and without us sharing the joy of sacramental life and prayer as one community.
Though we cannot be together in this way now – and this is important, now - thanks be to God, any time any group of people pray together, even on line, the Holy Spirit is channeling the presence of God. Our sacramental life is not bound only to the physical sacraments of the church it is tied to our love for each other which the Holy Spirit fosters, grows, and nourishes. Even if we cannot see each other through a screen online, if we are praying with each other in mind, the Holy Spirit brings the luminous presence of Christ which ties us to each other and, of course, to God.
I love the part of the Pentecost story that happens after the Holy Spirit has come to them all in the room, just to the disciples and followers of Jesus; those who had been with Jesus during His earthly life. I am struck at how the noise of the coming of the Spirit, its sonic boom, if you will, attracted a crowd. “What was that sound,” they must have thought, and so, they come to see? And the disciples spill out into the streets, where God’s people are, and begin to communicate through the power of the Holy Spirit, with all people in their own language. What is important to me is this: God desires to share the reality of His love with us, no matter who we are, no matter where we are from, no matter what the color of skin or what challenges we face in life. The language of God in his continuing life of Spirit is universal, as universal as God’s love and grace and it comes to us where we are. God would have us all for His own and if we are willing to open our hearts to the possibilities of His Spirit of love, we truly can change the world by communicating that love.
We have seen, in that last week, the heartbreaking consequences of our inability to channel God’s love for all people. We have been shaken by the images of a police officer in Minneapolis kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed black man in broad daylight, seemingly oblivious to (or not caring about) the pain and suffering he was causing and ignoring. We have the seen the results of anger spilling over in protests, and then riots … We are seeing what happens when we forget that God’s love is poured out on all flesh, that we are all related to each other - not only by virtue of our Baptism but because God’s love is still present and available to us. If we continue to ignore God’s call to us in Spirit to be community, to be the church, we are in danger of destroying ourselves and each other. God has been brought near to us in Jesus Christ and sustains us with His continuing Spirit, poured out on all flesh with a mind to think, a heart to open, a willingness to love and respect the dignity of all life. We are reunited with God in Spiritual Presence, one that binds us to the community of Jesus and each other.