Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Spirit of Pentecost

Sermon Preached at Church of the Incarnation, Atlanta
Ezekiel 37:1-4
Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

In today’s world, I wonder if Pentecost needs a new interpretation.  It is easy to get swept up in the beautiful imagery, of tongues of fire landing on the disciples’ heads’, of people hearing the Gospel message in their own native language, but I think it gets harder when we try to interpret what it means for us today, how it can change our lives.
            The disciples’ experiences are such a holy mystery to me. They were all together, fifty days after the Passover, after the death and resurrection of Christ, celebrating a small religious festival when suddenly there was the sound of a great violent wind, like a tornado, and it filled their entire house. All of a sudden flames appeared above their heads. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and were speaking languages they had never spoken before in their lives.
            They went outside, and a large crowd gathered around them, Jews from all nations, and the Gospel was shared with them in their own language. I imagine that it was a chaotic scene, each disciple speaking at the same time, yet every person in the crowd heard their own language, and heard the message that was being shared. It was a prophetic moment. It was a moment when the Spirit broke into human existence, human life, and shared the truth of this world that is truer than our existence. It spoke of the existence of the mysterious triune God and the Christ who was both scandalously human and divine.
            Can you imagine if that were to happen today? Can you imagine if this entire building was suddenly filled with the sound of gale force winds, flames danced upon everyone’s heads, and everybody began speaking the multitude of languages found in Atlanta? What would you say? What would you think? I can’t fault the people who thought the disciples were drunk. There would be no earthly explanation for what was happening.
            This radical demonstration of the Holy Spirit would change the world as we knew it. It certainly changed the world in the disciples’ time. Yet we would be at fault if we did not think that displays of the Holy Spirit do not happen today. What once came with wind and flame to the apostles has been passed onto us as children of God. This is the Spirit of truth, of prophecy. It has the power to completely reconfigure our lives. When we feel like we are a pile of dry bones, it can speak sinews and flesh into our lives. It can call out “Live!” and bring us life. It is the Spirit that can take fishermen from Galilee and change the course of human history. It is the Spirit that took a persecutor and turned him into the greatest evangelist the world has ever known. It is the Spirit that called out to the saints, turning ordinary humans into extraordinary examples of faithful living.
            This is the Spirit that calls to us today. The Spirit that calls us to prophesy. It calls us to listen to what God is saying to our lives, listening in our hearts to the voice of the divine. It calls us to a relationship so deep that it completely changes who we are and transforms our community. It changes how we see the world, not as a world that can be explained solely through scientific fact, through economics and human nature, but as a world that is wholly God’s, something made by God to flourish and live. It calls us to declare that because God cared so much to send a Messiah, we must care so much that we dare to see the call of this Messiah in every living being. It invites us to see visions and dream dreams of a new and better world, a heavenly kingdom, a New Jerusalem. It challenges a world that sees others as less than, seeking rather to respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to come out of the selfish nature of our lives into the selfless nature of Christ, not by lowering self-esteem, but by building us up into holy people, people who can speak the truth of God’s love into the world. We are called not just to be good people, but to be holy people, people who live in deep relationship with the divine, who can feel the tongues of flame upon our own heads.
            So who are you called to speak to? What are you called to in your own life? What is this community called to be? These are the questions the Spirit leads us into. They are answered in visions and dreams and longings for something new. The desire for difference, for change and growth, is the beginning of what can become the rushing winds of our own lives. It can lead us into greater study, greater prayer, greater visions and dreams. Slowly our dry bones can grow flesh as we find our relationship linked to this amazing Spirit. We can find it within prayer and prophecy, silence and deep conversation. As we begin to dream and vision what we are called to do and be, we can feel the Spirit rush in, speaking life into our flesh and lives. We can go out in confidence knowing that the Spirit has called us and is leading the way. It is leading us to inhabit those things that have been our deepest longings.
This Spirit comes today to completely change the history of the world. It comes to us, not in wind and fire, but bread and wine. It comes in and radically alters simple food into something holy. It comes to nourish and sustain us, to lead us in the way that is truth and life. Let it come and bring a vision into your being. Let yourself be taken over, allowing yourself to be transformed week after week, Eucharist after Eucharist, by these Spirit infused elements into a person, into a community that is fully alive, in tune with the divine, living out your call in this world. Let us come to the table today seeking this Spirit given to us at Pentecost.