05 June 2022
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 14:8-17, (25-27)
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
St. Peter the Fisherman Church, New Smyrna Beach
Grace Church, Ocala
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God gives us the Holy Spirit, the gift of fire, so we will be ignited to share God’s common language of love with the world.
Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Pentecost, the official birthday of the church, the day God gave yet another GIFT of God-self, the GIFT of The Holy Spirit. Manifested in wind, tongues of fire, and voice to abide with us and comfort us, to live within and among us, to transform us to be more Christ like.
This week I have been reflecting upon giving and receiving gifts. Many times, I have received, and I hope you have too a gift that is just spot on, just what I needed or I wanted or didn’t even know I needed!! The giver seemed to have been listening to me, attentive to my heart’s longings. Yet at other times I have given, and have received Gifts that well didn’t resonate with another’s or my own longings as well. Gifts which left someone wondering, What in the world do I do with this? Maybe you too have wondered what to do with a gift, a cologne or fragrance you had no intention of wearing, a copy of a book you have already read, a picture of a relative or vacation you would rather forget. Gifts which while well intended leave us feeling ambivalent at best about what to do next.
On my 4th birthday, I recall, with embarrassment I might add, I opened a box filled with new clothes and became angry that the new bicycle I desperately wanted was not inside, so I stormed to my room, locking the door right in the middle of my birthday party, until my beloved grandmother convinced me somehow to open the door!
Sometimes we receive gifts we just don’t’ want, we can’t use, we have ambivalent feelings about. And this morning I suspect some of us might have some ambivalence about receiving the Holy Spirit, as of tongues of fire, for fire which can be fascinating and provide warmth but fire also has life energy to inspire us to change. And as we all know change may not be our first choice in life!
The Holy Spirit is God’s perfect gift, a gift like the old advertising slogan says, “A gift that keeps on giving”. A gift that ideally works to ignite our spirits, to broaden and deepen and widen our faith, to be and become people with open minds and fair judgement who proclaim God’s message of love in our church, community, and broken world.
This morning, our lesson in Acts falls on the day of Pentecost 50 days after the crucifixion of our Lord, 10 days after his Ascension, on a Jewish holiday, the Feast of Weeks or of First Fruits. A day in which the city of Jerusalem is filled with devout Jewish people from over 15 nations, pilgrims faithfully attending the required festival. At least 120 of them Jewish believers in Christ who are gathered all together, worshipping in the Upper Room with Peter and the 11 now apostles, Matthias being the 11th just chosen to fill Judas’ empty spot. When suddenly the Holy Spirit descends from heaven. The Holy Spirit, the Third member of the Holy Trinity, has appeared to be back stage since before creation surging around as an undercurrent beneath men and women’s lives, palpable but never quite glimpsed directly, wind over the water, a blazing fire on a mountaintop, a guiding light. But Holy Spirit bursts onto Biblical narrative’s center stage on Pentecost, in the sound of a violent wind filling the house and all the believers ‘ears and hearts, with divided tongues, as if of fire, separating them and resting upon each of their heads, fire to enlighten them and set their hearts aflame, to proclaim in new languages so others who also were willing could understand God’s message of love in unity with diversity.
And as we heard, in response a crowd gathers bewildered about the scene. Some people are sneering and accusing these Galileans of being mere drunk country hicks and demeaning the Holy Spirit’s supernatural powers. But MOST people are both amazed and perplexed, open to experiencing God’s possibilities, asking themselves and one another what does this mean?
And I suspect many of us as we hear this Pentecost story are asking the same question: What does this mean for us today? Most of us, I suspect have yet to experience a miracle of the phenomenal, instantaneous nature with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost but I suspect if I asked you, you would be able to name day to day miracles happening in your life; the laughter of a child, the kindness of a stranger, the joy of fellowship, music, and common meals. Small day to day miracles can teach us just as the Holy Spirit did at Pentecost about how the Holy Spirit works in our world..
The Holy Spirit works like a fire which manifests in three ways. First of all, the Holy Spirit is like a fire opens our hearts and minds, eyes and ears and very spirits
to get our attention, awaken, and enlighten us shining it’s light deep into our souls
to illuminate the cobwebs of prejudice we form from limited experience, closed minds and labels of others, cobwebs of prejudice that hang in the dusty corners, and closets of our spirits.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is like a fire that comes to warm, comfort, and teach the places in our hearts which have become cold and troubled, mired in fear, fear of changing, growing, or letting go of what we have known or who we have been-fire to bring us God’s peace.
Lastly the Holy Spirit is like a fire with life changing energy burning away, like radiation therapy, those places of pride in our hearts which have taken over like black mold in our sinks. Places of pride in our hearts that keep us thinking unhealthily, our spiritual journeys are over we are too old/crippled/debilitated to serve. We know all God wants us to know about God and we of course know best.
This pride and self-reliance is evident in Noah’s descendants in our Old Testament lesson, the families who immigrated from the wisdom of the East to settle on the plain of Shinar, taking matters into their own hands, turning away from God, building up their tower, city, and themselves. Until of course God intervened and Noah’s descendants realized they had to surrender to God’s will, plan, and power scattered about the earth, speaking in different languages ironically furthering God’s plan to be realized for the first time on this day of Pentecost…God’s plan that all people and nations of the earth would be able to understand one language, God’s language of love, of inclusivity and unity in diversity. For every time God’s message of compassion, love, and inclusivity is shared, the Holy Spirit pours out healing and connection in our hearts and among us. This language was and will be spoken by God’s messengers. Those believers on the day of Pentecost and those among us who are open to be filled with wonder and be transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. To share amazement and awe, not of ourselves but Of God.
While on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit transformed hearts instantly and boldly I suspect most of our transformation is subtle and gradual, like our favorite slow cookers cook, like the disciples we are called to sit and wait, to pray and worship God both individually and as a parish family, trusting and believing that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us and with God’s and each other’s help we can welcome the Holy Spirit’s fire.
I would suspect that there are seasons of our life when even the thought of receiving the Holy Spirit can leave us feeling a bit ambivalent - What are we to do with God’s perfect gift? Fire can be fascinating and draw us in like at a campfire but fire which is poorly tended can die out or become overwhelming and consuming. But we can trust God has a good plan for us for when we receive the Holy Spirit we receive a spirit of adoption. God sends the Holy Spirit not only at our baptism with water but also desires to fill us again and again with the Holy Spirit, to become more and more like Christ, filled with Christ’s compassion and love and doing the work the Holy Spirit calls us to do. To love God and our neighbor, all our neighbors, as we love ourselves.
As theologian Vance Havner once wrote…
We are not going to move this world solely by criticism of it, nor solely conformity to it but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Holy Spirit (Wiersbe, 406).
God has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit at your baptism and has filled you with the fire of the Holy Spirit. How is the Holy Spirit igniting and transforming you to be a source of combustion in this world and a witness to God’s language of
love and unity in diversity in our church family and in our wider community?