THE GIFT THAT IS OURS
John 20:19-23, Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost is one of the major Christian festivals. I think of three: Christmas as the festival of the Fatherhood of God. Easter as the festival of the Son of God. Pentecost as the celebration of the Spirit of God. However we don’t make as much fuss about Pentecost as we do about the others. We have escaped some of the secularism and the commercialism of Christmas and Easter.
No one has come up with ways of marketing Pentecost. Very few of us give Pentecost cards on a regular basis. We don’t get together for big family gatherings on Pentecost like we do at other times. We don’t necessarily indulge in all kinds of food and drink. We don’t get a lot of extra holidays – like a week off of school, unless it falls on a long weekend when we get an extra day, but it has nothing to do with Pentecost. We don’t have Pentecost parade where people show off their new Pentecost outfit, there new Pentecost suit, their new Pentecost hat, their new Pentecost dress. There is no Pentecost music played on the radio, or Pentecost CDs and tapes being promoted. There are no Pentecost specials on the TV networks. There are no pre-Pentecost sales in the Mall. No Santa Claus sitting there for a month. This year they had the Easter bunny sitting there for a couple of weeks before Easter. The stores do not tell you how many shopping days left before Pentecost. There is no great push for Pentecost presents. No one is asking you what you are getting for Pentecost this year.
So it is a little different kind of season than those others major festivals of the Christian year. No holidays! no presents! no big gatherings! I believe that is a good thing, because we are able to concentrate on what Pentecost really means, and the real gift that was given at the first Pentecost, and the real gift that is given to us today…the Spirit of God.
In the Gospel Jesus breaths into his followers the Spirit giving them an abiding presence that would help them, guide them, counsel them, and comfort them. You might say that it was Jesus’ “Going away presence” . No longer could them rely on the physical presence of Jesus. No longer could they see him, hear him, touch him like they could before. Instead they would be led by His Spirit.
In the Acts of the Apostles, in the story that was read today, they came to the full realization that the Spirit was with them. They talked about the coming of the Spirit in terms of fire, and wind, and speaking in different languages…like it was the opposite to the tower of Babel. You remember the tower of Babel where all the people tried to build a tower into the heavens but they couldn’t because they were confused by their languages. They couldn’t understand one another. Here, they heard one another in their own language….so there was unity, where before their was division. O the Spirit is as consuming as fire. It is as powerful as wind and water. And the work of the Spirit is for unity.
The Spirit is the presence of God for all of us, not just for those early disciples. The Spirit is our help, our guidance, our counsel, and our comfort. How do we experience this presence among us? Some people have experienced the excitement and the emotional vigour as in the first Pentecost. Sometimes people that experience the Spirit in that way try to live in the same intensity of the spirit all the time. But to try to live the intensity of the Pentecostal experience every moment would for me to be as unrealistic as trying to maintain the ecstasy of ones wedding day throughout your whole married life.
I have found that the way of the Spirit is mysterious and blows where it wills, and how it is evident in peoples lives depends on one’s type of personality, and varies from individual to individual. You can’t say of the Spirit that it comes and is experienced only one way. To try to confine the Spirit, is like trying to confine fire in a limited kind of vessel…it is snuffed out. You can’t put the lid on the wind either, it becomes stale. You can’t bottle up water, because it becomes stagnant. So it is with the Spirit. You cant confine it, put a lid on it, bottle it up in any one kind of occurrence.
Even in the Scriptures the description of the Spirit is diverse. Sometimes the Spirit is a mighty force that overwhelms the person or persons. Sometimes the Spirit appears as an ecstatic kind of speech and wilder actions (you find some of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures having that kind of experience.) But at other times, the Spirit is described as breath of God that gently works in the world. Sometimes it is the still small voice which speaks to prophet or seer and communicates in a quiet way divine will, purpose, and warning.
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Prison Meditations speaking of a certain experience that he had of the Holy Spirit:
I vividly recall that night (of torture)…and how I prayed to God that he might send death to deliver me because of the helplessness and the pain I felt I could no longer endure, and the violence and hatred to which I was no longer equal. How I wrestled with God that night and finally in my great need crept to him, weeping. Not until morning did a great peace come to me, a blissful awareness of light, strength, and warmth, bringing with it the conviction that i must see this thing through and at the same time the blessed assurance that I should see it through. Solace in Woe. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. This is the kind of creative dialogue (the Spirit) conducts with (humankind) These are the secret blessings (the Spirit) dispenses which enable a (person) to live and endure…”
Also, I think of some words of St. Theresa from the 19th Century, describing her Confirmation :
Soon after my first Communion I went into retreat again for my Confirmation, and I prepared myself with great care for the coming of the Holy Spirit. As it happened the ceremony was put off, and I was only too glad to have a longer time in retreat. How happy I was! Like the Apostles I waited for the promised Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came into my life there was no rushing wind as on the first Pentecost, but just a gentle breeze which murmured on Mount Horeb to Elias. On that day I was given the strength I was to need, for the martyrdom of my soul was going to begin very soon.
I must say that the way that I have experienced the Spirit has been in quieter ways – the gentle breeze, the still small voice, the awareness of light, strength and warmth. I have said, ” I don’t know where the strength came from”, or ” I don’t know where I got the courage to do that”, or even in the midst of a difficult situation, I had the feeling, the hunch if you will, that things were going to turn out in the end. It was no less the Spirit of God connecting with my spirit and working wonders in my life.
So in our lives today the manifestations of the spirit are many and varied.
It could be found:
…in the genuine spiritual renewal which brings newness in to our lifeless existence.
…being caught up in the feeling of oneness with God, others, ourselves
…within us welling up from within us like a fresh spring of living water giving strength
….in high moments of creativity, sudden insights into human situations.
….or in understanding, discernment, prophecy, healing, and a hundred other ways
We celebrate today the diverse ways the spirit takes hold of our lives, the many and diverse ways that God breathes into us life and power, and catches us up in the flow.
What will they say of us when we are caught up in the Spirit of God. Will people, amazed and perplexed wonder what is going on. Will they say, “Are they are filled with new wine?”. I hope that our religious experience would be so noticeable. How would we answer? “There is nothing going on in our life” , or “There is nothing very exciting about our faith and life” or will we answer like Peter in the Acts of the Apostles this morning:
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophecy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my menservants and maidservants in those days I will pour out my spirit and they shall prophecy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth beneath…
This is truly the gift that is ours.
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