Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 11, 2008

2008.05.11 “Where are the Holy Spirit Holes in Our Lives?” Pentecost Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

“Where are the Holy Spirit Holes in Our Lives?”

Pastor David L. Haley

Acts 2: 1 – 21

Pentecost Sunday

May 11th, 2008

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a 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 of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”  Acts 2: 1 – 21, The New Revised Standard Version

 

It’s an impossible task a preacher has today: bridging Pentecost Sunday and Mother’s Day.  If you were in this position, who would you want to slight:  Mothers, or the Holy Spirit?  Most of us would take our chances with the Holy Spirit!

Let me acknowledge at the outset that the closest I can come is to point out that in the languages of the Scriptures, Hebrew and Greek, both inflected languages where nouns must have a gender, the Spirit is referred to not only in masculine case, but also feminine, and neuter. 

For that reason feminine images for God’s Spirit are sometimes used. Thus those hymns in the hymnal — especially the Supplement — where the Spirit is referred to as “She”.  People tend to love them or hate them.  Kind of like mothers.

All that said, even if it weren’t Mothers Day, the task wouldn’t be much easier.  What are we to make of this event we read about on the day of Pentecost, the day the Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus, fulfilling the promise made of the risen Christ?

Like the little girl who asked, “What is Pentecost?”  and was told, “That was when the Spirit descended on the Church, with a rush of a mighty wind and flames as of fire, and everyone heard the praise of God in their own language.”  “Oh,” she said, “I must have missed that Sunday.”

The story of Pentecost is found in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, written near the end of the first century by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke.

It’s a story filled with rich symbolic language, a kind of ancient version of special effects.  The Spirit came upon the community with the sound of a “rushing wind” and with “tongues of fire” resting on each of them. In the Hebrew Bible, “wind” and “fire” are both associated with the presence of God.  In Hebrew, the same word means both “wind” and “spirit,” as in the creation story where the divine wind (or spirit) moves over the primordial waters (Genesis 1:2).  So also fire is an image for the divine presence, famously in the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6). As at the beginning of creation and in the history of Israel, the Spirit of God was again at work creating the new community of the church.

Then, we are told, the followers of Jesus, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” began to speak in “other tongues,” such that all present heard the praise of God in their own language. It’s a reversal of the ancient story of Babel in Genesis, chapter Genesis 11:1-9.  According to that story, the people of the earth once spoke a common language but were then scattered into different language groups because of their prideful attempt to build a tower to heaven.  Indeed, the English word “babble” comes from the name “Babel.” Babel is the story of the fragmentation of humankind into separate and often hostile groups who do not understand each other.  Sound familiar?

Pentecost is thus the reversal of Babel. For the author of Luke-Acts, the coming of Jesus and the continuation of his presence in the power of the Spirit inaugurated a new age in which the fragmentation of humanity was overcome. Or, in words attributed to Paul, through Christ and the Spirit, the breaking down of “the dividing wall of separation” and the creation of “one new humanity” had begun (Ephesians 2:14-15). Which to you seems more real: the story of Babel or the story of Pentecost?  They each have their days, don’t they?

For churches, Pentecost remains a day to dream about:  the day the church took off, with a riot of sound and light and excitement.  On our best days, we approximate it, but most of the time it remains the dream we seek. After all, didn’t the story say the Spirit came upon them, with the rush of a mighty wind and with flames of fire, and they all began to beg for a committee to serve on, whether Trustees or Staff-Parish? (Only in our dreams.)

Without Pentecost, we see the church at its worst, even as it may be found today: a kind of prolonged prayer meeting, a secluded Jesus Commemoration Society. 

But with Pentecost, with the Spirit’s power, the church — then and today — becomes what it’s supposed to be: the new community of God, with a lively witness, a dynamic missional outreach, the church of something happening.

Obviously, Pentecost had a terrific impact upon the fledging Church, but what does it mean for us today?

A few years ago, I heard a wonderful analogy, which I now think of every time I hear this story.  Scholar Diana Eck, in her 1993 book Encountering God, revealed some surprising details about medieval church life. 

In those days, the liturgical calendar did far more than determine what Biblical texts were read each Sunday. The church calendar shaped the daily lives of people.  Festivals, saints’ days, holy days, all lived and breathed in the world of the medieval church.  It was the church’s job to see that the marking of these days remained the dominant guiding force in daily life.

Diana Eck discovered that Pentecost was one of the most creatively celebrated days on the church’s calendar. In 10th century Rome, for example, the church knew how to throw a party, especially its own birthday party, the feast of Pentecost.  In order to make the coming of the Spirit a dramatic, dynamic event for their congregations, leaders of Pentecost services involved architecture, not just anthems.

The custom of painting heavenly scenes on the great domed and vaulted ceilings of cathedrals served not only to inspire the devout with blessed visions.  It also disguised discreet trap doors.   These small openings were drilled through the cathedral ceiling to the rooftop. 

During the Pentecost worship service, some hapless servants would be drafted to clamber up on the roof.  At the appropriate moment during the liturgy, they would release live doves through these holes.  From out of the painted skies and clouds on the cathedral ceiling, swooping, diving symbols of a vitally present Holy Spirit would descend upon the people below.  At the same moment, the choirboys would break into the whooshing and drumming sound of a holy windstorm.  Finally, as the doves were flying and the winds were rushing, the ceiling holes would once again be utilized — as bushels upon bushels of rose petals where showered down upon the congregation.  These red, flickering bits of flowers symbolized tongues of flame falling upon all who waited below in faith.  They called these openings to the sky in medieval churches, “Holy Spirit holes.” 

Did you get that?  “Holy Spirit holes.”  In Diana Eck’s words,

“We need these Holy Spirit holes.  Our churches need these skyward openings to the wind rush of God . . . Holy Spirit holes would be perpetual reminders to both the prophetic and the Pentecostal movements in our churches that our knowledge of God is not complete. They would ceaselessly remind us that no image or icon, no petal or flame can domesticate God’s Spirit.  Its symbolic images, like the dove and the wildfire, are images of utter freedom.”

Where are the “Holy Spirit holes” in our church, where the Holy Spirit can still get in? 

On the day of Pentecost, I doubt that’s how the disciples of Jesus had planned their day.  (7 AM, Prayers; 8 AM, Breakfast; 9 AM, Pentecost?)  But God had other plans: suddenly the schedule was out the window, as God made a public spectacle of them, and a crowd gathered, wanting to know what was happening.  Can’t you just hear the disciples?  “What do we do now?” “I don’t know; we’ve never done it this way before!”

I firmly believe that now, as then, God has greater hopes for most congregations, congregations like our own, than to be secret Jesus Commemoration societies. I believe God is still creating the new community, even among old churches, empowering them by the power of the Holy Spirit, to become inviting, inclusive, worshiping and witnessing communities of faith.

It reminds me of the story of the church whose steeple caught on fire. As the pastor was standing in the churchyard watching the fire department put it out, he noticed a non-church member neighbor standing beside him.  “Why, John, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at church before.”  And John replied, “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this church on fire before.”

Where are the “Holy Spirit holes” in our lives, where the Holy Spirit can still get in?  Is it here in worship?  Is it a special place, a special time, where we gather with God in prayer?  Who might God be wanting us to open our hearts to, what might God be wanting us to open our eyes to, what new things might God be wanting us to believe, what new direction might God be wanting us to go in?

There is a long established spiritual tradition which every person seeking to do God’s will should be wise to, which is that God just might have other plans for us than those we have set for ourselves, and that we need to be spiritually sensitive to the leading of God’s Spirit.

One of my favorite prayers — reflective of this tradition — has come to be a prayer attributed to Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest, the former Chaplain to the Fire Department of New York, who was the first member of the Department to die on 9/11/01. Long before he became a hero and a martyr, Father Judge was much loved and respected by the men and women of the Department.  Perhaps this prayer — which I suspect he prayed daily — partially explains why.

Lord, take me where you want me to go,

Let me meet who you want me to meet,

Tell me what you want me to say,

And keep me out of your way.

This is a Pentecostal prayer, reflective of what Pentecost still means to us today; good for our church, good for all of us, good for every one of us.  

Lord, take me where you want me to go,

Let me meet who you want me to meet,

Tell me what you want me to say,

And keep me out of your way.

Amen.

 

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