Spirit of ?

May 28, 2023

    Series: May 2023

    Speaker: Bethany Nelson


    Today's Sermon


    "Spirit of ?"


    Scripture Reading

    Acts 2:1-18

    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.’”

    Pentecost Sunday has arrived! It is one of my favorite Christian holidays, but also one of the most overlooked.  It just doesn’t have the fame of Christmas or Easter.  Which is too bad, because Pentecost is a big deal. Today, we celebrate the birthday of the church!  And what a great story we tell to celebrate.  The people are gathered, and a mighty wind rushes through the room. Tongues of fire rest on them. They begin speaking in various languages and can understand each other.  This is blockbuster movie material!  And yet, Pentecost just hasn’t caught on like the other two big Christian holidays.

    I wonder if Pentecost is lesser-known because it is all about the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit can be a hard concept to understand.  If someone were to ask you about God or Jesus, I’m guessing you would have a few things to say.  But the Spirit?  Well … it’s like the wind, or the breath of God, or a life-force, or … fill in your own blank.  The Holy Spirit is a bit of an amorphous concept.  For me, though, the indefinability of the Spirit is perhaps what I like most about it.  Because the Spirit can be active and present in our lives in so many different ways. We began worship praising the Spirit of exuberance!  Blowing through our lives encouraging, inspiring, uplifting us to praise and to dance. I love that energizing aspect of the Spirit.

    But there are other ways the Spirit shows up in our lives.  Will you join me in singing the chorus of hymn #291? (“Spirit” by James Manley)

    Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
    Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness,
    Wind, wind on the sea.

    Spirit of gentleness.  When life gets overwhelming, when anxiety is high, when tensions threaten to overwhelm, I welcome the Spirit of gentleness. The Spirit of gentleness reminds me to slow down, to take some deep breaths, to hand my burdens over to God so I am not carrying them alone.  We often begin worship by settling our bodies and our minds, and taking a couple of deep breaths.  We begin with the Spirit of gentleness, with a reminder that God’s caring, peaceful, calming presence is with us always.

    But then we also sang about a Spirit of restlessness, stirring us from placidness.  Because the Spirit energizes us, the Spirit calms and centers us, and the Spirit also calls us out, beyond ourselves, into the world. The Spirit can be a gentle breeze, but it can also be a loud, rushing wind, making sure we don’t get complacent, making sure we work for justice, we uplift the oppressed and the outcast. The Spirit moves us outside of our comfort zones as we follow God’s call to serve.  On that Pentecost day, the Spirit came in a rushing wind and tongues of fire.  The Spirit is intense.  The Spirit sets us on fire to do God’s work in the world.  Have you seen the news lately?  There are so many people and places who are hurting. We need to be filled with God’s Spirit of restlessness.  A Spirit that urges us to be the hands and feet of Christ.

    One of my favorite poets, Jan Richardson, wrote a blessing for Pentecost that captures well this Spirit of restlessness.  It is called, “This Grace That Scorches Us.”

    Here’s one thing you must understand
    about this blessing:
    it is not for you alone. 

    It is stubborn about this.
    Do not even try to lay hold of it
    if you are by yourself,
    thinking you can carry it
    on your own. 

    To bear this blessing,
    you must first take yourself
    to a place where everyone
    does not look like you
    or think like you,
    a place where they do not
    believe precisely as you believe,
    where their thoughts
    and ideas and gestures
    are not exact echoes
    of your own.

    Bring your sorrow.
    Bring your grief.
    Bring your fear.
    Bring your weariness,
    your pain,
    your disgust at how broken the world is,
    how fractured,
    how fragmented
    by its fighting,
    its wars,
    its hungers,
    its penchant for power,
    its ceaseless repetition
    of the history it refuses to rise above.

    I will not tell you this blessing will fix all that.

    But in the place where you have gathered,
    Lay aside your inability to be surprised,
    your resistance to what you do not understand.
    See then whether this blessing
    turns to flame on your tongue,
    sets you to speaking
    what you cannot fathom 

    or opens your ear to a language
    beyond your imagining
    that comes as a knowing
    in your bones,
    a clarity in your heart
    that tells you

    this is the reason
    we were made:
    for this ache
    that finally opens us,

    for this struggle,
    this grace that scorches us
    toward one another
    and into the blazing day.

    Will you sing with me hymn #288? (“Spirit of the Living God” by Daniel Iverson)

    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
    Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

    Do we mean what we sing?  Melt me; mold me; fill me; use me.  Because if we truly want the Spirit to fill us, to use us, we will be changed. Changed by exuberance, changed by gentleness, changed by restlessness.  Changed by the many different ways that the Spirit moves us and comforts us and challenges us and scorches us.  When we pray, Come, Holy Spirit, Come, we need to be ready for what that Spirit will bring!

    Let’s sing it again.

    On this Pentecost Sunday, how is the Spirit changing you?  Are the wind and flames of Pentecost bringing a much needed Spirit of exuberance, or gentleness, or restlessness?  Or something else?  And are you ready to receive the gift of the Spirit?  To be moved with joy?  To share your burdens?  To step outside your comfort zone for the sake of another?  To be changed as the Spirit fills you and uses you?  May it be so. Amen.