If there is a star of today’s show—in all of our readings, our songs, and our music—it is most definitely the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dressed up in tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit infusing our baptismal life, the Holy Spirit moving through this place.
As Jesus is raised from the dead, restoring humanity to the divine life for which we are created, so human community is converted by the Pentecost experience. Remember the story of the tower of Babel? That ancient myth explains why we humans speak so many different languages. Here, on the other side of the cross, God heals that particular linguistic rift, by showing what happens when people gather, not in the name of their own striving for power, but in the name of the Spirit.
We meet the Spirit in a most dramatic way in today’s reading from Acts—the cacophony of strange languages, all understood, and the rushing wind. We meet the spirit in the tongues of fire resting on each person. The imagery of fire, which we live out in our flame colors, is the power of God working in our hearts and in the way we are the church in the world.
The Acts story is an important one for us here at St. David’s, because it reminds us that God makes Godself present in chaos. These weeks—the past few weeks, and the next few weeks—our building and grounds have been and will be a veritable bee-hive of spirit-filled activity. For the last two weeks we hosted a class offered by Gaia University, where students from around the country gather to learn about transforming themselves and the whole world through a Spirit of global and local sustainability, of justice, and peace.
Next week the Village Building Convergence will converge upon St. David’s like a mighty wind of God’s holy chaos. The Village Building Convergence, or VBC, offers ten days of workshops and evening extravaganzas. This really is a Pentecost event—if you stop in on any evening between May 28 and June 5, you may think you’re hearing people speak another language. Pretend you are the prophet Joel, witnessing to young people seeing visions, and old people dreaming dreams. What are those dreams? What are those visions? That’s where the Spirit lives.
What if the descent of the Holy Spirit helps us to see all that we do—in this building and in our own weekday lives—as church? What if the descent of the Spirit helps us to welcome the chaos of all kinds of people doing holy work in ways we could never imagine? What if holy chaos is simply the kingdom of God in the making?
It is this chaos-bringing, kingdom-building Spirit that allows us to do those “greater works” which Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel. The Spirit is present in our Gospel as the promised Advocate. This word, advocate, appears in other versions of scripture as counselor, or comforter, or helper. I like comforter the best, from the King James Bible. Not because the comforter is supposed to cheer us up by making us cozy and comfortable, but because the earlier and perhaps truer use of the word comfort is strengthen. To be strong with. This is what the Holy Spirit does.
The power that descends upon us on this side of the resurrection is the power that creates and sustains community. The Spirit did not arrive on Pentecost and leave again the next day. The Spirit is here. How else could the church have survived and thrived these last 2000-plus years???
One of the ways that the Spirit works in us and through us is that in our baptismal covenant, in our prayers, and in our weekly celebrations, we are present with and for one another, in the Name of Jesus.
And this is one of the reasons we come to church. Occasionally someone asks me: why should I come to church? I believe in God, I say my prayers. I’ve got other things to do on Sunday morning. Why do I have to come to church? When we say, in the service of baptism, that we will do all in our power to support a person in his or her life in Christ, part of what is in our power to do is to show up, week after week and continue living into our own baptismal vows, our baptismal promises that we reaffirm every year at Pentecost. When we say we will support someone in his or her life in Christ, as we do every time someone is baptized, we are saying that we will support them on their journey, and seek ways to minister alongside them.
Supporting one another in our life in Christ means listening for the different voices and the different languages in which we speak of God and in which we hear God. Supporting one another in our life in Christ means being strong with each other and strong for each other. The fire and rushing wind of the first Pentecost happened in community, was in fact the catalyst for community. It is in our worship, and in our ministry together that the sparks of the Holy Spirit ignite.
Theologian and teacher Richard Norris wrote that “the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is simply the other side of Jesus’ Resurrection.” The other side of the resurrection. The power of Easter that we have been celebrating these past fifty days is not just the power of God to raise Jesus from the dead, but also the power of God to transform us, through Christ, into disciples building the kingdom. We are no longer hearing stories of individual encounters with the risen Christ. With the descent of the Spirit, we are the bearers of the risen Christ, the bearers of the good news that God is continually transforming the world into the kingdom.
As we go forth from this place, let us clothe ourselves in Christ, welcome God’s holy chaos, and listen for the language of the Holy Spirit.
O Come Holy Spirit. Come as the fire, and burn. Come as the wind, and cleanse. Convict, convert and consecrate us, until we are wholly yours. Amen.