Whitsunday: The Day of Pentecost
24 May 2015
O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
My first thought for today’s sermon was not to prepare at all and just leave it to the Holy Spirit. There is this idea that runs throughout Christian history that this is, in fact, the preferred option, that preparation, study, forethought somehow get in the way of God working in and through us. There is this idea that when the moment comes we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and everything will be ok, that God will come to us in a flash and fill us with all the right answers or all the right moves. I have found, however, that this is problematic both theologically and in experientially.
There is a story—and I am sure I have shared it before—that the Dominicans friars tell about their rivals the Franciscans that gets right to the point. The story goes that a group of Italian Franciscan friars decided one day that they should go on an evangelical mission to Germany. When it was pointed out that none of them spoke a word of German, the friars replied that it wouldn't be any problem because when the time came, the Holy Spirit would give them the power to communicate. Needless to say, when they arrived and started preaching they were all locked up because everyone thought them insane. The Holy Spirit, my brothers and sisters, the Third Person of the Trinity whom we celebrate today is not some supernatural force that we can count on to come to us out of the blue and give us special powers or knowledge that we haven’t worked for. It isn’t going to all of a sudden help us pass our German exam, or give us all we need to know for our big meeting, or tell us what to say in a challenging situation. No, the Holy Spirit is something more powerful, more magical than this simple parlour trick we hope could be a substitute for the hard work of study or discernment.
Indeed the remarkable thing about the Holy Spirit that descended upon the disciples at that Pentecost ten days after Our Lord’s Ascension, was, like the proverbial “spirit of Christmas” in a hokey holiday movie, that it was something they had all along. The Holy Spirit is nothing more, nothing less, than the very breath of life that enlivens us and all creation. The Holy Spirit came first into the world not on that day of Pentecost, but in the beginning, infusing all that lives with a spark of the divine. The Holy Spirit is that which turns our mortal flesh into something extraordinary. Without it we are nothing but skin and bones, dead meat, unconscious of our thoughts and feeling. With it we are a body made in the image and likeness of God, alive with the power to receive and return to the world the very Love of God. The Holy Spirit is that which energises us, connects us to God and to each other, and to the creation that God has made. God breathed life into the world, made matter live, made living creatures, especially us humans unique, beautiful subjects, able to see beyond the present moment, able to grasp the transcendent reality of something bigger than themselves. The Holy Spirit pulsing within us expands our consciousness beyond the present moment, makes us able to apprehend past, present, and future and see that the stuff of the world, the matter of creation has value because it points us back to the divine, back to the source, back to the Love that fashioned it and that is working to reconcile all things back to itself.
It is in this way that we are in the world, but not of the world, as last week’s Gospel put it. The world, the matter of creation, the flesh that sits upon our bones is meaningless and dead without being enlivened by that Holy Spirit. We are more than the matter of our substance, we transcend the matter of our substance, we are not bound by the matter of our substance. Because of the Holy Spirit, the matter of our substance, our flesh has greater meaning, greater purpose. It is alive with the Spirit of God, with the power and energy of God’s love, and it can be put to the use of that very Love. Yes, we can choose to ignore the power of that breath deep within us and concentrate just on the here and now, just in this moment, just on the flesh and matter before us, and yes sometimes that is the easy thing to do. Nevertheless, the true reality is that we are full of the breath of God, of the wind of God, of the Love of God and have been given the power to go out into the world, master tasks and information, use our powers of understanding and discernment and do the work of Love that God is calling us to do.
The Holy Spirit that Mary and the disciples experienced on that Pentecost was not something they didn't have before that moment. In that moment, together, they had an experience of being reminded who they really were, what they were truly made of, and what they were capable of doing. The disciples on that Pentecost were frightened and confused. They had seen Jesus teach and preach and had been filled with hope. They had seen him die a painful death on the Cross. They had experienced his resurrection and his transfigured presence with them during those fifty days. And then he was gone again. They had been on a roller coaster ride and did not know what we next. They had, perhaps, lost sight of the gifts they had already been given, made in the image and likeness of God, having been drawn to Jesus as the one who most embodied and lived the Love of God in the flesh, having been inspired to follow him and assist him in his work. They were reminded on that Pentecost day that they were pulsing with the spirit of life, with the breath of God, full of the fire of that Holy Spirit that made them more than themselves and connected them with God’s very self. They discovered the power within themselves to go forth and do that work and employ their gifts and talents and skills in the service of that energetic Love that is the be all and end all.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and set you on fire. Don’t just look to the skies for it to come and rescue you. Don’t just expect that the Holy Spirit will come and be a substitute for the work you have to do. Remember, my brothers and sisters, that the Holy Spirit already is on fire in our hearts, is filling our lungs with air, energising our minds, ready to turn to the project of Love that lies before us, the project to gather us all in Love.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Easter/Ascension Feria, 23 May 2015
© 2015 Andrew Charles Blume