I am 100% sure God’s Holy Spirit is loose and alive and well in the world. Sometimes God’s Holy Spirit even shows up at church, but we don’t have a corner on the market. The Holy Spirit is not contained to this building of church and this hour on Sunday morning, and Pentecost especially reminds us this, that God’s spirit is beyond our walls, alive and well and loose in the world, but we will continue to do our best to keep inviting her here when we gather.
It was a beautiful morning in Jerusalem. The sun was shining. There were no clouds in the sky. The air was very still. Everything seemed so peaceful. This was a celebration day – the day of Pentecost.
Many of Jesus’ friends, including Peter, his mother Mary and some other women, were gathered together in a little house. They were waiting and praying. They remembered Jesus had said that God would not leave them alone. God would send a special power, a helper to be with them. But when would that be? Suddenly something very strange happened. Who-o-o-sh! Who-o-o-sh! The wind rushed through the room. Mary and the other women heard the sound. The wind whirled and whistled through the room. The other friends heard the sound. The wind roared and bellowed through the room. Peter heard the sound. Everywhere, everything, everybody was touched by the wind. Everyone started talking at once. They rushed out into the streets. They called out to everyone, “Peace, paix (pay), friede (free-deh), paz (pahs), hozho (hoh-zho).” Some people were amazed, and others accused them of being drunk.
Wait, they can’t be drunk, it is only 9:30 in the morning, someone says. They are speaking in the native tongue of people gathered, like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekial prophesying, speaking truth … They go to scripture to understand what is happening, and quote the prophet Joel, from the Hebrew Bible, “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.”
The Holy Spirit of Pentecost calls us to get over ourselves and act a little silly, get filled with the spirit of God, so people think you’re drunk at 9:30 on a Sunday morning! We remember a time with the Holy Spirit came like fire. Ripping through our stuckness and our pride and our individuality. Uniting the flame of us, with the fiery source of God. We remember a time when the Holy Spirit came like wind. Whoosh, Whoosh, Whoosh. Kindling the coals, breathing new life into our old stories, our tired bodies. We remember a time when the Holy Spirit came gently, like a dove. Meeting us just as we are, just where we are, and assuring us each, as Marilyn’s dance did, that we are loved completely by God, in our imperfect ways.
The Holy Spirit asks us in each age, “What does it mean to be church?” David read us an example of the early church in Acts- the church of breaking bread together, of pooling resources and caring for one another and anyone who is in need, the awe and wonder alive in the devoted hearts of the apostles. Church no longer in this age, and perhaps never has been, the hour or so we spend in worship, in this building. Church increasingly becomes the people and relationships that make church. Which means that you, as being part of this church- everything you do in the spirit of Christ, of love and goodness, counts as something that we do together. When someone enters the church, as a new member, the whole body changes. Because every person matters. The Holy Spirit is with you in every act of kindness and generosity you do- and that my friends is church. Every time you see a client and channel the Holy Spirit with your words or insights, every time you volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, every time you trek your children to swim class or soccer or dance, every time you pick up trash you found in the woods on your walk, every time every act you do in the spirit of the living Christ.
We can describe church as the people we are in relationship with, here in this church and beyond. And the things we do, beyond these walls. Pentecost is the moment where people flood out of the church into the streets. Getting in touch with this revolutionary spirit of the church- the newness, where the Holy Spirit was palpable reminds me of the musical Hamilton, written and acted by Lin Manuel Miranda, who was actually a Wesleyan Grad, who also wrote In the Heights, he is a little bit of claim to fame for Middletown right now. His Broadway musical Hamilton, gets at the revolutionary spirit of the founding of this nation, the arguments, the passion, the spirit, the Holy Spirit really, the energy that was at work, and still is at work, in the faith experiment that founded this country. We think this nation, and this church, are traditional things that we have inherited; curated and already formed. But they were faith experiments, and still are.
Lin Manuel Miranda uses the art form of rap and spoken word in Hamilton, something never been done this successfully on Broadway before, and makes all the founding fathers mostly black or latino, and the revolutionary beginnings of this experiment called America comes alive in contemporary ways- that kids can relate to and understand. “I’m just like my country I’m young scrappy and hungry and I’m not gonna miss my shot!” Claims Hamilton! We aren’t going to miss our shot either, church.
The Holy Spirit was surely with them, and with the founders of this church, when they wrote in 1668 in our Covenant. A resident historian here, Dick Buel will make history come alive during Second Hour on memorial day weekend, May 29th, a couple Sundays from now as he gets us in touch with the revolutionary spirit of the founders of this church- who were doing something new when they wrote our covenant in 1668. They wrote, “We doe in ye presence of God, the Holy Angells and this Assembly, take acknowledge and Avouch the one and onely true God, God the Father, Sone and Holy Ghost to bee our God, giving up ourselves and our children to him to be his people. Ingaging that we will walk with this God and one with another according to the rules of ye Gospell,”
It goes on, and it’s beautiful, and although it may not sound to our ears as if this is filled with passion and fire of the Holy Spirit- I assure you it is. And let me share with you a story about fire, that I’ve shared before, but it’s worth hearing again as we celebrate the Holy Spirit.
A man once told me of a ritual he performed in a field. He had burnt some sage as an offering to God and accidentally dropped some on the earth. Enlivened by the earth jumping up to catch the flame, he watched for a moment, entranced. With that almost ecstatic feeling of knowing he should put it out, but seeing how far he could push it, he began to leap with the fire, dance around it in excitement. After a few moments he realized that grass around him was catching flame faster than he anticipated. He attempted to stomp it out, but it was larger, more unruly and consuming than he thought. He ran to his car, which was quite a distance away, and retrieved his cell phone, calling 911 to report a fire. Watching from a distance, he saw the flames begin to consume the whole field, and eventually helicopters dump buckets of water on the field. His heart sank with the knowledge that this ritual had caused destruction. A year later, still feeling guilty, but connected to this place he had brought flame, he went to the field, and discovered incredibly fertile soil, and the beginnings of lush new growth. What he thought had been destruction, was really paving way for new life.
What could this mean for us? Are there ways, in order to promote growth in the long term, the holy spirit will set fire to that which currently may not serve us? The Jesus path calls us to die to our old ways, and make room for the new. I sense there are ways this is happening around here, and it is most certainly happening on a large scale, in the form of what some may classify as a Fourth Great Awakening. So how can we allow things to catch, then spread like wildfire, to clear space for the unknown new ways that the Jesus path is revealing itself? I am here to testify that I know for sure, that out of things that feel like destruction and chaos can come deep blessings.
Today we sing an ode to the Holy Spirit who makes us feel alive, and high without any drugs or wine. We worship the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that comes close to us, that is in the wind, that gives us chills when we recognize serendipity, the spirit that tells us to call a friend at the right time, or when experience awe and wonder, when we break bread together, when we help one another in times of need.
Pentecost brings us into celebration of the church- the church that exists in the Vatican, the church that exists in store fronts on Louisiana, the Pentecostal church who practices speaking in tongues, the episcopal church gathering a few in for Evensong, the Korean Methodists the Syriac Orthodox Church, the church of Covenant Life that meets upstairs in our choir room, this church in Middletown CT.
Maybe you feel like you just got here, and you’re sitting there saying, why is our pastor talking about leaving, and going out? I just came home, I just found this place, I was just beginning to be comfortable. Because, my beloved church, Jesus is our leader, and he left us with the Holy Spirit, and I as the spiritual leader of this particular community am 100% sure that God’s Holy Spirit is alive and well and at work in the world. Beyond our walls! It’s like when your yoga teacher tells you that the real practice is off the yoga mat, and in the world. It is easy to be pious and meditative in the pew or on the mat- but God’s spirit is alive, and well, and at work in the world, out there. The same spirit that calls us in, shoos us out, and reminds us just as we begin our service here with the Prelude, our real service begins after the Postlude. Let it be so. Amen.