Apr. 15, 2016

Acts 2.1-21; Rm 8.14-17; Jn 14.8-17

Halleluiah! I always get worked up on Pentecost! Can I get an "Amen" on that? When someone approaches their work or their life with passion and verve...we describe them as "spirited". My undergrad college taught that lesson with their motto, "the Spirit makes the master." The Spirit empowers and energizes success. A Spirit filled life overflows with this dynamism. I remember the first time I set foot on a sailboat. The inert boat bounced helplessly to and fro on the waves, but suddenly when the main sail was unfurled and the wind set into it, it was almost like a giant hand took hold of the boat and pulled it forward! It's that same creative Spirit that empowers us! But many look at the Spirit with suspicion.

I'm reminded of the man who visited at an Episcopal church and when the priest was preaching, the man enthusiastically said, "Amen!" And as the sermon went on man said again, "Halleluiah!" and raised his arms up in the air! At this point the usher came down the aisle and asked the man if everything was OK...the man said, "Sure it is...I'm just getting into the Spirit here." But the usher cautioned the man, "Sir, I'm not sure you can do that in the Episcopal Church." But of course we can.

In the NT the word for Spirit is πνευμα. It's where we get our English word "pneumatic"...as in pneumatic tires...that is, tires that weren't solid rubber, but they have air in them! The air may be taken for granted until the tire gets flat and then see how far you can get without the air! In Genesis, it says the πνευμα moved over the face of the waters. Πνευμα is an important word in the NT too. It's used almost 400 times to mean "a powerful wind" or "a breeze". As in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard today, the Spirit came as a mighty wind. Or sometimes it is a zephyr or a gentle breeze, that like our breath constantly holds us in this life. St Paul said in 1st Thessalonians (5.23) that a human life is composed of the "spirit, soul, and body". And Paul made the point that the Spirit is the animating force of life...and the Spirit carries our lives along, and without the Spirit, there is no life. Our breath is life.

I can't tell you the number of times I've stood in hospital rooms with families who have been keeping a vigil around the bed of a loved one who is clinging to life. And there's that moment, which will come to each and every one of us, when the Spirit takes hold of the soul and bears it away, and the body is left like an empty suitcase that had carried a life, but now is empty. So, the beloved mother or father, sister or brother, or close friend...they all become deflated and lifeless when the breath is gone. The arms that held us, the hands that caressed us, the legs that walked beside us...without the Spirit all these parts are disconnected from life and they return to the earth again. The Spirit carries away the essential soul to God. The Spirit makes life possible. But the Spirit is about the quality of a life too.

In Galatians (5.22-23) St Paul says that you can recognize strong spiritual life because in that life you can see "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." As this Easter season comes to a close today, I like to remember the gospel we read a few weeks ago when the Risen Lord miraculously came and stood in the midst of their locked room with the disciples and he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit". So, today we are invited to receive...the Holy Spirit of God!

Today we celebrate that Spirit of God coming into our midst to make us into the Church, the Body of Christ. We acclaim the creative and life-giving properties of the Spirit who dwells in our midst. The Spirit inspires us... creates us...moves us...and sanctifies us. But it blows where it will...

The problem with the Spirit is that it isn't easily told what to do. It has always been a havoc-producing "sprite" to the institutional Church. Throughout the history of the church, when heretics were burned or passionate teachers were condemned, it was because the Spirit led them off the straight and narrow well-worn habits of institutional life. The Spirit's movement in and among the people of God has always concerned and worried policy wonks or administrators because they knew and they KNOW that a reprimand wouldn't be enough to quiet the disquiet of spirit filled people. The Spirit is the heart of the great reversal in the message of Jesus...He said, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first!" "Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God!" It's exactly opposite to the message of the world.

The central message of our world is scarcity...but the central premise of the Kingdom of God is inclusiveness and abundance. That's what the fishes and loaves were about...as they looked out at a vast crowd of literally thousands of hungry people they asked, "We only have these five loaves and two fish...but what are they among so many?" But Jesus said, "Have they sit down" and everyone was fed and there was an abundance of food left over. The Kingdom of God is not like the musical chairs game we play in this world...where we go round and round hoping we won't be excluded because there isn't a place for us.

Jesus said, "I am going to prepare a place for you so that where I am, there you may be also." And as Jesus said in the gospel today, "This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." So, on this day, the day of Pentecost, the message to us is "Receive the Holy Spirit." It's the difference between having air in your tires or not! The Spirit makes the master and it empowers us for the journey of a life in God. So, "Receive the Holy Spirit". Let's raise a hand and say together, "Amen!"

The Reverend WA Ray

St Thomas Church

Diamondhead MS