Receive the Spirit
Pentecost has always been a harder story for me to take in than resurrection. Rushing winds – tongues of fire – and a seemingly magical ability to understand languages that are unknown? Sounds much more Hollywood than Christ being raised from the dead.
But – something happened. We sit here – because something happened.
And before that something happened in that upper room – Jesus appeared.
The gospel takes us back to the evening of the resurrection – scared and paranoid disciples huddling together not knowing what to do – or even if its safe to leave.
In this telling of the coming of the Spirit – Jesus proclaims peace to those who abandoned and betrayed him. Rene Girard was a French historian, literary critic and primarily studied anthropological philosophy. In other words, he looked to the history of humanity and of civilization to see what it is people believed. He looked at the stories that ground civilizations – cultures. And in his examination of these myths – in comparing them – he found there was one thing they all held in common. There was always a scapegoat. There was always someone who had to be sacrificed because of the fear of “not enough” that seems to be endemic in all societies.
Anyway – he thought he would find the same pattern when he studied the Judeo-Christian story. And yet – it did not fit the pattern – most especially when it came to the ultimate figure in the Christian story – Jesus Christ. Yes – there was the pattern of scapegoating – of taking all of the fear and anxiety – and placing the blame on this one person who accepts it – but what was different in the Christian story – and what caused Girard to stop being an atheist and become a Christian – was what Jesus did.
He returned to proclaim “peace.” Not only wasn’t there a hint of revenge or retribution – but his appearances in all of the gospel accounts – the myths of our tradition – Jesus speaks words of love. And shares this forgiving spirit with those who will have it. To receive the Holy Spirit in this gospel story – is to recognize the ways in which we break our relationship with God – and choose to make a change. The Spirit Jesus shares doesn’t remove the challenges the disciples face – it doesn’t give them any special powers – it simply empowers them to be honest about who they are – they’re behaviors – and their God-given ability to bring reconciliation into all of their relationships.
In Paul’s letter – he reminds his church – that the Holy Spirit is something we create among ourselves when we truthfully live into trusting Jesus and the ways of God in our common lives. It is when we recognize that we can’t do life alone – we need each other – we need all of the gifts that everyone has. When I do the anniversary and birthday blessing here – there is a reason I say – help our community be mindful of what a blessing they are to us – its because we need the gifts of everyone in a community. Do you know what your gifts are that you bring to this community? Paul says – when we share our gifts for the common good – then we will see the manifestation of the Spirit.
Following God often starts with an individual desire – but it invariably must lead to relationship with God through one another and community. It can never be an solo endeavor. Even the monks in the desert met with pilgrims and inevitably returned to community. We deepen our awareness of God in our lives through the Holy Spirit – and the sharing of who we are with each other.
So Jesus brings peace – and Paul says the Spirit is what is enables us to work together for the common good – so why this crazy scene in Acts. Well, like I said – something happened. Something empowered a group of believers to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel of Christ. They were scared and unsure – and then everything changed. And the person who had denied Jesus three times – has the ability to stand before a crowd and say – this is the work of God – who is pouring out his Spirit on all people – so that we can see our common humanity.
Languages need not divide us – tribal boundaries do not matter – family ties are not of ultimate significance. The gift of the Spirit was not a gift of superhuman powers or of someone else taking over the role of Messiah.
We have that song – Every Time I feel the Spirit – and sometimes that spirit does come in powerful ways. Sometimes. Not too long ago I was talking with a couple who was sharing they just don’t feel it – they’re not feeling their faith these days. Ok – I can relate. I know what it is to feel empty – bereft of feeling God’s presence. But – one of my favorite sayings – feelings aren’t facts – they are temporary states of being. So – act as if you’re filled with the spirit. I don’t mean walk around and pretend to be happy – I mean do things that are “of” the Spirit. Pray – set aside time to read some scripture – say some prayers and be with God. Connect with giving – find a way where you can do something for the common good.
On this day, how do you need to receive the Spirit?