As Jews from around the world poured into Jerusalem for the harvest festival known as Pentecost, 120 of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, including his mother Mary, gathered for the arrival of the Father’s promise. (Acts 1:4). He had told them that his earthly departure would not leave them alone; another form of God’s abiding presence the Holy Spirit would soon descend upon them and would reside with them forever. More than that, Christ had told them that through the Holy Spirit they would do greater works than he did in his earthly ministry. (John 14); But what would that presence look like? More importantly, what did it mean? The disciples waited and prayed.
Then it happened. Like a giant piñata filled with delightful and wonderful gifts, God’s spirit burst upon the scene taking up residence in Jesus’ disciples; what a day they experienced: a holy fire entered their lives, they received the gift of language, Peter preached the first Christian sermon, 3,000 were baptized, and Luke reported that “awe came upon everyone because of the many wonders and signs that were being done by the apostles.”(Acts 2:43). Detractors in the crowd reported that they were drunk!
A new day had dawned; the world would never be the same.
Now it’s 2,000 years later in human chronology, but in God’s time (kairos) we are still in that day-God’s new era is still upon us. In fact, judging by the explosive growth of Christianity around the world these days, maybe it is High Noon. For us gathered here this morning, the feast of Pentecost is not some historical event framed by the obscurity of history but a time to recognize and to celebrate the working of the Spirit in our time here and now in our midst. And while on the one hand it is comforting to know that God is with us, as we open ourselves to the Spirit’s working here, we must acknowledge a lack of control. The piñata breaks open and the kitchen floor is littered with gifts. The spirit is uncontrollable and messy. Not to mention dangerous.
You might think you are going one way, but the Spirit urges another. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8). This feature of obedience to the Spirit requires a flexible response! We should for instance expect the power of God instead of being surprised by it. Author Annie Dillard once said that if we really understood what is going on with the Holy
Spirit we would wear crash helmets. The Holy Spirit comes to move us out of our comfort zone, our natural inertia. Do you think Peter ever thought he could preach a sermon with such power and confidence that 3,000 listeners would be baptized on the spot?
The anointing of the Holy Spirit confers upon Christ’s followers a radical freedom to set out on new and uncharted roads. As Grace Church embarks on a new chapter in its 116 year history, it will be interesting to see how the Advocate (John’s Gospel favorite term for the Holy Spirit) will challenge you and renew you.
From Holy Scripture and Church history we know that a congregation that is open to the Spirit’s presence in its midst will understand that its primary purpose will be to witness to all people the abiding presence of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life, in their lives; therefore it will by definition place a priority on welcoming the stranger, practicing hospitality and truth telling; because it recognizes and applauds the variety of spiritual gifts in its midst, the spirit filled church be one that is open to diversity. It will not be threatened by a variety of worship expressions or styles of prayer or praise; it will rejoice that some are called to ministries outside the walls of the church and others to nurture and form gifts within the Church; it will understand that each gift is given by the Spirit for the common good-and it will in the midst of different gifts and different perspectives of ministry be unified in its love of God in Christ. It will proclaim, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.
A parish open to the movement of the Holy Spirit will organize itself not on the basis of secular organizational maintenance models but through the gifts that are present in the body of Christ; it will seek to mobilize and form these gifts for God’s work in the world. It will seek to form disciples in an intentional and systematic way.
Brothers and sisters, God’s harvest time is well underway; like that first Pentecost it draws people together in a mysterious and compelling way. God’s Spirit hovers around us as we gather in prayer, listening for its call upon our lives, confident Christ is present with us and among us now and forever. I feel confident that as Grace Church enters a new chapter in its mission as a witness for Christ in Greene County and beyond, the Holy Spirit has great things in store for this congregation. Just make sure you are wearing your crash helmets.