Saturday, June 7, 2014

Gracious Spirit

Acts 2:1–21; John 20:19–23

Last Monday in class, we had a wonderful discussion of all the ways and places we become aware of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with a comparison of the readings from Acts and John, we looked at the very different ways the disciples were given the Spirit.
First, John. We return to the day of Easter; although Mary Magdalene has told them that she has seen the Lord, they remain in the Upper Room, the guest room, behind locked doors. They are terrified that they, too, will be arrested and crucified, because of their relationship with Jesus.
Into this scared, tense group, Jesus suddenly appears. His arrival startles them, I am sure, and he tries to reassure them. “Shalom,” he says. “Peace be with you.” Then they have a chance to catch their breath – I am sure there is a pause in the action as they realize that Jesus is there, alive, in the midst of them.
Once they are calmed down, probably with some food and a beverage for everyone, Jesus can give them his message. “Yes, I am alive, as I promised you. I am sending you all out to do the ministry I have prepared you to do. And, to help you, I am giving you my Spirit.” And he breathed on them.
I love this scene, for Jesus’ tender care and compassion. I love the way he gently breathes on the disciples, as if blowing them all a kiss. This receiving of the Holy Spirit reminds us of our times of quiet prayer and meditation. As we focus on God, we slowly increase in awareness of the Spirit’s presence.
When we sing simple, repetitive chants or praise songs, we have a chance to slow down our brains, and we can focus on just one thing, to let the Spirit in.
When we sit with a sick friend or a dying relative, we can open ourselves to the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We can make ourselves open to the hug, the gentle caress, of Jesus through the Spirit.
In contrast, in Acts is the story of the power and excitement of the Holy Spirit’s arrival in Jerusalem 50 days after the resurrection – so 50 days after the Gospel story. Luke tells us that for these days, the disciples used the time to pray in the temple, gather more followers, begin to pool their money, and use it to help the needy believers. In other words, they were already continuing Jesus’ ministry.
On this particular day, there were large crowds in Jerusalem because of a harvest festival called Pentecost. It is also celebrated as the day God gave the Torah to the people, the day God established the covenant with God’s people. Imagine Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day rolled into one festival.
To properly honor this day, there were prayers and rituals, and parties. Those who were close enough to the city brought their first fruit offerings to the temple. Jews who lived in other places, Crete, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Arabia, also traveled to the city, which is why there were people who spoke languages other than Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek in the city.
The disciples, probably about 15 to 20 people, are gathered in one guest room, when suddenly a wind begins to blow. This time, it’s not the gentle breath of Jesus; it’s the powerful wind of the creator who moved over the waters at the very beginning. It’s this powerful force sending the Holy Spirit into the people. It’s also the fire of passion, filling each disciple. The text doesn’t state this, but the disciples must have gone outside and stood here and there among the crowd, and they began to tell the story of Jesus to all the Jews in the area. I imagine they are in a plaza near the temple, so there can be lots of people present to hear the witness of the disciples.
The people in the crowd, the Egyptians, the Cretans, the Romans, the Libyans, the Arabs, all understand what the disciples are saying, even though the disciples are speaking Aramaic with a Galilean accent. The Spirit within each disciple has empowered the listeners to understand, and to believe.
This scene in Jerusalem on Pentecost is not a gentle, peace-filled occasion like the scene described in John. It is wild and chaotic and energetic and amazing. It is intended to set our hearts on fire.
We can experience the Holy Spirit in this passionate way when we throw ourselves whole-heartedly into singing familiar songs, when the music drives us to clap and move and cheer and raise our hands in joy. We can experience this power of the Holy Spirit when we learn that serious surgery has gone well, when the last chemo is behind us, when we get the job we were hoping for, when a child is born whole and healthy. We even could say we feel the Spirit when the Rays or the Cubs win a game.
Lutherans find it harder to experience the Spirit in this kind of power and let it flow through us. We prefer our Holy Spirit to be well-ordered and refined. We prefer the Three-fold or Seven-fold Amen of the older liturgies to the song Amen that Sidney Poitier taught the nuns in the movie Lilies of the Field.
We have some things to learn from the Spirit, like the trusting God to provide everything we need, if we ask for it. Like, not placing limits on the power of the Spirit to make amazing things happen.
I do say the Spirit does seem to be moving more freely here lately. The Holy Spirit is leading Hope in new directions, with a positive, can-do attitude.
We raised almost $900 for a family farm to change the lives of a family and their village in the developing world.
We prepared for a yard sale and raised $______ yesterday for Operation Christmas Child. The Spirit will ride along as the gifts are shared with needy children, who have the opportunity to learn about Jesus in their own language.
We are communicating better when we are surprised, disappointed, or hoping for something different. The Spirit is present to help us work together better.
We are looser. I noticed last week that you actually laughed out loud at my little joke about the Finnish ladies in hell. The Holy Spirit helped you open your mouths and let the joy out. Or perhaps the Spirit helped me find a joke that worked, and tell it well.
We love our parties! Give us a little good food and we are ready to enjoy a good time together. The Holy Spirit is alive and well among us when we party.
Spirit is evident at Hope, alive and growing in power. The Holy Spirit is alive in you, too. Do you prefer the quiet Spirit who meets you in quiet times? Or do you prefer the vibrant, exciting, Spirit who takes you into new adventures? Or, do you enjoy the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways, and allow the Spirit to lead you into whatever God has in mind for you?
Please pray with me: Gracious Spirit, we need you, even if we like to pretend that we don’t. Fill us. Enliven us. Challenge us. Lead us into your future, so we may know your grace and your power to accomplish things we have never even dreamed we could do. Amen