Sunday, May 15, 2016

Spirit of passion

Acts 2: 1-21; Romans 8:14-17; John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Today is Pentecost Sunday. A few weeks ago I was selecting hymns for the day and noticed that the suggestions were all rather calm and sweet. Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me. Come, Holy Spirit. O Holy Spirit enter in. We Lutherans, especially we Lutherans of Northern European descent, like our Holy Spirit best as the comforter, gentle, quiet, controllable, tame. We love the dove of peace.
Yet, the readings for today are filled with passion and action.
Look at these images and take note of what you see. They all popped up in a search for Pentecost images. (Do a web search and notice the many ways Pentecost has been portrayed.) 

I hope you see fire and movement and passion. Pentecost is about the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is about the rapid-fire impact and spread of the good news of Jesus resurrection. Pentecost is about the acceptance of all people into God’s family. The arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus is often summarized as the Passion, God’s gift for us, the people whom God loves passionately.
So, let’s look for the passion in the texts.
Jesus speaks with passion as he promises the disciples that he will send to them an
advocate to be with them. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they will do amazing things, just as Jesus has done: healing, feeding, welcoming, loving even the unlovable. Filled with passion, the disciples will tell one-on-one and hundreds-by-hundreds about God’s power over death and Jesus’ love for all people.
Paul, writing to the Romans, tells us to call for help to Abba, our Papa. And Papa will answer because we are children whom God loves passionately, just as passionately as human parents love their children.
The more familiar story from Acts is such a wild display of the movement, fire, and passion of the Holy Spirit among everyone in the area. In John’s gospel, Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit. This moment seems to be a quiet, gentle time, as the disciples are still stunned by seeing Jesus raised from the dead. They need time to get used to the idea. At that moment, they are not imaging power and passion, but they soon will understand.  
But, in Luke’s gospel, which continues in Acts, the Spirit does not come right away. Fifty days later, the disciples are waiting for something to happen. Jesus has promised to send the Holy Spirit, and the disciples are to wait for it in Jerusalem.
Acts tells the story of the moment when the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples and those who just happen to be in the neighborhood. They are from all around the Mediterranean Sea, Jews home for Shavuot, the festival for the giving of the Torah to Moses. While some suspect that the disciples are drunk, others are rightfully amazed that they are hearing the good news of the resurrection in their own languages.
Towards the end of the chapter, Luke tells us that about 3,000 people were baptized that day. This is the Holy Spirit at work: reaching out to us and to those who are seeking the Lord, and to those who do not know that they are seeking. Calling us all to faith and increasing our faith. And making amazing things happen. This is the passion of the Holy Spirit.
In the last few weeks. We have focused on the texts from Acts, and have seen the Holy Spirit in action.
The disciples stood up to the Sanhedrin, refusing to stop preaching in Jesus’ name because they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Paul has encountered the risen Jesus been accepted by Ananias, who knew him as a persecutor of believers.
The widows call for Peter because Tabitha has died.
Peter fights for ways to make Christianity more acceptable to Gentiles.
At the river Lydia readily accept the good news and invite Paul and Silas to use her home as their base.
Paul casts out a demon and makes a believer of the jailer.
It is with the power of the Holy Spirit that all these things and many more happened. The Spirit’s goal is to make Jesus known, and we have seen that happen in many ways in Scripture.
The Spirit is at times a gentle comforter, and at other times a fiery, passionate movement. We need the Holy Spirit in all the ways the Spirit comes to us. We are really good at letting the Spirit help us pray. It’s a nice, quiet way to feel the Spirit. But the Spirit isn’t always so quiet.
 Let me ask you: When you watch the Rays (or the Cubs or the Yankees or the Tigers or the Red Sox …) play, do you sit and watch quietly, with your hands politely in your lap? No, you clap and fist pump and cheer and boo and yell at the umpires, the players and the managers. You let the Spirit help you enter the fun of the game. You are actively engaged in the game, even if you are watching at home, alone. You feel the passion of cheering and booing your favorite team.
… I wonder who taught us that the appropriate way to worship God is to be quiet, to not show our emotions, to keep our hands in our laps with our heads bowed. And I wonder if God wants us to be so controlled. Isn’t it possible that God wants us to be more fully involved, to use our whole bodies in worship? 

Other Christians clap and raise their hands in worship and the roof does not fall in. It does not seem to make God angry. It is OK for them to be passionate in worshiping God. Why can’t we Lutherans be a little more passionate?
So, one thought I had to help us celebrate the day of Pentecost and the fire and movement it offers was to have us wave crepe paper streamers. I also wondered if I could invite you to cheer for God, to praise God with shouts and clapping and high fives.
But I had a hunch the streamers would not work well. Neither would you be happy to give me a “2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate? Yea, God!”
Instead, I decided to try this: rather than asking you to raise your hands high in the air, just raise them a little, just above your laps if you prefer. And instead of folding them together, leave them open. I like to pray with open hands so I remember to be open to the gifts God wants to give me. And I like to pray with my face up, looking forward or up to the cross over the altar. While it is hard to change our habits, I encourage you to try this one little step. … In fact, I can hear the Holy Spirit telling you that you should do it.
I invite you to pray this way now, and during each of the prayers for the rest of the service. I also challenge you to raise your open hands and your face to God each time you pray this week. And, let’s remember to pray this way next week as well. I think over time you will like the way it reminds you to be open to the movement of the Spirit.
Please pray with me: Lord, Spirit of truth and passion, invade our bodies today. Help us be more open to you moving within us and through us. Help us to be more passionate in our faith and to trust you to lead us into your future. Amen