Maybe because winter was so warm or because spring came so early, we’ve noticed a lot more birds around the church and rectory than we are used to, and even a greater diversity of birds. Mary Ellen has mentioned that she has seen some not-oft-seen birds, and I swear that I saw an Oriole the other day. The birds in our backyard put up with me and Doan; they just look at us and go on with their task of de-berrying the holly tree. The scene is much different when Griffin the cat comes outside; the whole backyard erupts in wings and shrills, even the squirrels bark madly and run up the trees. There’s a certain madness to the whole affair, and a certain madness to the thought that a whole system can be thrown off with the addition of just one furry feline.
The Holy Spirit is a little like that; not that the Spirit is furry or even feathered, though He does seem to fancy appearing like a dove. Rather, what I mean is that the Holy Spirit, when inserted into any setting, can throw a whole system off, He can and does change the course of our worldly affairs. The Holy Spirit is both a comforting and a disrupting force, and as the Lord has told us, the Spirit, not unlike the wind, blows where He wills.
This being Pentecost, the great feast of the coming of the Holy Ghost, what we heard from Scripture today is all about the Spirit. In the Gospel reading from John, we have Jesus breathing on the disciples, breathing the very breath of God that literally spirited the dust that was Adam. Paul tells us about how the Spirit that enlivens us, that gives us our gifts and talents, is the one Spirit of God. But the action reading, the fun part, is from Acts, in which Luke sets the scene and gives us the whirlwind and the fire that is the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us that when the Day of Pentecost had come, that is the 50th (penta) day after Easter, the disciples were together in a house, still a bit afraid of both the Jews and the Romans, and still a little baffled by Jesus ascending into Heaven. To make matters seemingly worse, the house got exceedingly noisy: Luke said it was like the rush of a mighty wind; today we would say it sounded like a freight train – and then, to top it all off, fire. We know that this ruckus was not a metaphor or delusion, because people rushed to the scene, presumably to help out the victims of a disaster. What they found was much stranger.
What they found was that God had once again turned everything upside down. The disciples were speaking in their own tongues and in the tongues of many nations, and each of their would-be rescuers heard the disciples in their native tongue. (You have to love God’s sense of humor here: what we have here is a “reversal of the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel. When humans raise themselves up to God to “make a name” for themselves, they are dispersed and confused in language. When God’s Spirit comes down upon them, divisions are broken down,”1 languages are made, in a way, one). What a scene that must have been.
But the truly amazing thing about Pentecost, about the coming of the Holy Spirit, is what happens after the Spirit hits. As for the disciples, “These previously terrified people were all filled with the dynamic power of God—the power that refreshes and recreates, that comforts and heals…This Spirit burned within them like tongues of fire, and they went forth and proclaimed the message of God’s love manifested in the resurrection of Jesus.”2 They went out of that house fearing no man; they went instead to turn the hearts of men.
As for us, “This same Spirit was given to us when we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and confirmed in the power of the Spirit. If we received the same Spirit as did the disciples on that first Pentecost, why can’t we do the same marvelous deeds? But we can. We are assured that “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.””3 Paul tells that some of us are given wisdom, some faith, some knowledge, some the gift of healing, some the gift of discerning spirits, and so forth, gifts of the Spirit that we possess.
We might not receive the Holy Spirit in whirlwind and fire, and our gifts might not be quite as, let’s say, public, as some of the first disciples gifts were, but “in situations where hatred and violence prevail, kindness and gentleness are actually heroic; generosity is (equally heroic) wherever greed and selfishness reign.”4 The Holy Spirit has given each of you gifts to use for the benefit of the Church, gifts for good works in the world, gifts that can lead to the salvation of those around you. The Spirit, if we allow Him, can and will transform us, make us agents of divine grace in the world, agents that disrupt the corrupt, turn the sinful, and soothe the suffering. The Holy Spirit has given us the gifts, and it’s time to show the world what the Spirit has given us.
1John Donahue, A Living God Present in Spirit and Power, America Magazine,
2Dianne Bergant, What’s Gotten into You, America Magizine, May 26, 2003