As you must have noticed, our Gospel reading this morning was a little different this morning wasn’t it? This morning to celebrate Pentecost, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in a rush of wind, we heard the gospel read in a number of languages of todays world; Swedish, Norwegian, German, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto and English, celebrating not only the diversity of knowledge, and ancestry in our parish, but in the world.
I’m not sure if all of you have ever had the opportunity to experience traveling outside of the United States, leaving the country and going to a place different from here. Places where another language is spoken, and having the experience of being the one who’s different from everyone. The one who doesn’t really know the area, the customs, and even worse yet, the language. I’ve been fortunate over the years to experience this, to travel to a handful of places outside the US, and also a few times as many of you know to the Dominican Republic. On my latest DR trip this past January, I had the first time experience of arriving back into the US through customs in New York City, rather than my normal choice of entry Ft Lauderdale. After claiming our bags, the other passengers and I were directed to walk as a group down a long unmarked hallway which eventually led into another hallway, and then another, and another, like mice in a maze. A good number of the people that I walked with spoke only Spanish, possibly arriving on a short visit to the US. Unfortunately my Spanish isn’t the best, knowing only a dozen or so words. So I wasn’t readily able to address their growing concern and confusion as we walked through one hallway into another, with no signage, even in English. In my limited Spanish, about the only thing I would have been able to say to them was either sit here, are you here for the doctor, how old are you, or worse yet, words I’m sure they wouldn’t want to hear entering this strange and confusing place: “Lo sentimos, esto puede doler un poco which roughly translates to “Sorry, this may hurt a bit”…
What I could say though was sigueme, follow me, as we entered yet another confining hallway before finally reaching a large set of glass doors. When those automatic doors opened, we were hit with a rush of sound, the noise of hundreds of people speaking a dozen different languages as we made our way into a warehouse sized customs room. And through the din, everyone could hear the language of their people, whether Chinese, or Arabic, or Spanish, or for me, English. Welcome home. I imagine the bewilderment we experienced that night mirrors that of the group of people who gathered around the apostles in this mornings reading from Acts.
Today we’re celebrating Pentecost or Whit Sunday as it’s know in England, the birthday of our church, the day the Holy Spirit came down in a rush of wind and filled the house the disciples were in, causing them to begin to speak in languages other than their own, not only to their amazement, but also to the crowd that was beginning to gather around them. People, many of who were from a foreign land, suddenly recognized the sound of their native tongue being spoken, a moment of strange comfort in an otherwise confusing event.
On this Pentecost day long ago, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that followed Jesus arrived, and empowered believers to praise God in many languages that they had not learned in ordinary ways, and the result was the birth of a new religious movement, a movement towards a message of love and inclusivity. This movement which we know as Christianity today can be demanding and challenging and sometimes frustrating, but also incredibly joyful and meaningful, characteristics needed and longed for in this world. For me, the story of Pentecost reinforces the multilingual, multicultural, missional call of our church and our call to be a community in which all people are drawn together by God’s love in Christ. A community where, as Paul writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” And Pentecost is also the conclusion of the Festival of Weeks for our Jewish brothers and sisters. Where after a seven week period, a celebration of thanksgiving for God’s abundance in peoples lives; new crops, new hope, and new life is held.
In our Gospel reading today we hear Jesus speaking of his nature, his oneness with God and his oft repeated reminder to his disciples to believe. And we hear him tell them about who will be coming after he is gone, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit sent by the Father, who will come and teach them everything, and remind them of all that Jesus sought to teach them. And when the Holy Spirit did arrive, it wasn’t in a quiet, holy moment, she arrived with a bang, disrupting the quiet of prayer.
Being the prankster that I am, I have a strong love of that image of the Holy Spirit; the surprise spirit, the disrupter, the instigator Spirit, the bang. For me, the Holy Spirit is a source of constant joy, full surprise, always prompting laughter and connection, as much as she offers guidance and compassion in my life. She guides me on a continual quest for deeper connections with God and with others and challenges me to constantly grow and in turn challenge others.
We constantly make reference to the Holy Spirit in our liturgy, although sometimes perhaps the words become so familiar that we don’t notice them all the time. As Episcopalians we’re pretty good about taming God and the Holy Spirit, fitting them into our orderly and well-balanced Rite 1, Rite II liturgies. We pushed the envelope just a little during our Gospel reading today, not an original idea, but a change, prompting notice. Maybe it felt disruptive, perhaps amusing, maybe tedious, but its good to be rattled around, and shaken out of our comfort zone sometimes.
Annie Dillard, an American poet and author speaks of this rattling and shaking in a passage in her collection of essays entitled, “Teaching a stone to talk.” Dillard writes, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke when we pray to the Holy Spirit? It is madness to wear straw and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; and they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
There’s that change and growth we discover. When we realize we can never return to what was past, what our old self was. Change is a good thing and inevitable, something that should be expected, all part of a continually on-going creative process, and all accompanied by the energizing presence of the Holy Spirit. And we change, when we allow our hearts and imaginations to know and treasure that Holy Spirit moving within us and between us: we can feel her energy breathing through us, bringing us into communion with each other, healing, and restoring us, reminding us that together we are the body of Christ, united by one breath. My belief is that the Holy Spirit always accompanies us and nudges us; nudging each one of us towards our next steps in our becoming who we are intended to be. She shows me that despite all my polite no thank you’s over the years to God, my answer needs to be yes, and is always with me as I try to discern where she might lead. Sometimes it takes time, in my case forty years to follow the path she was nudging me towards, but I guess good things take time.
It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to work for the recreation of this world, for healing relationships and the growing of God’s all inclusive kingdom here. The Spirit brings us to a new place, a place where in our faith we find the words, in our language or in one we don’t yet recognize to connect with others. She helps us to lose our shyness in speaking with others, speaking their language – about the needs and cares they have, and the way in which they can be met with the love of God. To be the voice for hope and love, a voice need in this world: a world that needs to hear about reconciliation, about mending hearts and souls. A world yearning to hear of the healing joy of the spirit, joy that leads to true love and friendship. This joy is the joy of the good news of the love of God in Christ: this is the language we are called to speak, using our imagination and vision, and dreaming, to find the words and deeds which will tell this good news. And all the while, the Holy Spirit is clearing the way for us to do a new thing, to speak a new truth, to change and be changed, and to be free from fear to speak these words. The fear Jesus recognized in the disciples when he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to speak in many languages, so that everyone could hear and understand. As we leave here today I hope and pray that the bang of the Holy Spirit; the surprise spirit, the instigator Spirit strengthens you and helps you discover your language, and give you courage to share your story of good news the same as she has me. What you have to say just might change the world, in any language. May it be so, on this day of Pentecost and every day! To God be the glory, Father, Son and Holy Instigator!