Acts 2:1-21 * Ps 104:24-34, 35b * Rom 8:22-27 * John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The great day of Pentecost is here! We think we know the story well, but as the Dean of Canterbury recently said – even after reading the same scriptures for over 30 years, he can still experience lightbulb moments that suddenly show him something he’d never noticed before. That’s how our Bible Study group felt when we focused on the word ‘violent’ in our second Bible verse we heard today: “And suddenly from heaven there came the rush of a violent wind” … Is the Holy Spirit violent? Well, as with Aslan the Lion, she’s not tame. At a minimum she is wild! As Jesus told us, the Spirit blows where it chooses (Jn 3:8). Interesting comparisons have been made between the Holy Spirit and the indigenous idea of Trickster – both at times acting as disruptors who pull the rug out from under us, especially when we’re feeling rather overconfident, and think we have everything under control. Other cultures have similar disruptors like the Cornish Pixie or the Irish Leprechaun – mischievous creatures that can wreak havoc on our seemingly well-ordered lives.
I’ve often learned the hard way that the Holy Spirit loves to surprise us, and not all surprises are fun. Over time however, I discover that what felt like a great loss way back when … eventually reveals unforeseen benefits. I’d guess that’s true for many of us. Or we might be surprised at what comes our way – not what we’d planned, but if our hearts and minds are open, then it can be ‘more than we could ask for or imagine’. So in terms of that rush of a “violent” wind, I think it’s only violent in the sense that it might send us in unplanned directions. Or when something quite upsetting happens, while it was not the work of the Holy Spirit, she can help us grow from the experience, instead of being crushed by it.
Our psalm after the Pentecost story has some delightful images, like Leviathan, the huge sea creature, which the Creator has made for the sport of it, or just for fun. And “creeping things innumerable” may refer to the brilliantly coloured sea creatures living near the bottoms of our oceans – all that beauty living in the dark – clearly God’s Spirit has quite a playful & creative side.
After that in our epistle from Romans, we heard that profoundly comforting line: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (v.26). Here we see the Holy Spirit as our intimate soulmate, weeping when we weep, and rejoicing when we rejoice – our Advocate, Counsellor, Comforter, Sanctifier and the One who empowers us for so many deeds of goodness, and of resistance to evil. In this same short passage Paul also gives us the astonishing image of “the whole creation … groaning in labour pains until now”. I think he means that with the incarnation, and Christ being birthed into the world in human form, we finally have that full connection between the human and the divine. Paul goes on to say that we too groan inwardly while we wait for our fuller integration into the Divine life that Jesus brought to earth. Until then we can only hope that our journey of life is proceeding in that direction. Even when it feels like we’re not making much progress in the life of faith, or that the world is becoming more broken, instead of more healed, we should not lose hope. For as Paul reminds us today: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” We’re encouraged to keep hoping, and therefore working in the direction of that hope – including the hope that many forms of sin, oppression and brokenness in our world -- can be healed.
While our annual celebration of Pentecost is meant to renew our sense of the power and love of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, we are not meant to ever feel secure -- that we understand and can predict how God is working, especially in many other human situations around the world. As Jesus says in today’s gospel: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” So the story is far from over. Jesus said what he could to the people to whom he was sent, but let’s not allow human arrogance -- to have us believe that we have all the answers -- about God’s workings in the world. The Spirit blows where she wills – and thus has her own language for the great variety of human groups and cultures -- just like on that first Pentecost when the Spirit gave them ability to speak to everyone in a language they understood.
And this, Dear Friends, remains as our ongoing task – how can we speak to people “where they’re at”? May our ability to trust that the Spirit is already at work in the lives of others, be increased, so that we can grow in our appreciation for God’s presence and actions throughout our complex world, Amen.