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Empowered to go

The disciples were waiting, maybe a little confused, a little discouraged, because the one they followed throughout Galilee has died, risen and appeared to them, and now is gone, gone, gone into the clouds. What are they to do now? Wait he said, in Jerusalem for the advocate he promised, the Holy Spirit to empower them. So they waited, huddled together in a room. Surely they prayed, paced about, talked together, and sharing their memories and hopes and disappointments. Surely they knew that being together was better than going it alone.

Then it happened, suddenly, without warning, no weather alert on their phone, no alarm from the firehouse, just a violent wind with tongues of fire. Luke says the Holy Spirit arrived and there was an amazing change in everyone present. They understood in a new way what it meant to believe in God, to be with people of diverse languages because they even understood them. People heard and understood the gospel.

And it has happened again and again throughout our history as people of faith. John Wesley at Aldersgate Street felt his heart strangely warmed. His experience of divine power was profound, life changing, undeniable, and phenomenal.

Others have felt God as the great void to be filled – a deep darkness aching for something, yearning to see and hear and know – are you real?  In his progressive conversion, CS Lewis, often wrote to his brother about his journey. In one letter he wrote: “Terrible things are happening to me. The “spirit” or “real I” is showing an alarming tendency to become much more personal and is taking the offensive and behaving just like God. You’d better come on Monday at the latest or I may have entered a monastery.” (W.H. Lewis, ed., Letters, p141).

Others find the encounter with the divine frightening and fall to their faces in fear: “The dove descending breaks the air with flame of incandescent terror” TS Eliot

Taking another look at the Acts account, we see that the Holy Spirit broke down the walls of language separating them and built bridges of understanding. The Church made up of Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free were ONE.  

Richard Hooker had the courage and inspiration and compassion to speak of many sources of truth, many vehicles of wisdom in his day of “bitter controversy” about the authority of scripture and tradition fueling the protestant reformation.  He accepted many sources of divine wisdom: Scripture, Nature, Holy Spirit, worldly experience and practice. Hooker sought to ground the church in a wide wisdom tradition drawn from history melded with a vision of the future, all of which was seen, known, planned and nurtured.  For Hooker the point of the sacramental church was to proclaim by word and deed the gift, grace of the incarnate Word. God was not a far way removed deity, but active, interactive, living presence. That is the testimony of the people in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago on the day of Pentecost.  The day of Pentecost was more than a birthday for the church! It was a day in which the spirit was set free to infect any or all. It was not just an episode in evolution: a dramatic way to get the attention of those present that day: it is celebrated in the wisdom of the church today also so that we like those before us will be empowered with the grace to be the people of God on earth. What about us?

Secondly the spirit kindled within the disciples a new energy for the Kingdom of God…and that there is no limit to who might belong. Herein is the heart of the social gospel: faith experience begins with us as personal experiences but its authenticity lies in what comes next. ? Is it not the spirit of Pentecost that inspires many hands to work together to feed 150 of God’s children as the Community Café did yesterday?

The prophet Joel lays a menu of spiritual gifts – which on the day of Pentecost became the means through which the future generations would honor the legacy of their past. “In the last days it will be, God declares that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.”

Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones but when the spirit of the divine mystery blew upon them they became living flesh: “you shall live and know that I am the Lord.”

John’s prologue says it beautifully: “And the Word became flesh and lives among us…full of grace and truth. From this fullness we all receive grace upon grace.”

It may be tempting to only pay attention to our individual gifts, our sense of purpose, our reception of grace for our peace, but it is not biblically correct to stop there. Biblically and sacramentally the incarnation of the Word is certainly for us, for our redemption, but it is more, much more. Grace and spirit empower us to be witnesses of the one we follow, to go outside our comfort zones for the welfare of our neighbors near and far. The spirit blows where it will, and empowers people like Peter to explain and share their faith.

Getting a big dose of the Spirit may drive you to have a new passion for justice, to care about the social and political affairs of the world. If you accept the Gospel of John’s sacramental call for divine and human cooperation, then lift up your voice in prophetic witness. Pentecost is celebrated as a promise that God is the fire in the prophetic imagination of the people of faith to continue the great commission, to come alive with the drive and dedication they saw in Jesus.

Listen, can you hear the voice of God at work in the world?

Do not be afraid – The Holy Spirit is called the paraclete, the advocate. It is like having Jesus within you, guiding, teaching, showing what ought to be. The Spirit empowers us to act on the good news we have.

Listen, can you hear the voice of God at work in you?

Is the voice speaking words of comfort, of truth, of call, of grace, of compassion, of service? Do you see a vision of the church as a safe space for the vulnerable child in each of us to experience the holy?  After being filled with the spirit, staying safe is not enough because the Spirit drives us from those safe zones into the battle for justice only won through radical divine love.

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