Admittedly, this story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit can make Episcopalians really nervous … downright twitchy. I mean, it’s just so not Anglican! We’re known for being “people of the Book” – and I don’t mean the Bible. We like our worship orderly, don’t we? And I speak for myself when I say that I need the structure of the prayer book and the tangible Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament – but I suspect a few of you need it too. Left to my own devices, and my own personal ADD fueled mental gerbil wheel, my worship of God would be reminiscent of a balloon blown up and then let go – pfffth … flying around the room – lots of energy expended without a whole lot of direction! So this whole messy outpouring of the Spirit makes me nervous but conversely is the very person of the Trinity who captivates, loves and makes me new … over and over again.
One of the paradoxes of the Church is that Pentecost marks the beginning of the season we call “ordinary time.” We close the Easter season with this extraordinary story of the Holy Spirit infusing the disciples and sending them into the world in the power of that same Spirit to spread the Gospel with joy … and then we call it “ordinary time.” Really?! What is ordinary about that?? There’s nothing ordinary about it! If we followed truth in advertising precepts, we would do better to call it Spirit-infused Time, or Saturated Time, or Emmanuel “God-with-us” Time. It is anything but ordinary.
Between our disquietude about the messiness and unpredictability of the Spirit and our attempts to box it in with words like “ordinary,” we can be in a place where we get the whole Pentecost thing wrong. It may be precisely because this outpouring of the Holy Spirit doesn't follow our nice, neat rules that we tend to hear this story and compartmentalize it as a specific, particular event that happened in one time and place … in Jerusalem, 50 days after Passover (remember, Pentecost was a Jewish holiday first and we co-opted it). If we hold to that belief, we certainly keep God in a nice neat box, don’t we? But I am here to tell you, the Holy Spirit isn’t about to let you keep your nice, neat little god boxed up because the Spirit has been poured out in many times and in many places and she is still at work!
She?! Yes … you heard me right … she. While the Greek word for Spirit is gender neutral, the Hebrew words describing the Spirit are distinctly feminine. Now this just doesn’t square with the images of God in language which have been foist upon us in our patriarchal culture which elevates masculine attributes as preferable and desirable and downplays, or even denigrates, feminine traits. But if we are to take God seriously as Christians, we need to take seriously that the Spirit is a Lady … but she’s not “ladylike” in the patriarchal sense at all! She isn’t sitting down and being docile, quiet, and submissive at all. While the Spirit is not domineering and controlling, she is seductive and loving. She doesn’t shout … she whispers in your ear and pulls you towards her into new life – a life greater than you could ever have dreamed of or imagined! The Spirit doesn’t follow nice neat rules – she’s not one of the good old boys. She moves where she will – she’s unpredictable. She will take your nice, neat, orderly world and disrupt it … not because she wants to harm you, but because she wants to free you by loving you. The problem is your limited definitions of the Divine are getting in the way. She’s the one who surprises you because just when you think you are going to reencounter God the Father … you find her standing there with her arms open wide to catch you in a passionate embrace! She is the one who will lead you into all Truth … and draw you in so that you can fall in love with God … perhaps for the very first time in your whole life. This is heady stuff: It feels like a drunken revelry but without the hangover! And it is life giving for you, for me, and for the world.
Holy Spirit, Hagias Pneuma, Ruach Elohim – whatever you call her – is here … alive and well among us and lovingly drawing us out of our shell. She is moving here at Grace Church … can you see it? I can! When I came here, there were about 15 people here on any given Sunday. There was no youth group. Coffee hour rarely happened (much to my caffeinated chagrin). There was no choir … for that matter, we didn’t have an organist either! We were members of the BEACON but our contributions towards that ministry were small and sporadic. Things felt … well … predictable … dare I say, ordinary …didn’t they?
God’s Spirit wasn’t going to let us stay there forever. The Spirit was ready to draw us into a loving embrace and help us give birth to something new – something extraordinary hidden in the ordinary. It wasn’t experienced as the “rush of a violent wind” as much as it was the gentle whisper of love in your ears. It was the Spirit’s whispering the sweet nothings – words of love from the God who drew you here. “Come to me. You’re burdened and you are weary. Lay it down and rest.” “Come to me. Your heart is broken. Let me love you into wholeness.” “Come to me. You are addicted to that which cannot give life and will never love you back. Let me love you into freedom and life.” “Come to me. You are dispossessed and a stranger. Let me welcome you home.” Whatever brought you here was the work of the Spirit and having fallen in love with God, you are finding ways to embrace others with that same love.
Pentecost is happening … right here … right now. We are loving God and each other through the Spirit and this is creating a new community where no one is a stranger and there are no outsiders. The joy we are experiencing is a manifestation of the Spirit. She’s the one who is building this community: bringing music to our ears and hearts through our music ministers and choir, laughter in activities like spaghetti dinners, beautiful worship which could not happen without the ministries of our acolytes and altar guild, opening doors to healing through our Wednesday healing service and the AA group which meets here, preparing our youth and adult missionaries to go and share her love (God’s love) in West Virginia this summer. As individuals and as a community, she is raising us from the dead! This is not ordinary! This is extraordinary!!
When the Spirit infuses us like this, we cannot help but see our world and our relationships with new eyes. Everything … absolutely everything … becomes extraordinary. Our everyday lives become extraordinary. Work becomes extraordinary; our lovers become extraordinary. The food we eat, the books we read, the people we meet, the homeless, the disabled, those with mental illness … all become extraordinary precisely because the Spirit has infused all of this creation … you, me, all of it. And this is the message we take into the world and I believe with all my heart it is one the world desperately needs to hear. The world is extraordinary because it is saturated with the Holy Spirit and she wants to draw all of creation into this loving embrace of life. And she has commissioned us to go into the world and be the incarnation of that message. This feels scary because it means the Spirit will move you out of your comfortable box by confronting and deconstructing all your prejudices, fears and limitations. But oh, when she does, she will sweep you off of your feet into the love of God which will never let you go.