Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year A
Based on Acts 2:1-21
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"God's Spirit of Holiness"
Our passage from Acts today, provides us with an account of the Christian Church's birthday--known as the Day of Pentecost. One of the major problems for Christians today, living in a secular world, is the reality of the supernatural. Our contemporary secular society negates, denies and even tends to be hostile towards the supernatural. It is a real challenge for us Christians living in this secular culture to make known; to affirm; to bear witness to the reality of God working in our lives and our world today.
Pentecost is a day when we celebrate the presence, the working, and the reality of God the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world. The Acts account of Pentecost presents the Holy Spirit as the supernatural, extraordinary power of God at work in the Church. For us to make sense out of this account, it is necessary to explore just who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.
According to Arnold Bittlinger: "When the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit it uses images. In the biblical languages, the words for "spirit" (Hebrew "ruach"; Greek "pneuma") mean (breath, to breathe) "wind", i.e. air in motion. The Spirit as wind, (is expressed by) the words of Jesus in St. John's Gospel. "The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going"(John 3:8). In entrusting myself to the Spirit as air or wind, therefore, I am entrusting myself to the Spirit whom I cannot command, who cannot be manipulated. Today many people are rediscovering what it means to breathe. And what a refreshing and healing effect correct breathing can have--especially if the air we breathe is pure and good. The Holy Spirit is the best possible air for our souls."
Also, as breath, air and wind, the Holy Spirit literally breathes life into all of creation--thus is present and active everywhere. In this way, the Wind, the Breath of God gives the whole creation the renewing gift of life, over against all of the polluting, destructive powers, which seem so rampant and influential in our world. This certainly is a word of hope for us and the whole creation.
Another image or metaphor for the Holy Spirit is fire. According to Arnold Bittlinger: "When I attune myself to the Spirit as "fire", I am attuning myself to the cleansing role the Spirit plays in my life. I look to the Holy Spirit to burn what is useless in my life, to purify me as gold is purified in the furnace. This is a painful business but I know that no spiritual growth is possible without this purification. What is really precious in my life can only be smelted out and separated from all the slack by the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit."
Another way of seeing the Holy Spirit as fire is to associate the gifts of enthusiasm, zeal, commitment, and all good desires as the Spirit's work. In this sense, the Spirit burns within us to remove our indifference and apathy towards God, one another, and the world. We are given a passion, a creative energy from the Holy Spirit of fire, which burns within us to change--sometimes in profound ways--ourselves, others and the world.
Yet another image or metaphor for the Holy Spirit is water. According to Bittlinger: "In attuning myself to the Spirit as "water", I am reminded of my baptism. Water always flows along the line of least resistance. We can see this in every tiny rivulet or brook as well as in every majestic river. As soon as it encounters a serious obstacle, water flows past it and seeks another and often longer way. It is the same with the Spirit. If we offer resistance to Spirit, it flows past and makes a detour, sometimes a very long detour."
"The fourth century church father, Cyril of Jerusalem, once likened the Holy Spirit to the rain which influences different plants in different ways. "In the lily," he said, "the rain becomes white and in the rose it becomes red; it becomes one thing in the palm tree, another thing in the vine. The rain adapts itself to the nature of whatever receives it. For each thing it becomes what is appropriate to that thing." According to Cyril, the same is true of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in each of us in such a way that we become what we were meant to be. God purposed us and created us as originals. Just as no two leaves on a tree are completely identical, so no two human beings are ever completely identical."
Through baptism, God the Holy Spirit works in us to make us originals, unique members of Christ's body--the Church. The Spirit working in, with, through our baptismal water--cleanses, purifies, molds and shapes each of us into wonderful people of God. The immense diversity within the Church is marvellous.
In this sense, the Spirit works within the Church to create a multicultural, multi-linguistic, multi-dimensional, United Nations. The Church has many things to teach the world and government leaders about diversity, multiculturalism, tolerance, respect, cooperation and understanding among diverse groups of peoples. Why? Because from the very beginning; from the day of Pentecost, the Church was and still is an inclusive community; a multicultural, multi-racial, multi-linguistic community. From the very beginning, the Church included peoples of all nations; all social, economic, religious and political backgrounds. As our passage from Acts states, this is not just a human accomplishment or phenomena. Rather, it is the very work of God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is at work, still today among us to break down all the barriers of: race, ethnicity, class, sex, age. How is this possible? How does the Spirit accomplish this work?
Well, according to our passage from Acts, the Spirit makes this possible and accomplishes this work by giving us the abilities and gifts to communicate effectively with one another. We are told that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, peoples of every nation had gathered in Jerusalem and were able to understand and communicate with each other--even though they spoke in many different languages.
The Spirit is able to overcome all boundaries that divide us and prevent us from hearing each other; from communicating with each other. In today's language, the Holy Spirit is our Communications Expert; the Holy Spirit is our Information Superhighway; the Holy Spirit is our Internet. The Holy Spirit's presence and work in us and among us all is able to remove our deep-seated hatreds, prejudices and suspicions of one another--replacing them with a sense of love, kindness, curiosity and respect for one another.
Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we truly can and do hear each other; communicate with each other; accept and love each other, fostering our deepest God-given longings for peace and unity. Amen! Come, Holy Spirit, to work and live among us, now and always.
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