Pentecost Text: Acts 2: 1-21
A year ago when Bev and I were in Ireland, we found our way into a number of churches. One of them, that has left a lasting impression was in Dublin … the Roman Catholic Cathedral. It was a Wednesday afternoon … the doors were open … we were welcome to come on in, as did a few people in the time we were there to sit and pray, light a candle.
Perhaps because there was no service at that time and the sanctuary was empty, a big open space, our eyes were immediately drawn upward to the dome in this great vaulted ceiling. Etched into the plaster in the dome were a number of figures and it took us no time to recognize what we were looking at was the story of Jesus’ ascension. That’s the story that comes right before the story we have today-- the one that gives rise to the story we have today -- where, after appearing to the disciples over the course of 50 days after his resurrection, Jesus is giving some last instructions and then, as the story goes, he departs from them, disappearing into the clouds. And what you see in this scene etched in the dome are the disciples looking up, some of them looking to each other, the expressions on their faces full of dismay and fear and grief. It’s compelling … it’s visceral … the feeling you get as you gaze at them gazing at the disappearing Jesus.
Why? we might wonder, of all the stories that might be depicted in a sanctuary, why this one of loss? of seeming abandonment? ... which might well be the experience of anyone coming into that place. Isn’t that why we sometimes come … ‘cause we’re searching, maybe wondering “where are you Jesus? where have you gone?”
But the disciples aren’t the only ones there. Into their company have arrived two strangers, who say to the disciples, “why are you standing there gazing up to heaven? He will return to you as mysteriously, surprisingly as you saw him go.”
Sometimes that’s why we find our way into a place like this … in the hope of being met by that kind of reassurance … that maybe he’s not gone altogether afterall, but will show up again, somehow.
So if gazing heavenward isn’t where we’re going to find him, then where do we look? If not “up there” what’s the alternative except right here … right where we are … in the world around us. Surprise!
Which is pretty much what Jesus says to them … and to us … when before he departs he tells them to return to the city, and there, wait … for “the Holy Spirit will come upon you,” he assures them … upon YOU! And you will be my witnesses … YOU!
You will be among those who speak and tell and embody the truth about what you have seen and heard and known in me.
You will be my witnesses.
All of this is gathered up in the dome of that place … which, after you’ve taken it in, it re-directs your gaze down here … as if to say “so, look around! … pay attention at street level.”
Which in fact is what happens as we walk a little further around the sanctuary. Over there in the spacious outside aisle is a bronze statue that holds a burning flame which draws our attention. As we get closer we begin to see more clearly its form … there’s a man down on his knees, his face weathered, his clothes worn. There are bottles of booze on the ground beside him … and chain-links that shackled his wrists are broken … and he is free. And then as you look closely above him you begin to make out Mary … Mother Mary … praying for him … and that’s where the burning flame rests … in her hands, above his head.
On the wall right next to him is a plaque that tells the story:
The Venerable Matt Talbot, the holy man of Dublin - born 2nd of May 1856, baptized in the Cathedral 5th May 1856. Lived his whole life in Dublin’s North City Centre. After some years of addiction to alcohol he lived a heroic life of deep faith in the pattern of early Irish monks. Died in Granby Lane, 7th of June 1925. Declared Venerable by the Church 3rd of October, 1975.
You see … there he is … a witness… as Jesus promised.
Ordinary people revealing, in and through their lives, the presence and power of the same Spirit that was alive in Jesus … healing and setting free … the same Spirit that opens a way where there is no way ... the same Spirit that raises up life out of the ash.
There was Matt who for years, and even now, is a witness to the people of Dublin and the people of this cathedral, bearing witness through his life to the Holy Spirit’s life-giving way, the same Spirit who was powerfully at work, embodied in Jesus.
You will be my witnesses, Jesus says … as the Holy Spirit comes upon you … and you will reveal that love’s power is alive and at work in the world.
So, what about among us? … as we look around right here -- at street level … at one another…as we look between us, as we look within us, around us. What are we seeing that reveals the presence of the same Spirit that was at work in Jesus, healing, feeding, challenging, lifting up, setting free, reconciling, reaching across divides, befriending, calling, making new?
How do you sense the Spirit is at work in your life, in our life together, and in the community around us?
What’s the fire in you? What are you passionate about?
How is the transforming power of God burning in you -- perhaps enlivening or compelling or propelling you in some way or some direction.
What’s the fire in the life of this congregation?
So here’s where I stop talking and we move into a time of listening, noticing, as we sit in silence … and we actually give ourselves the space to tune in, and allow the Spirit to speak in us, speak to us, show us.
Don’t reach for it yet! … but in a moment you’ll find a couple of questions to sit with and ponder, on this insert. They may actually be the same question posed in a few different ways. The hope is to offer a question in a way that connects, that feels alive. There are spaces there to write down your responses … feel free write on the flip side as well if you need it.
This is not a test … what it is is an invitation to get in touch with your experience.
I appreciate that some of us will welcome this time for that kind of focussed reflection. And some of us will find it challenging. We’re probably no different than the mix of those early disciples who Jesus told to them, regardless of what‘s comfortable or not, return to the city and wait … wait … wait … for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will come.
So let’s be about this for the next 10 minutes.