One of the things about the Holy Spirit is she doesn’t need a whole lot of room to be, to move, to flow, to ignite. It’s there in the way we image the Spirit as breath, as wind, as fire, as water. “Like a healing stream,” we’ll be singing at the end of our service today—water can trickle through the tiniest of spaces. It only takes a spark --that’s another song in our repertoire. And wind, as we know, whistles through, seems to find those cracks in the window frame we didn’t know were there.
It’s the way of the Holy Spirit not to need a whole lot of room …even a crack will do.
So it’s no wonder something big happened on that day of Pentecost, as the gospel writer paints the picture. The story picks up pretty much where we left off last Sunday with the disciples returning Jerusalem, where they gathered in a room … a sizable place given the number of them, women and all. They were doing as Jesus had urged them, to go and wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them … whatever that would mean! And so there they were, with one accord, as St Luke writes it, constantly at prayer.
All these people, hearts open, waiting, receptive, expectant, curious. That’s a big space … when only a crack will do!! So there was room alright for something big to transpire …for the Holy Spirit to breathe … and breeze in she did … filling the place and each and every open heart.
And there appeared to them like tongues of fire resting upon each of them. And their mouths were filled with a whole new sound, as they began to speak in languages not their own. This wasn’t incomprehensible babble but Spirit inspired speech, celebrating the wonders of God, and it was heard beyond the walls of their room by all these people who had come to Jerusalem from far and wide for the special religious festival of Pentecost. And so now we’ve got these people wondering what on earth? What was puzzling to them was not that they couldn’t understand; but that they could! given these people who were speaking were all from Galilee and for whom these languages were not their own. And so while many in the crowd were amazed, some were scoffing, “they’re drunk.” That’s how they made sense of this thing that made no sense.
But maybe it wasn’t the crossing over of languages that they couldn’t take seriously. Maybe it was the content … maybe it was what they were hearing that was too wild, too good to be true. For when Peter – remember Peter? … the one who that night of Jesus arrest, who when it came down to it, out of fear, couldn’t admit to knowing Jesus – well now he’s the one who rises to his feet to speak, to address the crowd … undaunted by even by the shouts of naysayers. And what does he have to say? “No! these people are not drunk! No! This is what the prophet Joel spoke of: In the days to come, says God, I will pour out my spirit on all humankind … your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young ones will dream dreams, your old ones see visions. Dreams and visions, this is what they were hearing. And for some it sounded too good to be true … they’ve got to be drunk. “Not drunk!” insists Peter, but announcing the dawning of a new day, a new way.
The story goes on beyond what we read this morning. In fact that was just the very beginning! At one point in response to Peter’s words, the people ask, “so, what shall we do?” And Peter says to them Turn, make a turn … turn with you whole selves to the life-giving goodness of God. Come and be baptized he says … a way of stepping into this new life, this new way, God’s dream of a new world order.
It must have been some powerful preaching! for then, what do we hear? 3000 were baptized that day! … and then there’s this description of how they went on to live … breaking bread together, sharing all they had together so that no one was in need. There was this igniting of a movement that spread like wild-fire. There was something deeply attractive, wildly contagious about the way these early Christians, these Christ bearers-- lived …the way the associated with and welcomed all manner of people in a culture that reinforced separation and marginalization. There was the way they ate together and cared for one another, shared with one another across all the dividing lines of race & class, gender and age, slave and free. The way they tended the bodies of friends and strangers who were sick or dying; the way they handled and cared for the bodies of the dead. They were known by their love … this love that burned in their hearts for a whole new way of regarding life.
So here’s where I got stuck this past week. I couldn’t get the story of George Floyd out of my mind …the young black man who was suffocated last week, held face down by the policeman who knelt on his neck until he died, overriding George’s pleading, “I can’t breathe, please, I can’t breathe.” The terrible irony … that this should happen in this time when so much of our energies are being mobilized to ensure that people can breathe. And yet at the very same time this revelation our human capacity to deprive another of breath! And how it happens, not just with a knee to the neck, but in so many different ways. From the poisoning of the air, to the burning of forests, to free wheeling violence against trans people, poor people; the systems we have in place that foster racism, sexism. In so many ways we reveal our human capacity to deprive another of breath, of life.
You don’t have to lift your knee very high to allow for a breath … but you do have to lift your knee. For a while last week I think I was mired in this place of what hope is there if it is humanly possible to not even lift a knee?
So here’s where the Pentecost story kind of saved me … I was drawn back to that part where the disciples are met with scoffing and how they weren’t shut down by it, but that “even in that atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism, some people spoke, and some people listened, and into those astonishing exchanges, God breathed fresh life.”
It’s the way of the Holy Spirit to not need a whole lot of room. Even a crack will do! Love’s way takes advantage of every opening. This is what the story seeks to impress upon us in ways that couldn’t be more emphatic … Hello! We are not left to ourselves! AND we have such a critical part to play … how it is that the Holy Spirit chooses to work in and through us … these vessels made of clay.
Now I realize it is one thing to affirm the wonder of the Spirit’s way with us, ushering us, calling us, compelling us into being part of the mending of our world.
And I realize we are not all of us gathered in the same place. And I don’t just mean under the same roof. We are in different places emotionally, spiritually, physically. Some of us these days are spent … through care-taking, through pain, through grief, through isolation, through rising to all the extras or newness that is asked of us in this strange time … that any talk of being propelled into more “wait a minute!” you might well be saying or near screaming … “the need for mending, for mercy, for tending, for tenderness, it’s right here, in me,” you might be saying.
If this is the place where you are right now … these words, words of life, words of truth, are for you. Listen to this from Mary Luti. She begins with this one line from St Paul:
"We do not know how to pray…, but the Spirit intercedes in us with sighs too deep for words…"Romans 8:26
And then she goes on to say:
“In this activist denomination, the Holy Spirit is often imagined as a divine wrecking ball, smashing oppression and clearing the debris of injustice. Or a piercing eyeball revealing the nakedness of emperors, and lending us courage when we name the fraud and get in a heap of trouble. Or as God's match lighting a fire under us, a roaring engine of mission, a blazer of trails that lead to who-knows-where, impelling us onto the road.
And She is. All that. The Holy Spirit is Energy, thunder, movement. And more.
But the thing about the Spirit is that she's versatile, multi-faceted, with a rather long job description. Lucky for us, who are multi-faceted too, she does more than rush around causing holy havoc and pushing us out of our comfort zones.
Sometimes she restrains us. Sometimes she hushes. Sometimes she works from the inside out. She's an activist, yes, but inside action is her specialty, too. She's a sweetness. A gardener. A visiting nurse. Sometimes she knows we need comfort. Sometimes she is comfort itself.
Here's an ancient prayer you might like if this is you—exhausted in need of rest, parched in need of rain, sad in need of solace, motherless in need of a Mother.
Come, Holy Spirit, come,
send from God your shining light.
Come, Mother of the poor,
giver of gifts, light of all hearts.
Best of consolers,
sweet guest, soul's refreshment:
In toil, rest,
coolness in heat, solace in sorrow.
Blessed Light, illumine us.
Without your shining
nothing in us stays innocent.
Wash our stains,
water our dryness, mend our wounds.
Bend the rigid,
melt the frozen, welcome the stray.
Give to us who trust in you
your manifold gifts.
Give us virtue's reward,
salvation's healing, and gladness evermore.”
The thing about the Spirit is she’s versatile … meeting us where we are and ready to move in us, wherever there is an opening.
She doesn’t need much room … even a crack will do.
And so wherever we are … even, and especially as we grieve our frailty, our brokenness, may we welcome the blessing she brings.
 Debie Thomas, "I will pour out my Spirit", posted on Journey With Jesus, May 24, 2020
 Mary Luti, "Inside Spirit", posted on Stillspeaking, Daily Devotional of the United Church of Christ, May 21, 2018