naming and claiming the Spirit

Whew!  I’m still reeling from all the fun we had in worship yesterday.  There was a chaos processional.  We collected our first month of the 2 cents a meal offering and our offerings literally overflowed.  There was clapping and shouting and lots of joy.  The Spirit was there for sure.  Our text, not surprisingly, was Acts 2:1-21.  A few thoughts on the Spirit are after the jump, although, really I feel like rather than read this you should just head outside and take a few minutes to thank the Spirit for her presence in our lives each and every day.



Can you imagine that day?  It had been fifty long days since Jesus had died and been raised, over a week since he had taken his final leave from them.  They were truly on their own at this point.  I imagine the frantic energy of those first few weeks had worn off.  They were tired now, and more than a little depressed.


I imagine them in a little room, sharing some food, a little bread, some wine.  Maybe it was Philip who spoke up and said what they all were thinking.  This seems to be over, doesn’t it?  We should probably quit while we’re ahead.  I wonder if Dad would take me back on the boat.  I could still make a living that way.


A few others nodded their heads.  Yep, that’s probably best.  Could you pass some more of the bread?


And as Andrew passed the bread, maybe he said, remember how he could take just meager fare like this and in his hands it would become the most magnificent feast?  Remember?  We’d think we were going to go hungry, and then we’d discover there was plenty of wine and even some fish and we all ate our fill and then danced?  Hard to believe it’s over.


I wonder if that’s when Mary piped up.  I saw him, she might have said, with my own two eyes.  It can’t be over.  That’s not possible.  We’ll never be the same.  At least that lives on, right?


I wonder if one of the others murmured, it’s not the same, though.


Do you think it was then that the room suddenly turned inside out?  That their cups all rattled, and their hair stood on end?


Did their eyes get wide?  Is this really happening?  Do you hear that?  That noise, like blood rushing to my head, or pounding waves, or wind, like a mighty wind.  Do you see that?  Is it my eyes playing tricks on me?  It looks like everything’s on fire, burning, shining, glowing, aflame.


Was it terror or disorientation or something else that drove them out of that little room that was pulsing with a fiery glow, consumed by the sound of wind?  I imagine they came stumbling out into the clean, clear light of morning, rubbing their eyes, holding on to each other to stay upright in the midst of the people.  All those people, from all over the world.  Jerusalem was full of people that week.  Excuse me, pardon me, Entschuldigung, Perdon!, excusez moi.


Did they gasp, clap their hands over their mouths, realizing that the words they spoke were not their own?  Was it slowly at first, and then louder and with more confidence that they began to speak?  What words did they use?  We bring you good news of great joy?  Or, was it, Do not fear.


Can you imagine it?  It seems far away in so many ways, doesn’t it?


It never seemed quite right to me that this dramatic day was considered the birth of the church.  This day, this story was so exciting, and church was, well, not.


Maybe something got lost in translation.  The part where it said, and then they all went and built pews and sat in them quietly for many centuries.  Or maybe the Spirit kinda petered out, got diluted, the way a drop of red food coloring, so vibrant in a cup of water, would scarcely tint an ocean.


But it says right there, in verse 17, that God has declared “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”  All flesh.  All.  Not just the early followers who really knew what was up.  Not just the mystics and Pentecostals.  Not just the ones who pray really hard.  All.  Even us.  Here in this room so many years later.  It can be hard to believe, can’t it?


But I do believe God’s promise stands firm.  We are a Spirit-covered people.


We may not always feel like it.  But we are.


I think it’s a naming problem, a semantic problem.  Calling a thing by its right name is essential to knowing what’s going on, isn’t it?


They had a naming problem that morning, too.  As they stumbled around, rubbing their eyes and shouting in foreign languages, people laughed and called them drunk.  That’s when Peter jumped in and declared, no!  No, we are not.  This, my friends, is nothing less than the Spirit of the living God.  I wonder if he even had words for what was happening before that moment.  And if his words, as they rang out, suddenly brought clarity to the others.  The way a word of truth can cut through all the rest and we realize, yes, yes, it is that way.


So when we listen to this story and then look around and wonder if maybe this story’s not true because we don’t see anything like that happening here and now, I think it’s a naming problem.  We have a difficult time, in our day and age, recognizing the Spirit.


The Spirit’s slippery, isn’t it?  It’s the part of the Trinity that’s hard to pin down.  What is the Holy Spirit?  How do we describe and name the Spirit in our language today?


Perhaps the simplest answer is that the Holy Spirit is God within and among us each day, giving us life and hope.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


Scripture likens the Spirit to the wind.  It blows and we can feel it, but we can’t see it, just the leaves fluttering.  A nice image, until we think about the tornadoes of the last month.  The Spirit can move both gently like a cool breeze on a warm afternoon and with overwhelming power sweeping away all in its path.  Like wind, the Spirit brings change, fresh air, and disruption.


Other places, the Spirit looks like a dove.  In celtic Christianity, the dove’s been replaced by a wild goose, less of a peaceful presence and more of a squawking disruption.  Both, dove and goose, remind us of the freedom of the Spirit.


The Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit are the words for breath.  The Spirit was the breath that brought life to the first person made from the dust of the earth.  The Spirit was the breath of life in the valley of dry bones.  The Spirit is as close as the breath that fills our lungs, that sustaining, ever-present force we take for granted.  In and out, in and out, each moment of our lives, we carry a reminder of the Spirit’s presence with us.


The Spirit is fire.  From the spark in the burning bush that caused Moses to turn aside and take off his shoes, to the tongues as of fire on Pentecost, the Spirit is the warmth, the energy, the light, the flame that can both scare and enliven.


The Spirit is living water.  Water refreshes us when we’re weary, cleans away the dirt and grime.  It is patient, wearing away rock over the course of eons, and also mighty, rapidly rising and sweeping away everything in its path.  It is the womb of life.  Without it we perish.


The Spirit is the wisdom at the core of God’s being.  In the beginning, the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, and scripture tells us that the Spirit’s name was Wisdom.  The wisdom embodied by our elders, the wisdom of the trees that know each year when to bloom, the surprising and playful wisdom of children, in all of these the Spirit abides.


The Spirit is a gift for us.  Jesus called the Spirit our helper, advocate, counselor, friend.  In all these years since God broke into our daily lives, it has been the Spirit that has guided, prodded, pushed, and goaded us.


So perhaps it’s not so hard to believe that the Spirit has been poured out on us, too.

Who among us has never thought they had no more energy to face the day ahead, and then found themselves filled with a second wind?

Who among us has never faced a road that seemed to be a dead end, only to find as they kept walking that indeed, a way was being made out of no way?

Who among us has not seen change sweep through a life, transforming a person?

Who among us has not had an afternoon, just after a rain storm, where the sun comes out and the whole world sparkles with water and light?

Who among us has not seen a sunset that set the whole world aflame?

Who among us has never felt their heart warmed by the joy of worship?

Who among us has not met Christ in another?

Who among us can claim not to have been touched by the power of the Spirit?


It’s a naming thing, isn’t it?  We don’t stop and name these happenings.  Barbara Brown Taylor calls this the spiritual practice of paying attention.  We open our eyes, and open our hearts, expecting to be met around every bend by the Spirit of God.  And lo and behold, we find that the whole world shimmers with God’s presence.


Are these people drunk, asked the crowd?  No!, we shout, this is nothing less than the Spirit of the living God being poured out on all flesh.


In this moment, the church is born.  And that’s the best news.  The Spirit comes in quietness to us each, but the Spirit comes with the most power to us together.  The Spirit was poured out on the disciples when they were gathered in that room together.  The Spirit continued to be poured out for generations upon Christ’s church.


We are a people who name, who declare, who shout, the Spirit of God is here.  We are a people who look for the Spirit, who are sustained by the Spirit, who testify to the Spirit in every language imaginable.


The Spirit is being poured out at Bethany as well.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  Have you?


In our hospitality, the Spirit welcomes all.  I see this in the cookies we keep in the freezer, and the care with which coffee hour is prepared.  Deeper still, it is the Spirit that has led us to be a body that seeks to make space for anybody who walks through the door.  It was that hospitality that brought many of you here, that told you it was safe for you here.


In our patient discernment, the Spirit’s wisdom is at work.  As we walk through the unknown together, I’m drawing strength from the stories you tell me about earlier times of uncertainty, when it wasn’t clear how everything would work out.  Then, as now, we trusted that the wisdom of the Spirit would not abandon us.


In our prayer for each other and our steadfast care, the Spirit tends with mercy and kindness.  As members of our body walk through illness, unemployment, grief, and all manner of trials, we walk with each other, finding strength and courage in the Spirit.


In our prophetic proclamation that in the kingdom of God none will go hungry and all will be welcome, in our singing and joyful worship, in our hope for the future and our faith that the Spirit is on the move, in all this, the Spirit is poured out and overflowing.  Do you see it?


Friends, the story of Pentecost is our story as well.



We, too, are a people for whom the world shimmers with light.


We, too, are a people who must take off our shoes because we have found that we are walking on holy ground.


We, too, are a people who have found to our utter surprise that the Spirit is alive and well, and is being poured out on all flesh.


This is our story and our song.  This is the good news and the hope we bear.  This is what we are to be about: sharing this news, shouting it from the rooftops, and murmuring it quietly to friends.


The Spirit of God has been poured out, on us and everybody else.  We are called to see it, to name it, to share it.


Like the wind, we can feel it at work;


like fire, it lights up the night;


like breath, it sustains us each day.


By the power, and in the care of the Spirit, this is the good news we bear into the world.  May we bear it well.

Sarah Wiles
Bethany Presbyterian Church
June 12, 2011
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One Response to naming and claiming the Spirit

  1. Wilma Steele says:

    Thank you, Sarah. I was thirsting for that sermon!

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