Pentecost

By The Rev. Anne Michele Turner, Bridge Interim Rector

Acts 2:1-21

For years, I have felt let down by Pentecost.  It’s not for lack of trying: I have celebrated all the traditions that modern parishes celebrate.  I have worn red.  I have heard about the Parthians and the Medes and the Elamites in French and Chinese.  I have eaten any number of slices of cake, all in honor of the birthday of the church.  But I have been pursued by this nagging sense of anticliamax.

Easter has come and Christ is risen and I wait to see what’s next, only to find . . . it’s the  church.  And something feels small about that to me.  People go and look for the Spirit of God in church.  Believe me, I am invested in the church.  But.  Isn’t the church a small place for God, in the end?

This week, I shared my sadness with a friend of mine, and she said, you know, you’ve got it backwards.  Pay attention to the story in Acts, she told me.  It’s not that people want to find the Spirit and so they go to church.  People get filled with the Spirit and they go make the church.  The church is not the home of the Spirit.  It is evidence of its passing by.

I’ve been turning that possibility over in my mind.  Do we let this happen to us?  Do we let the Spirit inhabit us?  Do we let the Spirit work through us?

Honestly, at first blush, the answer might be no.  Episcopalians are known as God’s frozen chosen for a reason.   Our worship is rote by design.  We read the same words, week in, week, out.  We sit in pews—sit being the operative word—facing in pretty much the same direction.  We’re polite.  And while I love our liturgy, I know that the risk of this kind of formalism is that it iterates into meaninglessness, that it stiffens into mindless repetition.

And—yet—I am standing up here, I have chosen to remain in this church, because I have witnessed something more.  I suspect the same is true for each of you.  There have been moments where a word catches the light and shines with new meaning.  There have been measures where an old chestnut of a hymn has lifted my heart.  And there have been the flat out surprises when I see the person in the next pew crying for no reason that I can name and my heart is filled with empathy and I want to cry, too.

The Spirit is at work.  And it is at work among us because it is at work in each of us.

We don’t talk nearly as much about the Spirit as we do about Jesus or about God the Father, and that’s a shame, because the promise of the Spirit is so persistent in our story.  Read even a little of your bible, and you will trip over the Spirit, because it is everywhere.  The Spirit moved over the surface of the earth at creation.  That Hebrew word for Spirit—ruach—it also means wind, and it also means breath.  When our creation took its first breath, that breath was the Spirit.  And it is the promise in the new creation of Jesus Christ, as well.  We heard about it in our gospel today, as the resurrected Jesus appears again from the dead and does the one thing he can do to show he’s not dead—he breathes—and then he breathes on his friends to share that air with them.  Anywhere that Paul wants to talk about having life, he talks about the gift of the Spirit—in Greek, it’s pneuma.  God is in the very air we breathe.

If you go to a yoga class, you may learn that the noise we make with your exhalation is the sound of the universe; in the Hindu tradition, the word Om is so sacred because it is the breath of all life.  In our Christian tradition, that sacred breath is all around us, too.  The preacher Rob Bell suggests that the Old Testament name for God—the four Hebrew letters YHVH—may be unpronounceable by tradition but is, really, the sound of breath going in and out.  The Apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  Those sighs are in our bodies and in all bodies, in our bellies, in the involuntary reflex of our brain stems.

I speak about all of this to remind you, to remind myself, that we know the Spirit of God.  There is nothing we can do apart from the Spirit, because Spirit is what makes us alive.

And so my idea that the church could somehow be a container for the Spirit—well, that does seem pretty turned around, doesn’t it?  My friend was right.  The Spirit is a precondition for church, not the other way around.   The Spirit holds the church, not the other way around.

What then does it mean for you, this day, to live in the Spirit—to worship, as Jesus says in the gospel of John—in Spirit and in truth?

I ask this big question knowing that it finds its answer, in part, in the smaller and more immediate questions before us.  We are at a moment in the life of this congregation where the church is being made new.  This parish is poised to call a new rector and so is thinking systemically about what life together going forward should look like; very immediately, many of you will meet today after worship to talk about calendars and ministries and plans for the months ahead.  And we who administer lots of business in our ordinary workaday lives—well, the temptation for us is to focus on executing the tasks, on the administration.

But what would it be like to be guided not by the good judgment of our minds but by the conviction of our guts, by breath of life?  What would happen if we trusted that sustaining power?  What could we let go of?  What could we risk?  What would fall to the ground?  What would rise to life?

And what if we asked those questions not just in the church of this parish but the church of the world?  For that, in the end, is the real promise of Pentecost: That we have the capability to see and name that sacred breath in all places.  That we have the ability to build the church not just in here—but out there.  Everywhere.   This temple of the world waits for our worship.  What would it mean to let God’s spirit connect us to places in need of power, in need of transformation, in need of revitalization?

My frozen chosen brothers and sisters, you don’t have to move one muscle in your pews to be filled with the Spirit.  In fact, I ask us to take a minute of quiet and listen.  Listen to the Spirit we share.  Listen to your own breath.  Listen to the breath we share, moving in and out.

Know it’s not just your body.  Is it your soul.  You have the power to hold God’s being, that that power to know God and make him known.