1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Easter and Pentecost were Jewish agricultural holy days long before they gained significance as Christian holy days. I was reminded of that this week when I heard Miyoko say that she was hoping for dry weather this weekend so that her newly mown hay crop could dry out. The resurrection occurred on the Feast of First Fruits, the day in which Israel celebrated the miracle of new growth springing from the earth that promised a harvest. The Festival of Pentecost came 50 days later as Israel rejoiced in the fullness of that harvest. The symbolic significance of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit on these two harvest holy days was not lost on the early Church. The resurrection was only the beginning and promise of the fullness of God’s power breathed into the disciples, ordinary people like you and me.
And what a spectacle that first Pentacost was! The disciples were gathered for the harvest feast when they became the harvest. The power to preach fell on Peter, a hot headed, leap-before-you-look fisherman. People either spoke or listened in other languages, words that went straight to the heart. Fear disappeared, replaced by holy boldness. The power of God burst out of the temple, the locus of worship, and into the people.
What I love about our readings today, are the many and varied images of the Holy Spirit. In Acts, on that first Pentecost, the Spirit was manifested in tongues of flame and a mighty, rushing wind. A few weeks ago, images of flames fueled by Santa Ana winds in Southern California were a terrifying warning about the power of fire to destroy. The two images are not all that far apart. Let me read you the quote from Annie Dillard on the cover of you bulletin.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
The Holy Spirit unleashed at Pentecost is powerful and sometimes frightening. Do we dare engage such a power? Are we willing to give up our sense of control? Are we willing to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by a vision of God’s radically inclusive Kingdom, and to begin to live it out though Spirit-empowered acts of welcome, compassion, grace, and service? Are we ready to have Christ’s law of love written on our hearts, to have our way illumined by the Spirit’s fire and to be blown into unexpected relationship by the wind of the Spirit? If we can answer yes, even just a little, the Pentecost experience will come to us, and we will never be the same.
Some of us may indeed live our faith with a fiery intensity. But others might find a more comforting image of the Spirit in Jesus’ description from John’s gospel, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Rivers of living water! Life-giving, healing, cleansing water.
Or the Spirit might be manifested in a shower of gifts for ministry. Preaching, teaching, helping, encouraging, leading, and the list goes on. The point is that the Holy Spirit makes us, you and me, into something new. Gordon Lathrop writes that, “The most important symbol of Christ in the [sanctuary] is not the minister, not the altar, not even the bread and wine or the water in the font. It is the assembly, the Body of Christ, as the New Testament says.”
The assembly—that’s you! There’s an old adage that says, “When the building burns down, and the preacher leaves town, what’s left is the Church.”
You are breathed into life by the Holy Spirit.
You are the full harvest.
You have been given the manifested gifts of the Spirit to do more than even Jesus did.
You are like fireworks that light up the night sky. And like fireworks, you come in a variety of shells: Roman candles, fountains, wagonwheels, crosettes, crysanthemums, waterfalls. Fireworks aren’t spectacular until they are lit and burst from their shells. May we have the courage to awaken to the power that has already been poured into us and light up the night sky.