May 24, 2015


Passage: Acts 2:1-21

Note: This sermon was immediately preceded by five St. John's parishioners who shared stories of their experience of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, The Spirit of truth…will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify.

And so it is. My words will be brief today, because – in many ways – you have already heard your sermon. These voices, these friends, have been telling us of God’s deeds of power in language we understand. For as much as Pentecost was a particular moment in history, and as much Pentecost is a familiar celebration each year, Pentecost is today and every day, for it is God is with us, as it was and is and ever shall be.

This is our faith. It is not religion, per se, with its liturgies and denominations and annual budgets. Nor is it about piety and morality and our acts of good works. It is God with us and our lives transformed to become like God: to value what God values, to love as God loves. And – most significantly – to be as God is – not to become gods ourselves, individual tyrants with too much power to direct towards our own petty agendas, but to be united with the one God who is and who has poured out the Spirit and saturated us with the essence of his being.

We have been joined with God and are now collaborators with God in purpose and Spirit.

But, perhaps you’ll say, That’s too lofty, Eric – too grandiose – and it hardly reflects my experience. I’ve never had any supernatural moment with tongues of fire and whatnot, to which I say two things:

First, our perception of the Spirit’s presence and the reality of the Spirit’s presence are two entirely separate things. Our lives and worlds are filled with things present but unseen. Consider those two things most necessary for our bodies and souls: Our bodies require oxygen; our souls require love. Neither is seen, but both are known. We would not exist without them. And so it is with Spirit who lives within us and this world, who animates us and makes us one with God and one another.

And the second thing is this: we may be unaware of the Spirit’s presence in our lives because we have given up looking for it and living towards it. Too often, we remain passive in our relationship with God, and blame God for failing to act or prove himself even though it’s been ages since we’ve sought God with any integrity or heart.

Consider the disciples: They’d been actively following Jesus for years. After his ascension, they were gathered together praying, in expectation of what Jesus promised would come next. The Holy Spirit didn’t find one at work, another going for a walk, another reading a romance novel. The Spirit came upon them gathered in expectation.

We are called to be collaborators with God in purpose and Spirit. Seek God and seek the ways of God.

Learn to pray and where you need help and guidance in prayer, seek that out too.

Make deliberate choices about how you will live and what you will care about:

how to spend your time;

what to do with your money;

how to be attentive to the needs of the suffering;

how to become deliberate in listening to others with a charitable spirit, rather than filling the space between you with your own many words and opinions;

This is what it looks like to choose a life of collaboration with God in purpose and in Spirit. And then – here’s the good news – it is never your responsibility to make God or any other person behave in any way at all. You are responsible for the choices you make and the way you live. It is God’s responsibility to do what God will do in your life and in this world, to pour out the Spirit as God wills. And this is an incredible freedom.

Through our choosing to walk in the path of god-likeness, and through the Spirit’s choosing to meet us, we will be transformed into Christ-like people in whom the spirit of God is self-evident. Because, at this point, it is no longer a question of behavior or right beliefs, as much as it is of character, of being. Richard Rohr writes,

I have met very fundamentalist Christians who hold some very rigid moral conclusions, but they hold their position on things like drinking, war, or gay people with such humility, soft-spokenness, and kindness that you know they have the spirit of Jesus nonetheless – while others might have very good “theology,” but their life energy is all too glib, smug, and self-satisfied. It is right, but somehow still wrong. It does not have aroma of Christ.[1]

Pentecost is not about the spectacular and charismatic (as much as we’d often like occasional evidence to vindicate our faith). Pentecost is about the Spirit of God, interweaving with our spirits to create a union between God and us, in whose image we were made.

Seek God and the ways of God. But as you are doing so, walk in peace, with the deep hope that God is seeking us and, indeed, has found us. If there are seasons of dryness and doubt, so be it. At the end of the day our doubts will have proved to be far less significant than the overwhelming substance of God’s desire for us. And if that be so, continue to seek such a knowledge and experience of God.

Paul writes that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. Indeed, he says we don’t even know how to pray, but the Spirit knows the depths of our hearts and takes our longings and yearnings, our fears and anxieties, and intercedes on our behalf according to the will of God. What does this mean, but that God is praying to God for us, and what better advocate could we desire?

It’s like these candles in the side chapel. When you light a votive it’s a living symbol of a prayer you’ve offered to God. When you leave the church and resume your daily life, that votive continues burning as a sign that the Spirit knows your spirit and the prayer of your heart, and is continuing to intercede to the Father. When that little candle burns out, the large one mounted on the wall will keep burning, all week long. Wherever you are you can know that these candles are burning: not as magic things, but as sacraments (you might say) of the intangible truth that the Holy Spirit is always interceding on our behalf, with sighs too deep for words.

For our words can only take us so far. Though they give expression to our thoughts and feelings, they are merely representations of a spirit far deeper and truer and more filled with life. And in that deep place of our souls the Spirit has joined us. And the goal of our lives is now to fall deeper and deeper into a living awareness of God with us, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

[1] Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014, p. 64-65.