Acts 2:1-21 John 15:26-17 16:4b-15
Have you ever bought something that needed to be assembled? After struggling to get the huge package into the house, and further struggling to open the wretched thing, you discover the instructions are tucked right at the bottom of the box.
The instruction booklet is in a number of languages, the English translation – for that is obviously what it is – tucked amidst other languages and alphabets.
There’s a list of all sorts of nuts and bolts, a few odd-looking tools, which look much too fragile for the job, and then the assembling parts, heavy and awkward to manipulate. One feels lost, confused, and even helpless. “If only Josh (or whoever) were here,” we think. He knows how to do this sort of stuff. It’s even worse when he ordered this thing and then left us to it, assuring us that we would have the skill to get the task finished.
Jesus said to his disciples, "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
When Jesus spoke these words to His disciples they knew He was about to leave them. They are filled with sadness and focused in the present moment, the moment of Jesus’ departure. They have not given a thought to what comes next, to what He expects from them, to what He has called them to do. They are confused and despondent.
And we understand this only too well. Despite coming to church on Sundays, reading our Bibles, knowing how Jesus’ story and the lives of the disciples unfold – we have trouble fulfilling our calling, doing the work He has given us. Like the disciples listening to Jesus, we are uncomfortable, uncertain, and unclear as to what is expected of us, and we are distracted by our outward and inner lives.
Jesus’ understands and He tries to reassure His followers:
I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
These words are encouraging, but they do little to allay the disciples’ grief. In such a devastating moment, Jesus asks of His followers what He so often asks of us. Wait! Have faith! I will not leave you comfortless.
When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever He hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because He will take what is mine and declare it to you.
And then Jesus is gone, and the disciples have no choice but to wait and trust. How difficult that must have been for them, as it is for us, to wait through the times of uncertainty and pain. Not surprisingly, they stick together - for comfort and support and even protection.
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.
I often think that the disciples in that Upper Room, after the Ascension and before Pentecost, held a long, long meeting. The task had been assigned. They were to go into the whole world telling about the Good News of the Resurrection, baptizing those who believed. They were to be “witnesses.” That word, from which we get “martyr,” means life-givers. That’s a risky and dangerous business.
They were to be a new race, or tribe, or nation. Anyone who believed could join. It didn’t matter what gender one was, or one’s race, language, nationality, customs, or religion: all were welcome.
So what did they do? They held an election, picking Matthias to join their ranks. It made them look like they were doing their job. It made them look busy. It’s a pity we don’t know what they talked about. The treasurer, Judas Iscariot, had committed suicide (Matthias replaced him), and the books were in a mess. Someone must have said that there was no way they could afford to go into the entire world. Someone else may have suggested that it was dangerous to go outside the Upper Room. After all, they were the chosen. Who would do the work if they were killed or thrown in prison?
Someone else must have said that they were no good at evangelism, and after all, everyone has a right to their own religion. Perhaps Jesus had been poetic? Surely He didn’t mean that they were actually to “convert” people?
The Upper Room must have felt so safe, so comfortable. It was in that room that Jesus had commissioned them. Maybe, if they prayed faithfully, others would come from outside and join them?
It’s an all too familiar story.
And then something extraordinary happened.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
We’ve heard this lesson so often we don’t even think about what it was like for the Apostles. This was a startling event. They were all suddenly attacked by what seemed to be wind and fire, the ancient symbols of God’s presence. That energy, that Being, set them on fire with confidence thrust them out into the street, where they were soon accused of being drunk at ten o’clock in the morning.
The Advocate promised by Jesus has arrived! Fire reins down from heaven, and all uncertainty is gone. The waiting is over. This fire arrives on the whirlwind. It is scathing and it cannot be controlled. Whether they will it or not, it burns its way into the disciples’ hearts and souls, and it gives them the power to do the work that lies ahead.
Amazingly, this is same the fire we received at our Baptism. This seems almost unbelievable, as none of us has been aware of being “attacked” by wind and fire, nor have we run out into the street speaking in tongues. And it is the expectation of such explosive manifestation that often causes us to miss the action of the Spirit in our lives today, the benign presence of the Spirit in all things, to miss the still small voice of God. But receive the Holy Spirit we did – and it dwells and burns in each of us.
The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and all those fears and doubts, all those reasonable objections to Jesus’ command evaporated. The Church was on the move. The Church was intended to be on the move. It was not intended for Upper Rooms. It was intended for the street, for people, and places everywhere.
The Holy Spirit wasn’t given so individuals could have a form of “spirituality” just for themselves. The Spirit wasn’t given to an elite group so that they could practice a religion close to their political opinions, left, right, or center. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church to enable it to be the Church. In its power, the Church is enabled to put things together and to be together.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t guarantee that the decisions we make together are wise or good. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the Church and the Church’s mission will go on and on until kingdom come. It is the truth of kingdom which is, and is to come, into which the Spirit leads us. The Holy Spirit shows us Jesus and brings us to the Father. The Holy Spirit moves in the water; and in our prayers, private and collective. Above all, the Holy Spirit drives us out of the safety and security of our local Upper Rooms. It pushes us beyond ourselves, our abilities, expectations, and safety levels.
The Holy Spirit burns within each of us, and it is this holy fire which gives us the strength to endure; the strength to do the work Jesus has given us to do. Only one, simple, life changing thing is asked of us, that we open our hearts and allow the Spirit to consume us.
Today we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.” Watch out! Your prayer may be answered.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, so move our hearts that all barriers which divide us may crumble, and grant that we may be filled with the fire of your Love, that united in one Body we may so brightly burn, that all who see us may come to know and share in the joy of your Holy and life-giving Spirit, through your Son our savior Jesus Christ. AMEN.