What Is the Spirit Up To?
The Day of Pentecost, May 19, 2013
St. Anne's, Conway
The Holy Spirit of God moves in the church and in the world. Surely that faith affirmation offers a basic message of Pentecost, and that message provides the backdrop for the action and meanings of the day. The Holy Spirit of God moves in the church and in the world.
Events in the life of the church in our day may be confusing – and, indeed, we certainly can testify that they are. But, apparently, that is not a new reality. Confusion held a prominent place in the life of the New Testament church as well. As described in the book of Acts, the day of Pentecost seemed to have been one of the most confusing church gatherings ever recorded. People from all over the known world came together. And, things started to happen, very quickly. There rushed a sound from heaven, like a mighty wind. Tongues of fire came down and rested on different people. Those people began to speak, and we may read this witness to the miracle which followed: “Each (listener) heard them speaking in the native tongue of each” (Acts 2:6).
An important message of Pentecost is the assurance that God the Holy Spirit is present. The presence of God is real and true in the confusion of our times, as God has been truly and really present in the confusion of former times. The Holy Spirit of God moves in the church and in the world.
The Spirit is present in our confusion. The Day of Pentecost, as reported in the book of Acts, must have been a strange and wonder-filled and confusing time. As we remembered the event in our liturgy this morning, we could sense a bit of that environment – strange and wonder-filled and confusing.
As we read of that day this morning, we heard that a certain question was repeated many times ... and an obvious question it must have been. “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12). Indeed, we read that “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?” (2:12). And, as the people wondered about the day’s meaning, some made charges that the speakers must have been drinking a good deal of wine early in the morning. However, Peter suggested a different answer to the question about the meaning of Pentecost. He referred to the Old Testament prophet Joel, and, in particular, to God’s promise that “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 3:28).
Therefore, according to the faithful, the understanding of this strange happening at Pentecost was that a prophecy had been fulfilled. That prophecy involved the presence of God, in the power of the Spirit, and involved also were all the people of the world.
Thus, the initial meaning of Pentecost is that the Spirit is present, even in our confusion. The Holy Spirit of God moves in the church and in the world. That action of God embodies a promise from God: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”
Pentecost reminds us, though, of more than only the Spirit’s presence. In addition, the Spirit does things. In particular, the Spirit works to bring clarity out of confusion. Thus, the Spirit is present throughout creation. Also, though, the Spirit does particular work at certain times and places. Further, this work involves the means of bringing clarity out of confusion.
This message emerges as we consider the contrast of our first two readings this morning. On the one hand, there is the story of the tower of Babel. That Genesis story explains the presence of many languages throughout the world, and it deals with the fact that people who speak different languages cannot understand each other.
By contrast, the story of Pentecost tells of people from many countries, who speak different languages, coming together. When the Holy Spirit moved in that setting, various speakers proclaimed God’s message, and, as we have already pointed out, “each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:6). Therefore, Pentecost reverses Babel. Again, the Holy Spirit moves in the church and in the world. As a result, clarity comes out of confusion. And clarity is a means that the Holy Spirit uses, to do the work of God.
One more point needs to be made here today. To what end is the Holy Spirit of God present? Why does the Spirit work to bring clarity out of confusion, as a means to define his intention? My friends, the goal of the Holy Spirit – in presence and by means of work – is unity. The goal of the Holy Spirit is unity. We began today’s collect with these words: “Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit” (BCP, p227).
The Holy Spirit is given “to every race and nation”. The Holy Spirit works so that all of us may understand one another and perceive God’s truth and love in our lives. That work of the Holy Spirit enables us further to know God’s will of eternal life for everyone. Thus, the end – the goal of the Holy Spirit – is unity.
Our Lord prayed for unity just before he was arrested. He implored his followers and Almighty God for unity among the faithful. However, as I have previously pointed out elsewhere – and as you know, all too painfully – we have fallen short of our Lord’s dream in our own time and place ... as others have fallen short in other times and places. Nevertheless, we make certain affirmations, and with them, our faith agrees. On this day of Pentecost and in this time of disunity, we give thanks for God’s presence in the person of the Holy Spirit. We pray also for clarity as a means for the Holy Spirit to work, even in our confusion. And, we pray finally for unity in the church, the Body of Christ on earth.
I will conclude by referring to a familiar reference to the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, “the Spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (Jn 2:8). On this day of Pentecost, we give thanks that God the Holy Spirit chooses to be present with us and with all of creation. We praise God that His Spirit works to bring clarity out of our confusion. And we implore God, praying with God’s Son, to work in the power of the Spirit to bring unity to the church and to the world in our day. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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