In the long, winding commute to my field education parish my last year of seminary, my drive led me weekly past the Pentagon, the Jefferson memorial, and through the cherry tree-lined Tidal basin. It was a beautiful, quiet, and peaceful drive early on Sunday mornings as I made my way from Alexandria, VA to Bethesda, MA. The first few times this path took my breath away, but soon it became old hat, and once my GPS was set and my music app turned on, I zoned out till I made the turn into the parish’s neighborhood. Shortly after I began conversations with Father Steve about this position at Christ Church, as I was making my way, an advertising break interrupted my Sunday morning music, and a voice boomed, “You should visit Bowling Green, Kentucky!”
Immediately I was snapped to an awareness and an advertisement for the BG tourism went on about the wonderful things to do here. Now, the truth of this is that it can be explained: my music app was still set to a Nashville location and Bowling Green is pretty fantastic, but I also know that I hadn’t ever thought about Bowling Green, and here I was thinking and hearing about it from all sides. When my attention was drawn to this place and the work God might be calling me to do in it with you all, I suddenly became much more aware of all that it has to offer. In a similar way, in our three lessons today, when we draw our attention to the movement of the Spirit we are able to see how it is already present and in action.
In Acts, Romans, and in the gospel according to John, we get three different takes on how the Spirit moves amongst God’s people. In John, we hear about God’s Spirit in terms of an Advocate, one who walks with people of faith and who is the Spirit of truth. In Romans, we hear of the familial spirit of God, and how that when the Spirit is with us we are led as God’s children by the Holy Spirit. And in Acts, we hear the story of the Day of Pentecost; in Acts, we hear the story of how the Spirit is a mighty wind, and how it overwhelms the people with an awareness and an experience of God’s presence. It’s no wonder that when we, 2,000 years later try to articulate just what the Holy Spirit is, we struggle.
The Holy Spirit is something that is difficult for any Christian, from any age to understand, and we can see partially why in our readings today. In three readings alone, we see the Spirit portrayed in vastly different ways. Occasionally, if we struggle to understand something, it can be easy to dismiss it, to hold to the claim that whatever it is, it isn’t for us. But the Spirit of God isn’t easily dismissed, because the Spirit of God doesn’t need our permission to be at work in our lives. The Spirit of God doesn’t need to prove itself to be at work in drawing us to where God might be calling us to be.
William Temple, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury before his death in 1944, wrote about the Spirit of God, particularly as it appears in John’s gospel, “Don’t ask for credentials. Don’t wait till you know the source of the wind before you let it refresh you, or its destination before you spread sail to it. It offers what you need; trust yourself to it.” I found this quote in my readings this week, and it has stayed with me with each new path that opens up; it offers what you need – trust yourself to it.
It offers what you need. In a entirely unsurprising way, I love Pentecost, it might be my favorite high holiday. I love the Day of Pentecost because today we take time to remember that God’s Spirit offers us what we need and that we are best when we trust ourselves to it. Today we take time to remember the first day of Pentecost and we try to remember that even 2,000 years later the lesson learned that day: when we are faithful in following Christ and in our communal life together that God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. What we take away from this day is not that there is a very particular, narrow way to experience the Holy Spirit, and that if your experience doesn’t look like those new Christians in Acts that the Holy Spirit just isn’t for you. What we take away from today’s lessons is that the Spirit is a vital part of the Godhead, it was breathed out by Christ on the cross moments before his death, and it is worth paying attention to.
(10:00-Today at Christ Church, we’ve designed our worship to break out normal pattern, using the piano rather the organ, singing hymns that may be more familiar to some, and by creating space to give rise to those alleluias and amens which are within you; on this Feast of the Day of Pentecost, we wanted to create a bit of liturgical room. This isn’t to make space for something that isn’t true to our Anglican/Episcopal experience of God, but to voice the room that is already present and the connection that already exists within our pews.)
What we see in the readings today is that when we choose to pay attention, we can see that the Spirit is already at work in a variety of ways in our congregation and that it is working all the time; when we draw our attention to it, we begin to see the movement of the Spirit in so many unexpected ways.
The Holy Spirit is talked about in many different ways, but my favorite, I think is to think of it as breath; this is common because both the Hebrew word for Spirit is literally breath and how often the Spirit is compared to wind. I love to think about the Spirit as breath because in the vastness of all the different things that God’s Spirit can be, breath helps me understand it best. Breath is a unique thing. Breath is neither silence nor speech; breath is always present in life, and yet rarely seen, and breath is constantly in motion whether we are aware of it or not.
So it is with the Spirit. God’s Spirit moves through this world in unfathomable ways; it is always present in life, yet rarely seen and constantly in motion. God’s Spirit doesn’t need us to be comfortable with the idea of it to be at work, but when we pay attention to the Spirit, we are given the gift of getting to join with it in the work of the kingdom.
My hope for this day is not that you try to be something you are not, but that you try to think beyond our normal expectations. It is easy in our world today to think dualistically; very often we see ourselves and others as either in or out, and honestly, it doesn’t even matter what boundaries and lines I could name, because there are so many. My sisters and brothers, my hope is that on this Day of Pentecost we remember that we are not bound to any worldly identity, but that our hope is in Christ alone and the Spirit of God makes way for a third path. When all else fades away what remains is us and the Spirit of God. This third path is a way between death and life; the Spirit navigates spaces that seem impossible as we cling to our dualistic understandings of the world. Trust the Spirit, be open to it, pay attention to it, and remember that it offers what you need. Set sail and take the third way opened by the Spirit