Pentecost A’20
31 May 2020
Acts 2.1-21; Jn. 20.19-23
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Facebook Live
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

“Grant, Gracious God, that the Holy Spirit may enlighten and cleanse our hearts and that, through the abundance of the Spirit’s gifts, we may be fruitful in all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. – from St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, p.322

Let’s say you are in a crowd and you’d like to know if there are any Episcopalians in the room. All you have to do is say out loud: “The Force be with you!” All the Episcopalians in the room will answer: “And also with you!” That was today’s joke!

Welcome to the One thousand, Nine-hundred and eighty seventh birthday of the Church! Today we celebrate the momentous event that got it all started on the day of Pentecost! Pentecost means “fifty” and today is the fiftieth day after Easter. The coming of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, blew into the upper room in Jerusalem like a rushing wind, and appeared as flaming tongues of fire hovering above the disciples’ heads.

Like with the “Force” in Star Wars, when we start trying to describe someone that’s pure Spirit, and invisible, words aren’t adequate, so the Church over the centuries has relied upon symbols. Symbols such as fire, water, oil, wind, tongues, and doves, all of which come from scripture and give us clues as to the Spirit’s identity.

The first symbol is wind or breath, interestingly enough the Hebrew word for breath and for spirit are the same word “Ruach.”  Even to speak that word a puff of air comes out at the end of it -Ruach. Breath is the very wind of life and as we breathe in and out, we can that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Like wind, the Spirit is the part of God that is everywhere all the time.  The Holy Spirit blows where ever the Father wills. When we are receptive to the breath of God, we are moved like ship’s sails that respond to the wind’s direction.  Jesus after the resurrection and before sending his disciples out to minister in his name: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” (John 20.19-23)

Then there is fire, another symbol of the Spirit. Biblical fire is different than regular fire, with a different purpose, purification. This fire only burns up the things that we don’t need, things that hold us back from the abundant life God has for us. This fire is powerful and cleanses, cauterizes, and illumines our path, guiding us in the way that we should go. I was reminded of a famous quote by 19th cen. Chicago journalist and humorist, Finley Peter Dunne, that I think applies to the fire of the Spirit:

 “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” With a slight revision I think it fits for Pentecost: [The job of the Holy Spirit]  “is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Oil is another of the symbols of the Holy Spirit. Olive oil that has been blessed by either a bishop or a priest is used to anoint the sick for the purpose of healing. At baptism, the priest marked our foreheads with holy oil and says: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” As a person is dying, or as just died, they are anointed with holy oil as a sign of God’s ultimate healing. I have to insert here that we give thanks for the life of one of our own, Melba Hooker who died this past week and has now received her ultimate healing! Oil soothes wounds and brings comfort.

Water is the first symbol we encounter upon entering the church. We have the font used for baptism at the entrance and at least before the virus, folks would dip their fingers in and bless themselves with the water that had been blessed and made holy. Water is cleansing and in baptism symbolizes our cleansing from sin, as they are washed away forever in the water. Jesus spoke of this when he said a person had to be “born of water and the Spirit” in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3.5). The fluid nature of water, symbolizes the flowing of Spirit upon and within Christ’s followers.

The sign of tongues serves as a symbol of the universal message and invitation of the Good News for all people for all time. Throughout the centuries the message of the resurrected Christ has traveled to the far edges of the globe. You may have been momentarily confused during the gospel reading a few minutes ago when two/three foreign languages converged creating a sort of gibberish. The ‘gibberish’ was a mixture of German, French, and Latin, can you imagine the sound on that day where people were speaking in all the languages of the known world simultaneously? Pentecost shows that the message of Christ’s saving love was not limited to just one language, one elite group of people, in a dusty village in Palestine. Now God’s chosen was anyone who would receive the Good News and follow Christ, regardless of where they were from. 

Subway restaurants happens to be the largest restaurant chain in the world with 26,860 restaurants (for some perspective, that’s 12,000 more than McDonalds). What started as hole in the wall sandwich shop has grown into a massive chain of franchises. Pentecost is God’s marketing plan, it’s the Day the Holy Spirit blew with a mighty wind to carry the message to the entire world, and the wind still blows! Covid-19 has turned every Christian home into a church, and every Christian is awakening to the fact that we are temples of the Holy Spirit! The wind of the Spirit is blowing again and in the midst of a pandemic, and racial and political divides, is moving the Church once again to engage with those all around us to be and to share Good News!

Lastly there is the most well-known of the Holy Spirit’s symbols that of a white Dove. The Dove, is the bringer of peace. Oh, how desperately we need peace within and peace with each other. The Holy Spirit is gentle and can give us our deepest sense of comfort and peace. This symbol leads nicely into what scripture calls the fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. (Galatians 5.22-23)

We are being presented with a real choice of who we will become in these trying times. Will we yield to the spirit of the age and develop the fruits of: the flesh: Out of control anger, resentment, jealousy, envy, bitterness, sarcasm, joylessness, and hate?

Or, will we yield over the control of our lives to God the Holy Spirit who can infuse us the gifts of the Spirit.

Today, more than ever we need the cleansing, healing, and purifying Fire of the Spirit.

Let us pray: 

Come, O Bountiful Spirit, and bring forth in our lives the manifold fruits of thy presence and create in us:

          Love toward God, my neighbor, and myself,

          Joy and wonder in all God’s work,

          The peace that Jesus promises,

          Patience born of faith and hope,

          Kindness that reflects God’s mercy,

          Generosity that uses all as God intends,

          Faithfulness that is constant and reliable,

          Gentleness that I may do harm to no one,

          Self-control that my life will conform

          To the mind of Christ. – From St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, p.327

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen. – II Corinthians 13.14