Friends, let me ask you a question . . . If you had to give up on one of these celebrations –Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost — which one would you see as less relevant? Take your time. Could we go on without Christmas, without Easter? Most of us would say, “No way! If we must choose, we can do without Pentecost.”
What would Jesus say? “With all due respect, my friends, you can’t do that, for Pentecost is the spark that sets your hearts on fire in such a way, my birth, my sacrificial death, and my resurrection become real to you and empower you to be my Easter People in a Good Friday world!”
Wow, some of you may say – we didn’t realize how relevant Pentecost was. How come most of us still don’t see it that way? Could it be that the Holy Spirit that comes right after Jesus is not as concrete, as vivid, as visual, as real as the plain, down-to-earth Jesus we befriended from the time we were toddlers?
After all, we are human, and it is much easier for us, humans, to connect, to engage and enjoy someone who is very much like us — flesh and bones; thirst and hunger; words and sights; temptation and prayer; feet and hands; smiles and children; sinners and friends.
Someone we can meet for a coffee at Starbucks, for instance, or email to, or hug when we pass the peace. I have known many wonderful Christians who share this same gut feeling. And even Jesus’s disciples had to struggle with a similar feeling. For the Holy Spirit Jesus had given them before leaving them for good was not the same – they still missed him dearly.
Friends, there are those moments when I too miss that plain and down-to-earth Jesus I met as child. The one I enjoyed so much at Sunday School and all my long life until today. The one in that picture –see? [pointing to a portrait of Jesus surrounded with children in the back of the church].
The babe of Bethlehem. The young prophet nailed to a cross like this one [pointing to the cross on the altar]. May this be the reason why we don’t celebrate Pentecost with the same sense of colorful preparation, expectation, and excitement so obvious around Christmas and Easter?
If you remember, Jesus’s disciples gathered in Jerusalem for Passover to thank God for rescuing them from slavery in Pharaoh’s land. Fifty days later, they meet again for a new holiday — the first harvest. The disciples haven’t left Jerusalem – they seem to be “stuck” there even though Jesus have sent them out on a mission.
They want to move, yet the “spark” is missing. They seem to be under the weather – a spiritual weather, so to speak–, which I describe as “nostalgitis” — a severe bout of nostalgia for the good old days with Jesus, who always told them where to go, what to carry, what to say and not to say, how to deal with adversity.
Several years ago, one of my Confirmation teenagers grasped so well the disciples’ dilemma. She said: “Those disciples don’t understand that Jesus had to leave them because God needed him somewhere else in the universe, to do the same amazing things he did so well for us here on Earth. Besides, with Jesus around, the disciples would have never flown out of the nest!”
Yet despite their nostalgitis and their lack of reaction, those men and women did something right — they persevered in prayer — praying for understanding, and for the missing “spark.”
And on Pentecost their prayers were answered beyond belief, for something totally unexpected happened to them.
Luke in this extraordinary book called the Acts of the Apostles tells us of a sudden outpour of tremendous spiritual power in that place where they had gathered to remember and to pray. Not only the “original” disciples – many others, Jews, and gentiles alike, speaking different languages — gathered in that place.
Despite their diversity, they all understood each other, and they all were transformed by a power that felt like a tornado and tongues of fire swirling in their hearts. And when they connected all the dots, they finally understood – Jesus is back! He never left us!
Yes, he’s back to re-create our lives and our communities – but now his power is ours as well. Their hearts set on fire – as Luke relates — that multitude finally realized who they really were. No longer a ragtag bunch of Jesus’s disciples, now the very Body of Christ.
And that is the way the church was born – Happy Birthday, dear church! A church like ours here today, called to proclaim and to share good news of forgiveness, of inclusiveness, of extravagant grace and service.
Friends don’t ever underestimate the transforming power of Pentecost in your lives! For that’s the power that can sustain both your life and your vocation. The power that can keep you always going.
Look at Peter, the impulsive and coward; James and John the competitor; Mary the meek; Thomas the doubtful –everyone in that place that day was changed forever. Some become prophets; some, healers; some, preachers; some, caregivers, but all of them were set on fire!
The moment they connected all the dots, those men and women disciples paralyzed by severe nostalgitis finally grasped a new revelation — Holy Spirit of Pentecost was no other than Jesus’s own presence — alive and well and stronger than ever before, but now fully shared with them.
Here we are today – the church of the twenty-first century. Doing our best to connect the dots. To tune into the message of Pentecost. And to answer another crucial question — “Are we ready for the fire?”
When those first disciples were anointed with the Holy Spirit of God, it was a pretty wild scene. So wild, folks on the street thought the disciples were drunk. “Too much wine!” they said.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think we have to go wild and start shouting and jumping and twisting and crying out loud. What I want to know is, are our hearts really on fire? In plain English, Is God really at the center of our lives? Are we so compassionate, so giving, so humble, so enthusiastic that the people around us think we’re crazy, or drunk?
Peter finally stood up to make it plain for the sceptics. “These folks here,” Peter explained, “there are not drunk. It’s only nine in the morning, can’t you see it? Have you forgotten God’s promise that one day he would pour out his Holy Spirit on everyone – well, that day is today, and you’d better believe!”
Not long ago I read a fascinating article about a new trend — people who hire experts to check the energy balance of their homes and offices. The article described a “feng shui” practitioner who, for three hundred dollars an hour, would stroll through your home and tell you what to add and take away to bring the energy into balance.
He comes into your home or office and arranges items, moves doors, puts up mirrors and all sorts of other manipulations to achieve “good chi.” It’s an endeavor to attract good spirits and repel evil spirits.
See? People hunger for power, for energy. Deep within our hearts there is a need for empowerment, and for the right energy balance. “Feng Chui,” astrology, palm reading, money, connections, social privileges, whatever can give us power, but we need nothing like that, my friends. For we have already received the power of the Risen Christ wherever we are, wherever we go.
I’d like to conclude by asking the same question with got us started today. If we had to give up one of our main Christian celebrations — Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost — which one would you see as the least relevant and crucial? As essential as is Christmas, or Easter, and whatever happened in between them, neither would make that much sense to us if it were not for Pentecost. Once again, my friends — Pentecost represents that holy moment when God’s Spirit empowers us to live our faith to the fullest.
I once served a church that took Pentecost very seriously. Sunday after Sunday after the sermon they sung a very short hymn – “Spirit of the Living God.” Whether the sermon was good or less than good, it didn’t matter, they still sung this song (UMH 393) like a prayer.
Let me try —
“Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.”