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Pentecost 2009

We miss the point of Pentecost if we celebrate it as a one-time historical event set in stone. The event in Luke/Acts is not the one spirit-filled moment in an otherwise spirit-less story; it is not the one time the spirit covered the church or caught humanity. Instead, Pentecost is the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early church. It is a theological celebration that attaches the Holy Spirit to the events of crucifixion and resurrection. Whether we read from John or Luke/Acts, the disciples are gathered, trying to understand what they are supposed to do. The familiar way they had been in ministry together was over, and so they did what they did when they were with their Lord, gather, talk and wait. Then the spirit that was birthed in the dawn of Eden moved and breathed on them and sent them back into the world to love and serve. This is a celebration of the unique and energetic way that spirit descended on them and sustained them on their missionary journey to form the church. This is day we celebrate the power of the spirit in community that can dance like flames on heads, bring peace, forgive and retain sins.

A couple of springs ago I went to the University of Virginia to sit in a circle of about 20 pastors who were working in the field of reconciliation to listen to Jurgon Moltmann. He spoke for two days in a beautiful ground-floor room with huge windows that opened out onto the Jefferson lawn that is hedged by azalea bushes. He spoke facing us with his back to the window from a chair about his theology of the Holy Spirit and the early church. Moltmann was born in 1926 and is one of the preeminent theologians of our time. He has a passion for the realization of the Kingdom of God as it exists both in the future and in the present. As he talked about his own life and the spirit, you could see bright red azaleas encircling him that when you squinted looked like flames dancing on his head and shoulders. He had a wise and powerful voice. He said there were two characteristics of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, first, it comes as a surprise and second, it is abundant.

What speaks to me this year in the midst of this Pentecost celebration is that the spirit is a gift to the community. That is how it comes as a surprise and in abundance. That is why it came when the disciples were gathered. Sometimes I forget that in my desire to feel the presence of God, and I have misunderstood the Holy Spirit as if it were a muse. The Holy Spirit is not present only when we feel it or when we feel inspired to act. The Holy Spirit is Ruach, the wind spirit, and it moves in community and is there whether we feel it brush against our cheeks or lite on our heads. The Holy Spirit does not depend upon our feeling or inspired thoughts.

Last week on Ascension Sunday, I talked about how outrage and heartbreak can be means of our ascension to be with God and specifically told the story of a woman from the streets who was shot twice, once internally, and the mistreatment she had received after her wounds including that she didn’t have a detective helping her. It was horrible, and it was a hard sermon to preach and hear. This year ascension was about believing less and being more faithful. In the past seven days I have been witness to a Pentecost, a new birth, of the Holy Spirit that I saw dancing on heads all around me. First as Kay West gave an audible volume to the voice of the woman, making her a priority for the police, then as volunteer sitters, clothes givers, nurses, and friends gathered to help her leave the hospital and find shelter. Then as Regina and the graduates of Magdalene took down all the information and did an outreach to make sure other women knew the vitals of the man and the car. Then as donations came in to buy her medicine, food and new clothing that would go over the three bags she carries on her body. Then as several prayer groups added her to their list for healing. And on and on. Yesterday she told me that she felt worthy and loved. She is experiencing the gift of the spirit from a group she had never met moved to action. I am so thankful to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit that helped birth Magdalene and all the ministries that grew from that—that put the vision of Escuela Anne Stevens into place and created the clinic that has saved and enriched lives. That has welcomed and sent out hundreds of students like Ami Waters, who came here, then went to Africa and said she would never be the same. It is in the context of communities like this that individuals are surprised by the power of the spirit and see its abundance.

I am thankful to my core to be part of a community that is open to the spirit and great commission, but always in the light of the great commandment. I am thankful that the spirit celebrated here can take our thinnest prayers and weakest moments as holy. I am thankful that we celebrate the strongest cries without judgment that come from beneath our souls where tears and laughter rest beside the spirit always. I am thankful we are not celebrating the Holy Spirit like a muse, but as the grace given to community that allows love to be manifested in ways we could never imagine by ourselves. I am reborn by this spirit.