In the Name…
Young Billy was riding his bike past the church. Fr. John saw him and called him over to help carry some books to the parish hall. “But, my bike might be stolen,” Billy worried. Fr. John assured him that the Holy Spirit would protect it. So, they went inside. As they did, Billy made the sign of the cross and said "In the name of the Father and the Son. Amen." "What about the Holy Spirit?" Fr. John asked. Billy replied, "You said he’s outside taking care of my bike."
The Holy Spirit has had a rough time in a lot of churches over the years. Either he’s been split off and appropriated as an exclusive emphasis or he's been split off and kicked out as unseemly. You know what I mean. You hear some churches say, "Well, we've got the Holy Spirit, but you don't." Or, on the other hand, "Well, we don't have any of that Holy Spirit nonsense here, thank God." Actually, I remember thirty-some years ago, early in my ordained life, being gently chided by a parish matriarch who informed me that Episcopalians don't celebrate Pentecost.
You may smile or look confused, but it's true that until 1976 the Episcopal Church did not use the Biblical word "Pentecost" for this Sunday. Instead, we used a mediaeval Anglo-Saxon word, "Whitsun" which means "White Sunday" and refers to the white robes which baptismal candidates would wear back then. But, the liturgical colour of the vestments and altar on White Sunday has always been red to symbolize the Holy Spirit. No wonder people have trouble figuring out Episcopalians.
A Japanese scholar once asked a Christian friend “I think I understand about the Father and the Son, but, can you tell me more about the honourable bird?" The honourable bird. I don't think he meant the late senator from West Virginia. In Christian artworks, the Holy Spirit has often been portrayed as a bird, often a dove. And, like a bird, he's hard to get our hands on. He seems to fly around and come to rest wherever he decides. And today we heard in our scriptures how he came to rest 2,000 years ago in the Upper Room. The first Christians were gathered there, praying and waiting, as Jesus had told them to do. And the Holy Spirit flew in and rested, sat down, upon them.
In the Bible, there is a special word used for this "resting", this "sitting down" - the word "kathedzo". It means to sit, but, in the sense that a king or a judge sits down, to rule or preside from a throne or the bench, not to relax because his feet are tired. There are other words for sitting to relax. We get the word, "cathedral" from this - the building where the bishop’s throne is located – where he sits and presides over the diocese. When we read in Genesis that God sat down and rested on the seventh day the word "kathedzo" is used because God was sitting down to preside over His creation. When we read that Jesus Ascended into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father it is again "kathedzo." And today it is the Holy Spirit's turn to "kathedzo", to find a throne. And He finds it, not far above in Heaven, but, right here on earth.
You see, we, each of us and all of us, are the throne of the Holy Spirit. He sits on us and works through us. When the Israelites read in Scripture this verse, "The dwelling place of God is among men." they took it to mean a special building and so they expended great efforts to build, rebuild, and maintain the Temple in Jerusalem. But, Jesus revealed that what God really wanted was not a worship centre made of marble, but a sanctuary built of worshipping hearts and lives.
And, over the centuries, Christian hearts and lives have proven that God indeed lives on Earth among men. Christian hearts and lives have amazed the world because they have exercised God's power on earth. The greatest things have been done by the most unlikely people. Individuals who appear inadequate have found influence beyond measure. Every day, unknown David’s defeat terrifying Goliaths and the worldly unlearned see clearly divine things that the worldly wise fail to grasp. As Jesus gently reproved the scholarly Nicodemus, "Are you a teacher of Israel and do not understand?" Yet it was Peter the fisherman who understood enough to become chief teacher of the New Israel.
Just consider the difference the Holy Spirit made in his life. In the Gospels, Peter comes across as a man of impulse and failings. He speaks before he thinks. In the hour of crisis, he fails. Yet after Pentecost he comes across radiating a new energy. He speaks with the same Galilean accent, but, the words, the confidence, are new. The Holy Spirit has made him new.
The Church is, indeed, the place of God's presence because we are the Church wherever we go and we carry that presence with us. And for that we can thank the Holy Spirit.
Over the years, Pentecost has been associated with the sacrament of baptism, because the day of our baptism is the day that we receive not only the gift of an immortal soul - which is good for us, it means we can go to heaven - but, also the gifts of the Holy Spirit which empower us to do ministry here on earth - and that's good for everybody else.
Most world religions are very individualistic and introspective. They're all about self-awareness and self-improvement. Christianity, on the other hand, is different. It's about being aware of those around us and improving the world. It's about extending the kingdom of God on earth and making miracles with the powers we've been given in baptism.
That's why we want as many people as possible to be baptized and receive the gifts of the Spirit. Not for their sake, but, for the sake of people they don't even know. People who haven't even been born, yet. And that's something wonderful and amazing about our faith. It's not just for us, it's for the universe.
You and I have heard the call of this bird in our own lives. It's a rather distinctive sound and the world is different because of how we have responded to it.
And that is the point of Pentecost. That is why we celebrate.
And so, In the Name of the Father, Son,...and Holy Spirit. Amen.