In the Name...
I was in a store and saw a door with a sign above it which read "Fire Exit." But, on the door itself was a sign which read, "Please do not use. This is not an exit." I’m sure we’ve all seen those.
Several years ago, I went to a play called "No Exit", and in this play, three people arrive in Hell and are escorted to a room whose only furniture consists of three sofas which are bolted down facing each other. There is no intermission, the characters are on stage the whole time, and the door of their room is always locked. They pass their time reflecting on their pasts and come to realize they have no prospect of a future that is different from their present. There is no exit, from the room or from each other. The bitter irony is that the last line of the play is "Let's go", and, for them, there's nowhere to go.
It's one thing to be locked in a room with no exit. It's quite different to lock yourself into such a room. But, a lot of people do this because it can seem safe. All the nastiness of the world, all the pain of life, can't get into your room. Of course, neither can you get out. That is the scene St. John uses to depict the disciples in the days following the death of Jesus. The crowds have turned against them. They're afraid they might be next. They lock the doors of the Upper Room in fear. They are in a room that provides no exit. For them, they are in Hell.
And then John shows us that there is an exit. The risen Jesus appears. As the disciples breathe in with astonishment, Jesus breathes out and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
For, only in the Holy Spirit can fear be changed into freedom. Only in the Spirit do they find the exit from their present fears. Only in the Spirit do the disciples receive power to enter the future.
In the Gospels, John shows us the giving of the Spirit to the disciples. Luke shows us, in Acts, what happens when this gift is set in motion. Followers become leaders; the tongue-tied become eloquent; the powerless become power-filled. The Spirit allows them, forces them, to leave the narrow confines of their upper room and head out into the streets and marketplaces where people walk about freely, but, are locked into the mental and emotional rooms of their own fears. Through the apostles of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will reach these people, for the apostles are commissioned to breathe out as they have breathed in, to share this new Spirit with the multitude of peoples whose lives are hell without it.
In Jesus' time, the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover (Pentecost means fiftieth day), commemorated Moses receiving the Law, the 10 Commandments, on Mt. Sinai. But, what it became on this particular fiftieth day was a festival of the giving of a New Law to God's people, a new commandment of love and freedom whose essence is Spirit.
And, in the power of that Spirit, the apostles go out and speak to all those people from unpronounceable places that it is a time for a new beginning, to move forward in a new direction, to experience a new creation.
And, that same Spirit of God is in our midst here.
It's easy for us to picture Jesus. He was human; he had a body. And God the Father is often depicted as a white-bearded king sitting on a throne. But, have you ever seen a picture of the Holy Spirit? Sometimes we use flames or a dove, to represent him. Actually, the best advice I ever had was this – “You want to see the Holy Spirit? Look in a mirror.” Look in a mirror. You see, each one of us is a portrait of the Holy Spirit, as different as each of us may be, because each one of us is a temple of the Spirit and given the gifts which prove it.
St. Paul famously reminded the Corinthians that there are varieties of gifts, but, the same Spirit. That there are varieties of activities, but, it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. Part of our own task in life is to discover how the Spirit has gifted us in individual ways and then use those gifts for the benefit of all. Hell is a place where everybody is the same. There is no variety of gifts in Hell.
Well, today, this Pentecost, we are gathered in this room to celebrate a future different from our present and our past because that is what we do every Pentecost. Every year on this feast we gather to celebrate hope, potential and the variety of gifts and blessings we have received in our lives. And we gather to celebrate the impact that the release of those gifts will have on this community and all those to whom we are called to be apostles, Spirit-bearers, liberators of those in locked rooms.
For, each of us should always be thinking of how we can develop an apostolic aspect to our own lives. What gifts do we have that can build up this faith community and serve the secular community? How can we take what we experience here into the world? You see, this church building is not meant to be a place to hide from the world, an Upper Room with its doors locked. If it becomes that, then it's become a reflection of Hell, not Heaven.
No, this church building is meant to be a place where we are spiritually equipped so that we, like the apostles, can bring Christ to everyone who doesn't come here. So that we, like the martyrs, can witness with confidence and boldness. So that we, like the prophets, can unlock the prisons of fear that keep people from using the gifts they have received.
Yes, God has given you the Holy Spirit. And God has also given you somewhere to go and something to do with him.
So, let's go and do it. Let's go.
In the Name...