June 5, 2022, The First Cry, Acts 2:1-21- Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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My first conscious encounter with the Holy Spirit happened when I was about 14 or 15. A friend of my mother was going to a healing service at her church – it was a Lutheran church – and she offered to bring me along. I had no idea what to expect, but I was interested. The only real church experience I had ever had was our quiet Catholic parish church. But this service was something very, very different from anything I had ever known. Early on in the service a man was healed of some kind of disability, and he started shouting and running up and down the aisle of the church – just like the lame man in the book of Acts that Peter and John healed, who went “walking and leaping and praising God.” For me, though, it was completely terrifying, all those people shouting and crying, and I went and hid myself in the coatroom under the rack of coats until it was all over and I could go home.
That was in the early ‘70’s and the Charismatic movement was sweeping through the Church like a second Pentecost. A lot of people, probably millions of people, found their faith revived in those years; they received the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit with enthusiasm. And there were also people who reacted more like I did at my first charismatic service – with fear, or with suspicion, or with skepticism. But there’s no denying that God used the Charismatic movement to bring about lasting change in the Church. God was revealing the power of his Spirit to a Church that had gotten pretty sleepy and complacent, a Church that had forgotten to expect big and wonderful things from him.
But because the Church is made up of human beings, and because human beings are subject to error, there were also some things that came out of the Charismatic movement that have done harm to the Church. Some distortions and misunderstandings that were sown in that time have taken root and caused divisions in the Church, and others have hindered God’s people from living fully into their faith.
One of the big misunderstandings coming out of that time has been the idea that certain churches have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. We have become so used to associating the activity of the Spirit with certain manifestations that we only recognize the presence of the Spirit when we see those particular manifestations. Churches where the Holy Spirit is present, we think, have a lot of people speaking in tongues, people slain in the Spirit, miraculous healings, people seeing visions, people making prophecies. We’ve come to assume that that’s what Spirit-filled churches look like: they are exciting, they are loud, and they are spontaneous, if not chaotic.
And the flip side of that coin is, then, that churches that are quiet and calm, churches that follow a liturgy, churches where the unexpected rarely happens – clearly those must NOT be Spirit-filled churches. Christians have come to assume that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence with the Pentecostals, and the Assembly of God-ers, and the more lively non-denominational churches. And, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit seems to steer clear of people like Episcopalians and Presbyterians and most Catholics. Nothing wild or exciting happens in those churches. And mostly, I think, those of us in “non-Holy Spirit” churches are OK with that. We don’t really want the chaos and uncertainty that we imagine happening in those full-on Spirit-powered churches. Charismatics might look down on us as the “frozen chosen,” but we love the quiet solemnity, and the familiarity, of our liturgy. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have no longing whatsoever for anything or anybody that would shake things up here in our little church. But – never say never….
But the real problem is that we often tend to think of the Holy Spirit as kind of a special optional feature like a sunroof or mag wheels on your new car – as if there were different models of Christians – your basic model, and your souped-up, deluxe, all-Spirit model. And in the time before Pentecost, it actually was kind of like that. The Holy Spirit shows up in the Old Testament, but he comes and goes, at special times. One of the more spectacular appearances of the Holy Spirit is to the Judge, Samson, who was renowned for his great strength, if not his great brains. If you remember, Samson had a weakness for pretty girls, and so his enemies, the Philistines, used a beautiful woman, Delilah, to trick Samson into revealing the secret of his strength. Samson was a Nazarite, which means he never drank any kind of alcohol, and he never cut his hair. But if his hair was ever cut, he told Delilah, his strength would be gone. Delilah, of course, waited until Samson was asleep and then she cut off his hair, and she called her buddies the Philistines, who chained Samson up, and gouged out his eyes, and put him on display for the amusement of his enemies. But in the end, Samson, blind and helpless, prayed that the Holy Spirit would fill him one last time, and in that moment his strength returned. He pushed against the pillars where he was standing, and the whole building came crashing down, killing Samson along with 3,000 Philistines.
The disciples knew the story of Samson, and many other stories in the Hebrew Scriptures that told about the Spirit of God coming in power on great men at times of great need. But Pentecost was something completely and utterly new. On that day, when the Holy Spirit came in with a sound like a violent rush of wind, it filled the entire house, and tongues of fire appeared over each and every person, men, women, maybe even children. And every one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they all began speaking in strange new languages, as the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak – real languages that the many foreigners that crowded around them recognized as their own mother tongues. The Holy Spirit gifted old fumble-tongued Peter with the ability to preach on that day as well, and through Peter’s words the Holy Spirit changed 3,000 hearts, and 3,000 new souls were baptized into the newborn church of Jesus Christ – as many lives saved as Samson had taken.
But it wasn’t a one-time spectacular event, like Samson’s final victory. This was something so much more. It was just the beginning of what God was doing. It was a birth.
I can remember the very moment our daughter Victoria was born, almost 24 years ago. When I first saw her in the doctor’s hands she was way too still and quiet. She wasn’t nice and pink like babies are supposed to be; she was kind of bluish. I was afraid something was terribly wrong, and it seemed like forever – though it was probably only a few seconds – while I watched the doctor massage her and suction out her mouth and nose, but finally, finally, she started to move, and her color got a little better, and most wonderful of all she cried out. She had taken her first breath, and that was the beginning of her life in this great big world.
And that’s what was happening at the first Pentecost. On that day, the Church took its first breath of God’s Holy Spirit, and every one of them cried out with that new life. But it was just a beginning. The Holy Spirit is the life-force of every Christian, from those first disciples, to the astonished crowds in the streets of Jerusalem, right down to the people sitting in these pews this morning. Like our physical breath, we breathe the Spirit afresh moment by moment, and like our physical breath we breathe all the more deeply in times of trouble and distress, when we’re climbing the high peaks of our challenges, or when we’re carrying the heavy burdens of our worries.
But just like we never stop breathing, as long as we live, whether we are conscious of it or not, there is never, ever a moment for any Christian when the Holy Spirit is not present in and with us. And there is never, ever a moment for any Christian when we can’t receive a new, fresh breath of the Holy Spirit. And who knows what will happen when we do? Certainly those disciples gathered in Jerusalem didn’t have any idea what was about to happen to them, and to all the people around them, no idea of the glorious and joyful chaos that was about to descend on that place. And the Spirit in us is that very same Holy Spirit of Christ. Who knows what might come of each breath we take? The Spirit is our very life, whether we are Episcopalians or Baptists or Catholics or Pentecostals or any other branch of the family. Jesus has told us that his Spirit is our Helper and Teacher, our Advocate and our Comforter, our Guide, and the One who strengthens us. And we also know that good things are certainly growing in us as we grow up in the Spirit, because we know what the fruit of the Spirit is – you can say it with me, if you know it – love…joy…peace…patience…kindness…goodness…faithfulness…gentleness…self-control.
When you come up to receive Communion this morning, I would like to anoint you afresh. I’ll be using the chrism, the anointing oil we use at Baptism, which was the moment we all first received the Holy Spirit, whether we remember it or not. The oil of chrism smells wonderful. I invite you to breathe in deeply as you are anointed, opening yourself up to whatever new thing the Spirit wants to bring to life in you today –
a healing of some deep hurt;
a fresh understanding of a problem;
a release from some long burden, of fear or shame or anxiety;
a new assurance of God’s love for you;
strength to answer some new call;
or maybe something beyond our ability to imagine…
Let us pray:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.
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