a meditation on Acts 2:1-21 for the season after Pentecost
I wonder if you can imagine this with me. You can close your eyes if it helps…
Imagine that just like those folks in Jerusalem long ago, we are gathered here today in this very room, as we gather every Sunday. Maybe, as we do every Sunday, we’ve just invoked — called in — the Holy Spirit: “Come, Spirit. Come, Spirit. Come, Spirit, Come…” Only this time, as our song trails off, instead of polite silence, something ARRIVES! And you say to yourself, “Holy Ghost, Batman! It’s the Holy Spirit!” You know for sure it’s the none other than the Holy Spirit, because…how do you recognize it? When the Holy Spirit rushes into the room this morning, what do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel?
(Sharing here…A wave crashing; people filled with light; a warmth…)
So many different ways of experiencing the Holy Spirit — no two people have the same experience! Which makes sense. Because the Holy Spirit is not an easy thing to pin down with words. Even the people who were in the room that morning long ago couldn’t quite agree about what happened when the Spirit arrived. “It was a mighty wind!” somebody says. “No, no—it was fire! I saw little tongues of flame on top of everybody’s head!” As long as human beings have been trying to find ways to describe the presence and action of God in the world, we’ve never been able to agree on just one image, one word, to describe how the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes it’s a rushing wind. Sometimes it looks like tongues of fire. Sometimes it’s a bird, like the one that appears in those paintings of Jesus’ baptism, where the clouds part and the God-rays of the sun come streaming down—and there’s the Holy Spirit, this time in the shape of a dove.
My own favorite image of the Holy Spirit comes from the Celtic Christians of Britain and Ireland, who experienced the Holy Spirit as a wild goose: an, untamable wild bird that lands with a splash and takes off again whenever it pleases, flapping and honking and calling us to follow —a bird who knows about wide-open spaces and long journeys to faraway lands; the kind of bird whose life crosses every border we humans draw across God’s creation; a bird that just might have something to teach us about what it means to be a citizen of the world on a beautiful, unpredictable adventure with God.
A spirit like this can take you some pretty weird places. An invisible spirit that blows into the room and makes everybody start speaking languages they never knew before?! This is not your normal, everyday church gathering—and it doesn’t always set too well with us, rational, logical folks who tend to hang out in UCC congregations. We like to be able to explain things. We like to know where we’re going how we’re going to get there. Here in the United Church of Christ, we tend to pay a lot of attention to the first and second persons of the Trinity: God the creator who calls us to justice and love; and God the Christ who walks God’s love out into a broken world and who calls us to do the same. And these are not small things. We take them very seriously, these first two persons of the Trinity. We love and we follow them with all our hearts. And maybe that ought to be enough. After all, two out of three isn’t so bad.
But then…along comes this strange season of Pentecost, with this weird tale that tells us the church is not born — the church cannot not even exist — until the Holy Spirit shows up. Pentecost says that the church does not come into being until this mysterious third person of the Trinity swoops into the room and astonishes the feathers off everybody’s back. People from every nation in the world are suddenly speaking one another’s languages? Impossible! So impossible that no one could have planned it; no human agency could have done it. Only God could have imagined such a cross-cultural communion.
THIS, says Pentecost, is what it means to be the Church: to be willing to let God astonish us with possibilities that we have never even dreamed of. Why? Because, just like those first disciples of Jesus, without the Holy Spirit, we humans tend to get comfortable with our own ideas about what is possible and what is not. We humans tend to get comfortable with our own ideas about whose language we can speak and whose we do not; we humans get comfortable with our own ideas about who is welcome within our borders and who is not; with who is worthy and who is not. This is human nature, friends. This is the human ego at work in the world, drawing borders between us and them. Left to our own devices, we human beings draw more lines, chart more borders, build higher walls. It would really not surprise me if tomorrow, we hear a politician suggesting that we build a roof over the whole country. Sure, we’d never see the sky again, but at least no immigrants would be able to get in.
But I can tell you this. There was a roof over that room in Jerusalem on that long ago Pentecost morning. There was a roof on that room and the Holy Spirit broke in anyway. On that morning long ago in Jerusalem, God’s wild, Holy Spirit broke into that room and blew the roof clear off the place. That’s what Pentecost is about. And I say: Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God. Because, as Peter tells that skeptical crowd, the way of the Holy Spirit is precisely the way of limitless hope: the hope of the Hebrew prophets whom Peter quotes today; the hope of God for all the world—slaves and free, women and men; adult and child; comfortable and desperate alike. What the Holy Spirit offers is a wild, expansive, liberating realm of possibility. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: “We have a call,” he says. “A stunning vocation, to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful…and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.”
Want to hear that again? “We have a call,” says Walter Brueggemann. “A stunning vocation, to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful. A stunning vocation to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.”
A future that God will yet enact. In a world — this world — that has gone crazy. Friends, this world has gone crazy, with fear.
What Pentecost says is that we ourselves, on our own, cannot envision a sane future—not for ourselves, not for our children, not for the children at the border—unless we make room for God to break us wide open and act on us in ways we humans have never even imagined.
This is not easy thing to do. We humans like our cozy borders. We like to decide who is in and who is out. And not only that. Just like that crowd in ancient Jerusalem, we have been taught to be skeptical and practical. Haven’t we been cautioned all our lives to beware the wild goose chase? “Wild goose chase” is our code for wasting our time, for being conned into following an impossible dream.
But what if breaking our lives open to God isn’t a wild goose chase after all? What if, in fact, that wild goose of God has been chasing us all along? What if that wild, holy spirit of God has never given up on us? What if it’s calling to us right now, longing to be invited to land in the middle of this very room, longing to break our hearts wide open to unimagined possibility?
Here we are, in the midst of this season of Pentecost, here in the midst of this heartbreaking summer. And I wonder if today, together, we might decide to make this a season of the Holy Spirit: a season in which we help one another say a holy YES to the one who has been chasing us–chasing u!s–all our lives. What might happen for us and for the world, if we were to make enough time to look up at the sky this summer and listen for the call of the Holy Spirit? I wonder if there enough clear, silent, open space in our life together—in our worship, in our meetings, in our conversations—for that wild goose to touch down among us? What practices help us become a wide-open space where the Spirit can land? What habits and comforts are keeping us closed off? How might we help one another, and the world, listen for the surprising call–that wild, lonesome call–of the still-speaking God?
I’m pretty sure that the Holy Spirit—God’s own wild, beautiful goose—is calling: to you, and to me, and to the Church that was founded that long-ago day so that we might carry, on our own wings, God’s wild, healing hope for the world.
My prayer for us this season is that together, we will clear a space for the wild goose to land among us. And that when it does land, we will spend these long summer days together watching that goose very carefully—finding ways to feed it; finding ways to listen for its soft murmurings and loud honkings—so that when that wild spirit signals to us that it’s time to fly again…when that day comes, we will answer with a holy YES, even if we have no idea in the world where that bird might take us.
Because when we say that yes—when we climb onto the back of that beautiful, wild bird—we can be sure that it is into God’s own future that we fly, with healing, and blessing, on our wings. Amen.