``The Spirit Always Finds Us''
Shalom Mennonite Congregation, Harrisonburg, VA May 19, 2013
Romans 8:14-17, Acts 2:1-18
The experience of the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is considered a significant event in the life of the church. The symbols of wind and fire are deep and rich in meaning. How this event is understood and celebrated varies among faith communities. The day of Pentecost is often called the birthday of the church. Some churches really get into the idea that the church actually began or was birthed into being by the Holy Spirit on this particular day. Some churches have cake, sing happy birthday, and make it into a joyful party. There is truth in that experience and celebration. And there are other ways to think and remember it. At Shalom, we've explored the symbols of Pentecost by decorating our space with balloons sometimes, today hanging shining foil and with fans blowing on them. We've had readings of people speaking different languages. God's continuing work in and through us with the Holy Spirit is how we have celebrated Pentecost. This year we're emphasizing in our singing together how the Spirit spoke and continues to speak to each person's heart in their own language of what is meaningful. The Spirit speaks to our hearts wooing us into relationship with God. Music resonates deeply in our bodies in a language that we experience in a special way as we sing. This year, personally I find myself more on the other extreme of those symbols. As I read the story I want to duck and cover. Maybe build a tornado or storm shelter; given the ways wind and fire have been experienced in more destructive ways lately. Because this year when I read the story of the day of Pentecost, it doesn't seem like a picnic or stroll in the park. While the Holy Spirit visited upon the disciples in a new and profound way, I don't see it as a balloon and streamer party. There was nothing gentle or meek about it. There was violent wind, fire, chaos, misunderstanding and derision. Closed doors were forced open until the crowd spilled onto the streets. The coming of the Spirit was serious business; if you weren't about going with the Spirit you better get out of the way. Sometimes a dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit but some traditions use a wild goose and I just heard a preacher refer to it as a crazy taloned raptor. This is yet another way to understand the Holy Spirit's coming both at Pentecost and today. The Holy Spirit is experienced in different, unexpected ways and these symbols of fire and wind give us different handles to understand that and assign meaning to it. I find that depending on our circumstances we connect with these symbols differently but no matter what the circumstances the Spirit does come to meet us. Where does the Spirit find us this year at Pentecost, as individuals and as a community? Can we see the events of our lives as wind or flames of the Spirit igniting our imaginations towards being present to ourselves and the world in new ways? How can we support each other in being open to the Spirit however she shows up in our lives? This story is wonderful in its diversity of symbols and the ways people reacted to it. The apostles gathered for worship as they waited for the promised Spirit. They didn't know what to expect but they believed that something or someone was coming. When the Spirit came to the apostles it was on a Jewish holiday that celebrated the giving of the law to Moses. Jews from all over the Roman Empire were in Jerusalem for this festival and they represented many cultures and languages. As the apostles gathered together wind interrupted their worship, tongues of flames rested on each of them and the Spirit enabled them to speak in other languages. At this point they were no longer in the room but out in the streets and Jews from all over the Empire were able to understand what they were saying. While some were amazed others sneered at them and assumed they were drunk. Peter addressed the crowds and used the prophet Joel to explain what was happening. Quoting Joel he said, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall seevisions,
and your old men shall dreamdreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out mySpirit;
and they shall prophesy. At Pentecost God's Spirit was set free on all people. She was not tied or limited to culture or language. There was no discrimination. In one fell swoop the Spirit eliminated any definition of otherness. The Spirit was passionate, dangerous, spreading easily and randomly it seemed. She had a very unifying effect for these people. Despite the differences the experience was the same: she spoke everyone's language. No one was left out. The Spirit met them where they were at. No one needed to translate, there were no special instructions or explanation. Peter only addressed those who didn't understand what was happening. It was out of this coming that this group of Jesus followers started growing and spreading. This powerful experience was taken into new places changing people's lives. Pentecost is an important day for us to notice the movement of the spirit among us. Where do you see the Spirit moving in your life and in Shalom? How are you experiencing the Spirit these days? Does she feel like fire and wind rushing in? Or a still small voice? Is the Spirit reassuring or shaking things up? One reason why I enjoy so much writing the annual report for Shalom is the opportunity to look at our community over the span of year. What happened? What were the highlights? How did we change? What were our challenges? Inevitably, as I look over the bulletins from the last year and my calendar I recall the times in worship when the Spirit seemed to descend on us as we sang together or shared our joys and concerns, listened to each other's stories, were inspired through speakers or our youth. And while it doesn't usually include tongues of fire or violent winds, I'm often challenged to new action or belief because of what happens here. I remember again who I am, who I want to be and whose I am. As I write the annual report, I also always stand in awe of what we've done as a community. The ways we've rallied around each other in crisis, or volunteered our time to make sure good things happen in our community or give so generously of our resources to places that care for the least in our world. The Spirit moves out from us into our community and world because we're open to moving and acting and speaking the Spirit's Truth. I'm also drawn this week to the Romans passage as it speaks to the experience of the Spirit's indwelling. (read the passage) When we are open to and led by the Spirit we are children of God. To me this speaks to our belonging and our intimate connection to God. This Spirit is not enslaving; we do not feel weighed down or forced into this relationship based on fear. Instead, despite our differences we all belong, we are all children of God. In our journey of living into this identity we realize that Christ shows us God's way of compassion, mercy and justice. It's in Christ that we experience a deeper oneness with God and others: in all of life's suffering and joy. Edwina Gately, is a poet, theologian, artist, writer, mystic, and prophet.She has worked for many years with women struggling on the margins of our society and tells the following story that for her speaks of Pentecost. Her name was ``Breezy" a street name she was given because of the speed with which she moved from man to man working as a prostitute on the streets and down the back alleys. Twenty three years of prostitution and drugs had left their mark on Breezy. Her face was scarred, her body battered, and her spirit dead. The broom closet was her own personal tomb. Breezy huddled within its cramped walls for three days and three nights. She had arrived, exhausted and beaten, to the shelter. It was full. So she crept into the closet where, as time passed, she was forgotten by the stressed out shelter staff. Breezy had given birth three days earlier. Her tiny daughter was born shuddering and jaundiced from drugs. She was taken away by the hospital emergency staff to be given medical attention and placed for adoption. Breezy staggered off into the night to the shelter and the broom closet. On the third day she woke hungry, and devastated by the memory of the baby she had birthed and lost. In the cramped darkness of the closet Breezy sobbed in shame and horror. Broken and helpless, for the first time in many years, she began to pray. In between her sobs she asked for forgiveness from God and from her baby.
And something happened. Maybe it was a Pentecostal experience a breaking through of energy and fire into a dead soul. But something happened. And it was so powerful that Breezy crept out of the broom closet determined to find her way home to Chicago and to live a different life. And she did. She sought counseling and healing and entered a program of recovery. It was a long and painful process letting go, forever, of 23 years of violence, drugs and prostitution.
There had to be some sort of funeral for Breezy for the woman she had been and the only woman she knew. So the staff and residents of the recovery program gathered in their small garden, and, standing in a circle, they dug a hole, placed a stone within it and bade farewell to Breezy prostitute, addict and convicted felon. Breezy was buried. And in that simple and symbolic ritual, Brenda was born. Claiming her birth name, she came into the dawn of a new life. It was to be a life of the Spirit. It was to be a life led by God where Brenda would become a healer of those broken and battered as she had once been. Brenda did not simply have a Pentecostal experience she went on to live a Resurrection life dedicated to her sisters on the streets prostituting, addicted and soul dead. Onmany nights, on the dark streets of Chicago when most of us are sleeping, the voice of Brenda can be heard echoing the words of Jesus, and declaring to her sisters: ``Come, there is life, there is hope outside this darkness come.'' This is a powerful story of the Spirit coming to speak the Truth of God's love and claim on a person's life. And while I'm not Breezy, I haven't experienced the Spirit as she did, the Spirit speaks to me, speaks to you, in our lives regardless of whatever categories we create for ourselves and others. The Spirit calls to us, it shakes us up, and it invites us to claim that we are a child of God,we all can be led by the Spirit of God. So where is the Spirit leading you?The places to first look are where we're at, what we're experiencing, and listen for the Spirit's invitation. In the midst of our jobs, our relationships where is the Spirit moving? Perhaps the Spirit speaks to us through those near to us, who show us God's love. Maybe the Spirit is urging us to tell them how much we appreciate who they are and what gifts they bring to the world and to us. Maybe the Spirit whooshes in through the devastation of our environment inspiring us to see new ways we can live gently on the earth. When we experience evil in the world first hand or as we view it on the news, perhaps the Spirit is urging us to know our neighbors a little better. Listen to the stories of friends who have experienced their own traumas. Send a card, or even take a meal, to someone who is suffering right now. Nurtureand give thanks forthe children in our lives. The wind and fire of the Spirit says we all belong, we are all intimately connected with this big Energy of Loveno matter our language, culture, or religion. Let us be present to the movement of the Spirit and make it real in our lives. Mary Jean shared a poem she wrote which speaks so simply and eloquently to how the Spirit meets us in many ways. Listen to her words:
Sometimes a Wind
Sometimes, a gentle refreshing breeze; cooling the air,
fanning my face, renewing me. Sometimes, a strong and blowing wind;
rearranging the landscape, scattering possibilities of life, energizing me.
Sometimes, a roaring, destructive funnel; clearing a path,
making way for the new,
Spirit of God, sometimes a wind;
Renew, energize, startle me
to new possibilities of life,
sometimes, a wind. AMEN