Over the past several weeks, we have observed four first-class feasts that have celebrated different facets of the mystery of our Christian faith and that have brought us into the season of Pentecost. First was the Feast of the Ascension, marking the occasion on which the bodily Jesus left us. Before his crucifixion, though, knowing what was to come, Jesus told his disciples, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” That event to which Jesus was referring was celebrated at the next feast, the Day of Pentecost. As related by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” On Trinity , we observed the significance of the then-complete Holy Trinity: God, the creator of all; Jesus, the human manifestation of God; and the Holy Spirit, the amorphous, active, ever-present energy of God. And lastly, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we commemorated the great mystery of Jesus’s presence in the Holy Eucharist.
And now that this grand opening is concluded, we settle in for Pentecost, a season of long, languid, hot days, of summer vacations, and of church programs on hiatus. A time of rest, until we return to our busy-ness in the fall and begin anticipating the holidays and the coming of Advent. But, wait, that is not correct at all. A slow season isn’t what today’s readings are about. They are instead filled with imperatives and risk and work to be done. And, as I have sat with them over the past week or so, I have been struck with the strong sense of the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit woven through them. Which seems appropriate since this season is, after all, named for that event when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and ignited the church. The Spirit, though, has been present always. “In the beginning...a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” An angel announced to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born...will be called Son of God.” At the Jordan River “the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And, in fact, we are God’s beloved, too, and with us God is well pleased. The Holy Spirit is resting on us even now. And, through the Holy Spirit, God continues to urge us to spread the good news and build God’s kingdom.
So, far from being “ordinary” time, this season of Pentecost really should be extra-ordinary time, time during which we listen to, play with, and find inspiration from, the Holy Spirit. We heard today from the prophet Jeremiah, who is utterly filled with the Spirit and ready to turn himself completely over to God’s will for him: “There is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones,” he says. “I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jesus delivered a similarly forceful message in today’s gospel: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.” Now, I don’t believe Jesus intends for us to deliberately sow conflict within our families, but I do believe he is saying that we have important, urgent work to do, work that may put at risk our relationships as we know them, even with loved ones. Love of God and of neighbor must supersede all other loves.
What is it, then, that marks a Spirit-filled life in our time? As I’ve been thinking about this, three themes have emerged for me: a Spirit-filled life is one motivated by passion, it is a life not stunted by fear, and it is a life rooted in faith. Jeremiah is clearly filled with passion, saying, “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.” He acknowledges that he must risk his relationships with friends in order to deliver God’s message to the people when he says, “For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.” Likewise, Jesus also is asking us to live passion-filled lives, just as he did; passion for love, for justice, for truth, for spreading the gospel: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” Passion is fire, and as our founder James Huntington wrote, “Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn.”
To live passionately, it is essential to not be afraid. How many times do we hear that in the Bible, “Do not be afraid?” Jeremiah indicates that he is not afraid when he says, “the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed.” And we heard Jesus tell us three times not to be afraid: “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known,” and then, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” and again, “...do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Fear will always give you a reason not to act, but action is what God asks of us.
Thirdly, a Spirit-filled life is one of faith. That means knowing God’s love for us, trusting in God’s care for us, and letting go of our own selfish wills in exchange for God’s will. When I read the verse about sparrows in today’s gospel, I can’t help but note an echo of Matthew’s wonderful “lilies of the field” passage about faith. He wrote, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” It is also a message of faith when Jesus says that “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” You can let go of all the things you cling to for comfort and security, and in their place you will find something even better, he is telling us. And Paul likewise speaks a message of faith in the passage we heard from his letter to the Romans: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
So, let us make this season of Pentecost an “extraordinary” time, by striving to live with passion, without fear, and with faith that God is with us. Jeremiah and John and Luke and Matthew and Paul and Jesus are all trying to deliver this message to us. But are we listening? Are we committed and courageous enough to take the kind of risks that these prophets are encouraging us to take? Just how far is each of us able and willing to go? How much are we willing to give up? How often do you say or think, “Hmm, I wonder if I could do this?” or “What if we did that?” only to then think, “Nah, that’s a crazy idea” or “It’ll never happen” or “It’s too risky.” Instead, consider what might happen if you were to stay with those thoughts, to allow them to unfold and grow, to share and nurture them, to approach them with passion, without fear, and with faith that God’s will may be done. Imagine the good things that you might start or join in with during this season of Pentecost, in a food pantry, a school, a prison, a hospital, or with a neighbor in need. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you and work in you, and just see where she might lead you.