Sermon; Pentecost A
“He's not like a tame lion.” So said Mr. Beaver when describing Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This quote has been used many, many times as a way to describe God – good, but certainly not tame. This is a perfect way to describe the Holy Spirit today – good, but not tame.
Whereas the gospels depicted the life of Christ, the Acts of the Apostles depict the life of the Church. The Book of Acts has sometimes been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the Church begins to grow and move out into the world.
This isn't a polite, genteel Spirit that discusses possible plans over tea and crumpets. No, this is the Spirit that calmed the waters of chaos at the beginning of creation. This is the Spirit that caused seventy elders, along with Eldad and Medad, to prophesy among the Israelites. This is the Spirit that drove Jesus out into the wilderness. This is the Spirit that arrives in a rushing, violent wind bringing tongues of fire and causing people to speak in other languages. This is the Spirit that causes sons and daughters to prophesy, young men to see visions, and old men to dream dreams. This is a Spirit that is good but certainly not tame.
This Spirit is disruptive. This Spirit will drive you to do things you wouldn't normally have considered doing. This Spirit may cause you to talk like you've never talked before. This Spirit doesn't necessarily care for decency and order.
The Holy Spirit certainly disrupted things for those twelve men gathered together on that day. Luke doesn't tell us where they were, but there is an implication that they were no longer hiding behind locked doors. I'm guessing they were strategizing on how to go about being Christ's witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They were beginning to find their voices and openly gather in public. And as they were beginning to sort things out, the Holy Spirit disrupted their plans.
The noise of a violent wind filled the house. Tongues of fire alighted on their heads. They began speaking in different languages such that Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappodocians, Pamphylians, and the rest, heard them speaking in their native tongues. Drunk? No, it was only nine o'clock in the morning.
If you read last week's Wednesday Word you'll remember that I discussed the subject of how we in the church could talk to those outside the church in a way they would hear us. The Spirit alighted on those twelve apostles and allowed them to speak in tongues. That same Spirit also allowed that mix of nationalities and languages to hear what was being said. The Spirit not only disrupted how the apostles went about their business, but how all those others were moved to hear them.
I want to push against this particular image of a disruptive Spirit. It's true the Spirit brought order out of chaos. It's true the Spirit descended upon the seventy, along with Eldad and Medad, and led them into ecstatic prophesying. It's true the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. It's true the Spirit came in a violent rushing wind with tongues of fire. And there are certain Christian groups for whom ecstatic utterances, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and being “slain in the Spirit” are required to prove you are a Christian. But I don't believe all that is necessary.
What does it mean to be disrupted by the Spirit? Does it mean speaking in tongues? Does it mean being driven out into the wilderness? Does it mean prophesying and dreaming dreams? Does it mean being hit over the head with a Holy 2x4? Sometimes. But if that's all we expect, if that's all we look for, then we limit the Spirit and leave ourselves closed off to many more possibilities. Being disrupted means being forced to do things in a new way; whether it is a violent rushing wind or the sound of sheer silence.
Several “for instances” for you.
The 8 o'clock service is being disrupted from their traditional Rite 1 service to Rite 2, Eucharistic Prayer D, for the renewal of baptismal vows. Will this disruption get any of those people to consider a Rite 2 service at other times, or more frequently?
The 10:15 service is being held at Leitersburg Park. This is a disruption to their normal way of worshiping. Will that disruption get any of those people to think about other worship alternatives?
Judy has retired after many years of faithful service in our nursery. We are continuing to look for several more people to fill that slot so we can have a regular rota of attendants. Are any of you willing to be disrupted once a month so we can offer a safe and loving environment for our children?
This can be said about so much more at St. John's – vestry, commissions, Micah's Backpack, Community Cafe, dinner for eight, Sunday school, adult ed, even financial pledging. Are we doing what is comfortable, what we've always done, what is familiar, or are we willing to be disrupted by the Spirit?
Being disrupted by the Spirit doesn't necessarily mean speaking in tongues, ecstatic utterances, or some other equally dramatic experience. It can; but I think that is actually the exception to the rule. More often than not, I think spiritual disruptions are those rather mundane things (or things that others think are mundane) that get us to be stretched and challenged in new ways – things like volunteering for nursery duty, serving on the vestry, increasing our pledge, or any number of small, seemingly insignificant things. If you add up all those small disruptions, St. John's can become one, big, Spirit-led disruption.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost. This is the day when we recognize the untamed Spirit has appeared among us. On this day, will we allow ourselves to be disrupted by the Holy Spirit, or are we looking for something more tame?