More than Pentecost
Pentecost Sunday – Narrative Lectionary 3
June 4, 2017
Grace, Mankato, MN
Acts 2.1-4; Galatians 4.1-7
There’s a fable about five blind men trying to describe an elephant, but each has a hold of only one part of the animal. The first blind man who has the tail insists an elephant is like a rope. The second blind man, holding a leg, says the elephant is like a tree. A third blind man, touching the side of the elephant says it’s like a wall. The fourth, grasping an ear, declares it to be like a leaf and the fifth, holding onto the trunk, says they are all wrong; an elephant is much like a snake. The moral of the story is that you need all parts to see the whole and a corollary is that if you only have one view of something, your understanding of that something is skewed.
Perhaps the same can be said of the Holy Spirit: if our only view of the Spirit is based on the Pentecost event then we are apt to describe the Holy Spirit as something that stirs things up and, perhaps, more than a bit scary. I think that the Holy Spirit is scary, but perhaps not in the way we think. The Holy Spirit is more than Pentecost.
There’s another fable—from Aesop, perhaps—that comes to mind when I think of the Holy Spirit. It involves a wager between the wind and sun regarding which of them is more powerful. As they are arguing, they see a traveler on the road below and they bet who can make him remove his coat. The wind goes first and blows as violently as it can, but the more it blows, the more tightly the traveler clings to his coat. The sun, on the other hand, gently shines its warming rays and the man soon removes his coat, thereby winning the bet.
The wind in the fable could be the Spirit of Pentecost and the sun the Spirit of other places in scripture. This is the Holy Spirit of John that is gently breathed upon the disciples by Jesus on the evening of the resurrection. This is the Spirit who appears in dreams and visions of the now-apostles in Acts, guiding them into the uncertain future.
It is true that the Holy Spirit pushes the apostles (and us) into places we may not wish to go, but it’s more, far more, than that. First and foremost, the Holy Spirit makes the life of the risen Christ present with gathered believers. In fact, in making the risen Christ present, the Holy Spirit forms us as a community of believers. Two weeks ago, I said that the main point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was belonging. We replaced “justify” with “belong” and “justification” with “belonging” to make some sense of Paul’s argument. In today’s reading, he uses the metaphor of family to drive home his point: once we didn’t belong, but because of the Holy Spirit’s work we are children of the Father just as much as Jesus is God’s Son.
When I say that the Holy Spirit is more than Pentecost, I’ve indicated there’s more to it than chaotic, unpredictable wind. But there’s another sense to the “more” metaphor that I’ve hinted: the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is not “one and done” phenomenon. The Holy Spirit was present at creation, blowing over the waters and bringing order out of chaos. The Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets” as we confess each week. And, as Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, “…calls, gathers, and enlightens the Church on earth and preserves it in the one, true, faith.” In other words, the Holy Spirit is still active. Perhaps that’s the scary part, that the Holy Spirit is still active, and might blow us into scary places. Yet, that’s also comforting, because God doesn’t send us places alone; the Holy Spirit is always with us.
I’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work in some marvelously scary, unpredictable and wonderful ways in you. I’m amazed at how you have stepped up under the gentle prodding of the Spirit. I’ve been overwhelmed by those who have sacrificed countless hours to serve God’s mission and ministry here, especially through the long process of discerning how we can renovate our building to serve that mission. But I’ve also seen that same Spirit through the robust and respectful conversation we’ve had around those renovations. We may not always see the Holy Spirit, or we may not see all of it, but the Spirit of Christ is here. That’s no fable. Amen.