What a wildly wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—Psalm 104:24, 30 (The Message)
the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.
The Prayer of Great Thanksgiving, that wonderfully rich poetic template of praise that precedes the breaking and blessing of bread and cup in the Eucharist, closes with an exhortation to the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon the gifts and the community that gathers to receive them. It is a petition to transform something ordinary into something extraordinary celebration and beauty. Throughout the biblical narrative we are enjoined to the God who pours out the Divine Spirit into such ordinary human moments, and the result is always extraordinary.
Remember the Pentecost story, which the church marks and remembers and celebrates on Sunday, as one notable example of the Holy Spirit poured out. The Acts storyteller paints a vivid picture of the descending of God as sounding like the rush of a violent wind and appearing as divided tongues as of fire. The Pauline theologian in Romans, the New Testament corollary text, tells us that the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of slavery that leads us into fear but a spirit of adoption reminding us that we are children of God and heirs in Christ. The Hebrew book of Joel which is referenced in the Acts Pentecost account says that God’s Spirit will cause people to tell the truth, see visions, dream dreams. And thinking beyond the Pentecost narratives into the rest of the biblical story we find the Spirit of God shaking the doorposts of the Temple and surging as a violent earthquake, speaking in bushes that are on fire but do not burn, inhabiting animals to deliver important messages, and sweeping through nothingness to create light and water and wind and man.
If the feast of Pentecost teaches us anything about God, it is that the Holy Spirit of the God of our forebears is anything but safe and reliable. The Spirit that speaks quietly into our souls in moments of still devotion may lead us to believe that God’s wind is tame, but we believe so at our own risk. When we invoke the Holy Spirit to come upon us and transform anything, are we truly prepared for what that may bring?
The institutionalization of Christianity has transformed a collection of Jesus-followers who were accused of morning public drunkenness because of the inhabiting of the Holy Spirit into an organization of bank accounts and business meetings and carpet cleanings. Though there is nothing inherently wrong about a church that functions as an organization, it can too easily deceive us into believing that the Holy Spirit speaks most clearly when s/he makes the most rational sense. And in the institutionalized realm of the church, that spirit is one of bottom lines and success.
Surely the order of God, of which the Pauline author writes in Corinthians, is more than a well maintained organizational structure or a clean building. What if the order of God is a disordering of our complicated and unnecessarily burdensome systems so that we can be re-ordered into the ways of God’s shalom? What if the Holy Spirit wants to deconstruct all that we have built, our Babels, so that we can experience the fullness of God in life and in each other? What if the call of the Holy Spirit is like the call of a poor Jewish carpenter who told us to give up everything, everything, to follow?
The Holy Spirit is a wild spirit, untamed and untethered by our desire to keep in a cage something that we cannot otherwise control. The Holy Spirit sweeps, bursts, breaks into our world like a violent wind and like fire and advocates for us and for all those who cannot advocate for themselves. It reminds us of what we are supposed to be: God’s children, heirs with Christ, not given to fear but alive in hope.
I encourage you to celebrate the Eucharist this Pentecost Sunday. But when your celebrant prays for the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine and gathered community, brace yourself. Be ready for the wild ride that the Spirit might bring you on and be ready to give up all that holds you in fear so that you may spring forth into life. Be ready to tell the truth about what you see, to have visions of what God is doing, and to dream the dreams of a better world where God’s presence is moving and making all things new.
The Gospel lesson for Pentecost ends with a remarkable benediction, an admonition from Jesus on how to live when we encounter the awesome unpredictability in the Spirit: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
May it be so.