Greetings everyone! Today we celebrate The Feast of Pentecost.
Today is our Christian celebration of the birth of our church as recounted in the second chapter of the biblical book titled, The Acts of the Apostles. This book is also written by St. Luke and follows his gospel telling of the life of Christ. The story of Pentecost is that Jesus’s disciples and others were gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus had told the disciples to go to this upper room and to wait to be endued with the power from on high that would then make them witnesses of Jesus throughout the world.
As they were gathered in the upper room, celebrating the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rushing, mighty wind and tongues of flame appeared over their heads. Then they spoke in foreign languages unknown to them. Apparently, people from the area – gathered from all over the Roman Empire to celebrate Pentecost – flocked to see and hear this phenomenon and heard the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached in their own language.
That’s the story of Pentecost in a nutshell. On that day the Christian Church was born; it didn’t exist before then. So, what happened then, in that upper room, that birthed the Christian Church? Christian tradition says that what happened was the Holy Spirit was for the first time given to people – as an indwelling gift. The Holy Spirit, who before had been a somewhat elusive presence and power of God descending on prophets, suddenly came to dwell within the followers of Jesus too.
We often speak about the church as:
God’s people … and that is true, we are, and …
as followers of Jesus … and that too, is true, many of us are, but …
we often neglect to mention that the church is also the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.
Beginning on this day of Pentecost, in around the year 33 A.D., God’s own Spirit came to indwell, unite, energize and send forth the new people of God, the church.
So, who is this Holy Spirit? Jesus promised the disciples that after He left them and ascended to heaven that He would then send another comforter or another advocate to be with them and in them – to represent Himself to them and to lead them into all truth.
Here are some reasonably accepted statements most mainline Christian churches believe about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit is God.
The Holy Spirit is a person, not an it.
The Holy Spirit is the the third person of the Blessed Trinity.
The Holy Spirit is as much she as he.
The Holy Spirit helps us pray.
The Holy Spirit prompts us to follow God.
The Holy Spirit nudges us to be followers of the risen Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is promise.
The Holy Spirit is Paraclete.
The Holy Spirit is presence.
The Holy Spirit is power.
The Holy Spirit is passion.
While the Holy Spirit is, of course, all of those things; perhaps, at least for today’s purposes, the Holy Spirit is all about dwelling within us. This, by far, is the one aspect of the Holy Spirit which most intrigues me and most inspires me. The Spirit is within us. Lives in us. Informs us. Prompts us. Corrects us. Admonishes us when necessary. Inspires us. Calls us.
I’d like to share an example of how the Holy Spirit was and is active in my life. As I share this story, I invite you to also recall a time in your life when you sensed God’s Spirit active in your life.
Did you ever sense God talking to you through another person?
Did you ever get the sense that God might have been nudging you to do something for another person?
Do you ever recall God helping you to hold your tongue when you would have preferred speaking your mind?
That, my friends, is the Holy Spirit active in your life. That is the Holy Spirit alive and well in your life. Here’s a time in my life when I sensed God’s Spirit acting in my life:
In the summer of 1978, I had just graduated from high school. I had been accepted to George Mason University in the Fall of that same year. I still attended Mass every Sunday – attending sometimes with family and other times with friends. On this particular Sunday I was attending Mass with my friend, Eileen Sullivan. When we arrived, we sat upfront on the left-hand side of the church, maybe three pews from the front. The contemporary choir was to the left, the scripture readers to the right. The altar was located in the center with a huge life-sized crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar. The church sat maybe 4 – 500 people. We knew most of the people in attendance since both Eileen and I had grown up in this church. It may well have been a Pentecost Sunday.
The service began as usual with singing, followed by the opening prayer, followed by the reading of scripture, a homily given by the priest, prayers and announcements made. The Liturgy of the Word had just ended, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist had begun.
When the priest held up the gifts of bread and wine and asked God to bless them and inviting us to receive them … while the priest held the chalice and patent in suspended animation, I heard God inaudibly speak to my heart. God said, “This, Chuck, is what I want you to do with your life. This is what I want you to do.”
I heard those words as clearly as I hear words now coming out of my mouth. I heard those words so clearly that it caused me to quickly turn my head to the left and then to the right for some acknowledgement from either Eileen or the person sitting on my other side that they too had heard God speak those words specifically to me.
I looked back as the priest held high, for all the church to see, the consecrated bread and wine and I knew from that moment on my life would never be the same. That moment was my BC / AD moment. With God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within me, alive and active in my body, soul and mind, from that moment on my life would forever be divided into my life before my call to the priesthood, and my future life of service.
I felt at peace. I sensed, for the first time in my life, that I had a sense of belonging and purpose. I let those words settle into my being and I held them close to my heart. And I did not speak those words out loud to another human being – mostly because for as much peace as I felt about the calling; I also thought it might freak people out. It sort of, freaked me out too!
I knew better than to blurt out loud that God had spoken to me. Our traditional church service didn’t lend itself well to outbursts; and besides, I was still processing what had happened. As far as I was concerned those words were between me and God and until I knew what to do with them, I’d hold them in my heart for just God and me.
Over time, I sensed God encouraging me to take as much time as I needed. That He wasn’t going anywhere. When – or if – I was ever ready to respond to that call, God would meet me wherever I was at. The choice was entirely mine.
I went to college and graduated with a social work degree. I left Northern Virginia for the first time in my life, and I moved to Vanceburg, Kentucky, which was then the fifth poorest county in the United States, and I began my work as a social worker among the people whom President Kennedy described as “the forgotten people.” I loved Appalachia. I loved living in the hills, hollers and mountains and serving people who lived there.
While in Appalachia I spent time remembering God’s words and discerning my call to the priesthood and over time it made more and more sense. I was made for this work and to accept the call meant that God would accompany me on the journey. He would literally indwell within me and guide me every step of the way.
Trust me, I am not unique in this call. I like to say that God made His call in my life very specific because God knew He was dealing with a very thick head! Mine!
After I left Appalachia, I became a youth minister and then after a few more years entered the seminary to begin my studies for the priesthood.
We all have calls. God has called you. Not just for one specific task; but perhaps for several. God has been calling people since the beginning of time and God calls us still. So …. As I close out this homily, please allow me to leave you with a few questions to ponder this week:
How is God Spirit at work in your life today?
How is God’s Spirit alive and well in your life?
What is God Spirit calling you to do with your life?
As you ponder those questions, please know you will be in my prayers. Please keep me in your prayers as well.
Happy Pentecost everyone!
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog