If you all remember last week, we celebrated Ascension Sunday. And as part of that, we talked about Jesus’ ascension promise to the disciples, that they would “be clothed with power from on high.” As you may remember, this “power from on high” that Jesus is referring to is the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise. On this Pentecost Sunday, we remember the giving of God’s very Spirit to the believers in Jerusalem, and we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled those same believers to begin the Christian Church.
So the Holy Spirit is power. As I thought about that this week, my mind kept wandering to Batman; most particularly, to that original Batman movie from back in the 60s. I’m sure many of you know the one I’m talking about. I really get a kick out of that movie, for lots of different reasons. One of them is that now famous fight scene on the deck of a boat, where Batman and Robin are trying to fight off every villain known to the heroes. As Batman kicks at Penguin and throws punches at The Riddler, the movie freezes every few frames to insert an expression. “Kabaam!” “Swoosh!” “Aargh!!!” It is a comical scene, made even more comical by the expressive interludes intended to help us see Batman and Robin’s clear superior powers. And then, of course, there’s Robin’s humorous comments: “Holy demolition, Batman!” “Holy bill rights!” or “Holy sardine, Batman!”
Do you begin to see why Batman kept coming to mind this week? I mean, take a little imaginative liberty for a moment and think about if this first Pentecost scene had been narrated by Robin instead of Luke. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven, Holy Wind!” “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire, Holy Fire!” “All of them were filled with the…Holy Spirit, Batman!” And “KABLAAM,” that’s the power of the Holy Spirit!
It’s quite a dramatic display, isn’t it? Not unlike all the hoopla in that old Batman movie. Of course, this coming of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ promise of God’s continuing presence with us. How could that first Pentecost be anything but incredibly amazing? But it’s difficult for us to imagine such an event. It’s hard to conceive of the power of that violent wind and the tongues of flame. We can barely conceive of a cacophony of voices and languages, where all can still hear and understand everything that is being said. Yet this is what happened with God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, and it happened because of the power Holy Spirit. Because we weren’t among that first gathering of Christ’s church, we have difficulty understanding the power of the Holy Spirit that was experienced by those first believers on that day. As we read through Luke’s accounting of Pentecost, we might even wonder, “what’s the big deal?” “What does the Holy Spirit have to do with everyday life? What does the Holy Spirit have to do with my life?”
It's a good question. Without the dramatic wind and tongues of flame resting on our shoulders, it's hard to imagine what the big deal about the Holy Spirit is. So on this Pentecost Sunday, as we celebrate together the giving of the Holy Spirit, we are going to learn together what the "big deal" is, and hopefully understand a bit better exactly what the Holy Spirit does have to do with our lives.
Have you ever taken a moment to think about all the functions of the Holy Spirit that are described in the Bible? We are ever aware of God's many names and attributes: Father, Creator, Almighty, Everlasting, to name just a few. But what about the Holy Spirit. Paul alone describes the Holy Spirit in these ways: he says the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), sends spiritual gifts to equip the church for its ministry (1 Corinthians 12), reshapes the character and temperament of cooperating believers (Galatians 5: 22), and empowers such mysterious gifts as speaking in tongues and interpreting the meaning of such speech, or receiving and speaking a divinely inspired word of prophecy or song (1 Corinthians 14). Yes, the Holy Spirit does all that, and that's just what Paul tells us! That's just one little part of the Bible!
The Holy Spirit is God's very presence right in our midst! And all that the Holy Spirit does in the lives of believers makes a big difference not only for those individual people, but for the whole world. Look at what the presence of the Holy Spirit did in just one day on that first Pentecost. People were gathered from all over the Middle East. They were speaking in all these different languages, and they all understood each other. And because of it all, a little later in this chapter of Acts, we are told that day alone, 3,000 were added to their number. This was the first day the church existed, they were starting from scratch, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, three-thousand were added to their number right of the bat! Holy Spirit, Batman!
On that first Pentecost Sunday, with the giving of the Holy Spirit, there were radical transformations that shattered the religious and cultural patterns of that time; in a single moment the barrier between Jews and Gentiles was torn down, there was no longer any difference between male and female, and all people were moved toward a radical community committed to serving others above the self!
The Holy Spirit works through believers to make the kingdom of God a reality in this world. And if we believe in God's promise of the Kingdom that began in Jesus Christ, then we also have to believe that the Holy Spirit is working in us, all of us, to make that promise a reality! So what does the Holy Spirit have to do with my life? Well, everything. And to help us remember all that the Holy Spirit is in our lives and in the world on this Pentecost Sunday, I want to take a few minutes to describe the function of the Holy Spirit by associating it with certain words that begin with "P." You might think of these as the "Ps" of Pentecost.
First, the Holy Spirit is power. In the reading we heard from Acts earlier, we see how the Holy Spirit came down on the assembled believers in power. The Hebrew word for spirit is "wind." Most of us have witnessed the tremendous power that wind can have. A tornado can pulverize a house, a hurricane can bend a steel pole at a 90-degree angle. Acts describes the descent of the Spirit as a mighty wind and tongues of flame. And as we know, the demonstration of the power of the Spirit caught the attention of the witnesses, just as it would surely catch our attention. When the people of Christ's church are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, old barriers come crashing down and lives are healed and transformed. The Holy Spirit is the power of God's love at work redeeming and transforming this world. And that's real power.
The second "P" of Pentecost is presence. When Jesus was preparing for his ascension, he told his disciples that they would be clothed with power from on high. And if you remember a few weeks back in the Gospel of John, we heard Jesus tell this disciples that he would not leave them as orphans. The Holy Spirit is God's very presence in our lives, God's very breath breathing through us. When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room following his resurrection, they were very scared, but lifted their spirits simply by his presence. They were no longer alone or foresaken. Jesus showed them his wounds so that they might know it truly was him, present among them. If we know that God is present with us in the Holy Spirit, and that his love reaches even the deepest valley of our souls, we can face almost anything.
The third "P" of Pentecost is peace. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, all the history and hard-feelings between Jews and Gentiles in that gathering were wiped away. And in that same Upper Room where Jesus appeared to the frightened disciples, he told them "Peace be with you." The peace of Christ given through the Holy Spirit is not just the absence of violence and conflict, it is a total sense of well-being.
The final "P" of Pentecost is purpose. Despite the violent wind and the tongues of flame that might suggest otherwise, the Spirit does not act erratically. Behind the mystery is purpose. Peter interprets that purpose as being prepared for the "Day of the Lord" through repentance and faith. Christ tells us the purpose is to go into the world, to preach forgiveness of sins, to baptize, and to make disciples of all nations. And it is through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the church that this purpose can be achieved.
So what does the Holy Spirit have to do with my life? The Spirit is power, and presence, and peace, and purpose. But, the Holy Spirit is none of those things if we do not have faith in God's continuing presence with us and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us for the glory of God's kingdom in the world. We can describe the Holy Spirit in many ways. We can experience the Holy Spirit in many ways. But we must also recognize that the Holy Spirit is present with us and works through us in many ways. May we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Amen.