A sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
May 28, 2023
Preached at St. Peter's in Tollville, Ark.
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23
“Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart I will pray.” So says the African American spiritual. It’s an appropriate song for today, the feast of Pentecost, because it is today that we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on those first apostles. This Holy Spirit is the promised comforter, the promised Advocate, the third person of the Holy Trinity, sent to support, strengthen, and sustain them. This is the One who gives them power to accomplish what they have been called to do.
But did you notice that we are given two versions of how the Holy Spirit shows up? In Acts, we read about the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit shows up like a violent wind, like tongues of fire resting on them. But we also read in John about the Holy Spirit coming to them as Jesus breathes on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says. It’s far from a violent wind; it’s a gentle breath.
What’s going on here? Why the different stories? From the beginning of the Church, we have understood that anytime there are seemingly conflicting stories in the Bible, God is trying to tell us something through them. So what is God trying to tell us through these two stories of the Spirit showing up?
In Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit gives the apostles the ability to speak in the languages of the diverse people around them. These are just fishermen, but they are sharing the good news of God in Christ with people from around the known world. They are telling them of the love of God, about how Christ came as an infant, how he healed and taught, how he died on a cross for their redemption, and how he was raised on the third day. They are telling them that because of that, they can be reconciled to God. They can be children of God, God’s very beloved. The Holy Spirit enables them to share this message. Without this gift, they could not share this good news--at least not as effectively.
That’s what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit comes to strengthen us, to give us power. But this strengthening and this power always has a purpose: We are strengthened and empowered to do the work God has given us to do. To share the good news of Jesus Christ, in big ways and small ways. And sometimes it feels like a violent wind, a holy fire. Jeremiah called it a fire shut up in his bones. The Holy Spirit shows up and drives us to action, pushes us to do the work we have been called to do, and it’s all clear as day.
I remember talking with someone about this passage once. He told me, “You know, Mark, I wish I could feel the Spirit moving like that in my life, like a violent wind, like a fire. But I’ve never felt that.” I reminded him of today’s passage from John, when the Spirit descends gently as Jesus breathes on his beloved ones. It feels more like a still small voice, a nudge. He had felt that before.
Several years ago, I knew a woman named Jane. When her husband died, I could see she was in a kind of fog. His death had been expected and a long time coming, but that doesn’t lessen the shock or the pain. That doesn’t help the grief.
Several months went by, and I heard through the grapevine that Jane was starting something. She had had time to grieve, and now she wanted to do something. She had gone to the priest, and she was starting up a pastoral care team. This team would serve not only the members of the church, but also the people in the community. You see, she had noticed that when her husband was in hospice, there were so many people who didn’t have families, and so many families that didn’t have anyone to turn to. She had been blessed with a caring church family, but not everyone has that. Well, not yet anyway. She started a team up, just a few folks, all widows and widowers, who took care baskets down to those on hospice and their families. They said prayers with them. They gave them a church family.
When I asked Jane about it later, she said that the idea came to her about a month after her husband’s death. And it just stuck. It was like a constant nudging, like a still small voice that wouldn’t leave her alone until she did something. It was the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes to us in many ways. It’s important to remember that. Pentecost Sunday is not only about remembering this mighty manifestation of the Spirit on that first Day of Pentecost, but also about seeing how the Spirit is speaking to us in our lives, even now, gently leading us in the paths that we should go, like Jesus breathing on his disciples. Believe me, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. You just have to be willing to listen. You have to be willing to open your eyes and look for the Spirit in your life.
“Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart I will pray.” How is the Holy Spirit moving in your heart? Maybe it feels like fire, like a violent wind, or maybe it feels like that gentle breath. However the Spirit is showing up, remember this: The Spirit is in your life to strengthen you, to give you power, in order that you may do what God is calling you to do, no matter how big or how small. Our job is to pray–to answer, here I am. Today, this week, how will you respond?
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