Pentecost, Year B
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
(Spinning) Do you remember this game as a kid? Turning and turning and turning until the world moves all cock-a-ninny and you fall down? “I only do this” one story says (Brian Andreas, Proper Steps), “‘I only do this until I get dizzy & then I lay down on my back & watch the clouds,’ she said. ‘It sounds simple but you won’t believe how many people forget the second part.’”
Today marks the end of our dizzying journey from mortality to eternity – the second part of our liturgical year. We began with the unrelenting reminder of death that marks Ash Wednesday, the ash that clings to us as a dusty reminder through the lenten season. We travelled with Jesus through the pain and suffering that marked His Passion, then delighted in the glorious mystery of Resurrection. Finally, we soared into the heavens in the Ascension of our Lord, living, as Lynn said last week, the persistence of “upness”. And thus it ends.
As with most endings – the end is the beginning. Now is our time. We have studied the dizzying journey – now we must watch the clouds, feel the wind, put the bones together, remember to breathe. “You won’t believe how many people forget the second part.”
Pentecost is much older than Jesus. The original Pentecost, described in Leviticus as the Festival of the Weeks – in Hebrew, Shavuot. This is the time that the Jewish people celebrate the anniversary of the giving of the Law, the Torah, on Mount Sinai. The word “Pentecost” derives from the Greek for 50th day – the festival happens 50 days after Passover. For Christians the literal meaning of the name still holds – Pentecost is 50 days after Easter (including Easter Day). We do not celebrate the coming of the Law but rather the coming of the Spirit, the Paraclete: counselor, advocate, comforter, guide.
Some say that Pneumatology, the study of the doctrine of the Spirit, is the most neglected of Christian studies. That idea that Pneumatology is a neglected study didn’t surprise me nearly so much as learning that there actually is a study called Pneumatology. Pneumatology – from the Greek for “breath” “And the breath came into them and they lived….”
You can see why it would be a neglected study. How, exactly, does one study such a nebulous thing as the interaction of Spirit and mortal? How indeed, in this day and age of science and proof and the paramount importance of the rational, the palpable, the tangible – how is one even sure that such a thing exists?
English preacher and writer Leslie Weatherhead, tells of a visit to Aldersgate in London where John Wesley experienced his transforming conversion experience. The chapel held a plaque on the wall that read: “On this spot on May 24, 1738, John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed.”
Weatherhead prayed and pondered about Wesley’s “warmed heart” in a back pew. As he prayed, the chapel door opened. An old man with a cane walked down the aisle. Not realizing he had company in the chapel, the old man read the words out loud, “On this spot on May 24, 1738, John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed.” The old man dropped to his knees and pleaded, “Do it again, Lord! Do it again for me!” paraphrased from SermonSuite
We long for the Comforter, the Advocate, the Counselor – we long for our hearts to be warmed by the presence of the Spirit. If we study the Spirit, however, if we really pay attention to what happens when the Spirit of Truth gets involved in our lives – the phrase “be careful what you wish for” springs to mind.
Jesus said the Spirit “will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Jesus was a revolutionary, counter-cultural trouble-maker, completely crazy by any modern standard, teaching His disciples to become revolutionary, counter-cultural trouble makers, also completely crazy by any modern standards – indeed even by their own 1st century standards – “They are filled with new wine” the onlookers said. Indeed, such must the Spirit be for us.
We echo Alice in Wonderland as we ponder the gift of the Spirit –
But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
We make a choice – to be mad with the Spirit; to live it, love it, dare it, serve it, serve the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Truth; or to stop after the dizzying witness of the Resurrection and Ascension – and simply forget the all important second part.
Barbara Brown Taylor points out, “In the first four books of the New Testament, we learn the good news of what God did through Jesus. In the book of Acts, we learn the good news of what God did through the Holy Spirit, by performing artificial resuscitation on a room full of well-intentioned bumblers and turning them into a force that changed the history of the world”. She goes on to ask, “The question for me is whether we still believe in a God who acts like that. Do we still believe in a God who blows through closed doors and sets our heads on fire? Do we still believe in a God with power to transform us, both as individuals and as a people, or have we come to an unspoken agreement that our God is pretty old and tired by now, someone to whom we may address our prayer requests but not anyone we really expect to change our lives?”
Do we stop after the Easter season and just let the dizziness fade slowly away, or do we echo Bishop Steven Charleston’s prayer?
“When I said I would follow You anywhere, O God, I don’t think I really understood what that meant.
So far you have taken me to places I never wanted to go,
introduced me to people I never wanted to meet,
had me do things I never thought I could do,
put me in situations I was afraid I could not cope with,
told me to speak when I thought I had no words,
invited me to see things from a viewpoint I had never imagined.
Was it comfortable? No.
Was it easy? No.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat.
So where to next?
I am with you all the way….”
The spirit comes to us all – sons and daughters, young and old, to those who are free, and to those held captive to whatever may enslave them. The spirit comes in comfort, in counsel, in fire and in wind –
And God said to the soul:
I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me
And where the desires of two come together
There love is perfected.
-Mechtild of Magdeburg 1207-1297
The spirit comes – are you crazy in love enough to answer? As the late, great Episcopal theologian Robin Williams said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You musn’t lose it.”
Amen and Amen