Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunami waves and volcano eruptions fascinate us. Their destructive force seems to come out of nowhere, wreaking havoc upon man and nature. Television gives us the chance to watch the devastation from a safe distance; still the power of wind and waves is spellbinding.
On Tuesday, May 18th, the local news stations, marking the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, brought us reminders of the unpredictable and awesome power of one of the most beautiful peaks in our Cascade Range. Through the retelling of personal experiences, we saw again how lives were changed for those subjected first hand to the devastation of overpowering natural forces. There was: searing, steam, gale force winds, ash, and debris. I remember the great concern over the giant cloud of ash that blew eastward darkening Yakima, Spokane, and other cities to the east. Within fifteen days that cloud had encircled the entire earth.
I remember feeling slightly disappointed that we had seen none of that volcanic ash. Then, a week later, the second eruption sent ash spewing westward. It was darker than usual that morning because of that cloud of ash moving over us and I was still in bed when Bob’s dad wakened us with a phone call. “Did you hear the news? The mountain blew again, go look outside, there’s ash everywhere!” As we experienced that light covering of ash which didn’t quickly go away we realized how fortunate we were not having to deal with truckloads of ash as other cities were.
For those persons living and working much closer to the mountain, in an instant there lives were turned upside down, many died in the avalanche of heat, mud, and water, and others were miraculously rescued. Twenty-seven bridges crumbled as water and logs tore through the river valleys. An unrecognizable landscape reminds us even today of our fragile existence within nature.
Another kind of power, a creative power of an altogether different dimension informs our faith. It is this power that changes lives at Pentecost.
It is that power that was received by a small, insignificant and unsophisticated group of men and women gathered in Jerusalem waiting for a promise to be fulfilled.
After Jesus’ death he presented himself alive to the apostles in several different settings over a period of forty days. He talked to them about the Kingdom of God, reassuring them he was not abandoning them and that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to be witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the world.
So we find them, in the upper room, the apostles, Jesus’ mother and other women in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Had they been waiting patiently for all those forty days or were they beginning to lose hope? Perhaps by now they just wanted to get back home and pick up where they’d left off.
Suddenly with no warning there was strong wind, blowing, howling—no one knew where it came from. It filled the entire building, then like wildfire the Holy Spirit descended on the community. They began speaking in different languages, yet all understood each other. Many other Jews were in the city; at hearing the great commotion they came running, bewildered at the sounds. How could all these people from many nations and languages reunite their fragmented communities? Were they all drunk on cheap wine?
“No”, said Peter. “The scriptures from Joel tell us God is up to amazing new things as he pours out his spirit on all people.”
Nothing could have prepared those people for the magnitude of their enlightenment as they responded to this shattering experience of the creative spirit of God. To stand in its path was not to be destroyed by fire but to catch the fire of divine love. This tremendous rush of creative power released into their hearts and minds, souls and bodies, opened them to a new relation among men, a new intimacy with God. Manmade bridges crumble before natural disasters, the Spirit built bridges between slave and free, Jew and Gentile.
It is the power, the power of the spirit of God, that sustains creation, reunites what has been torn apart, reconciles the alienated.
This is Pentecost, the spirit rushing into the world as if out of nowhere, breathing life into the midst of death.
This is Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s spirit upon the disciples, then and now.
This is Pentecost, as we are reminded of the creative energy of God, giving us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new voices to speak God’s love.
There is one other story concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit recorded in the Gospel of John. It look place in the evening of resurrection, the same day that Mary Magdelene gave the news of seeing the resurrected Jesus.
They were all gathered together behind locked doors and Jesus stood among them saying, “Peace to you.” He took a deep breath and breathed on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive someone’s sins they are gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what will you do with them?”
This too is Pentecost. This is a simple story in a quiet setting—no wind, fire or drama. It reminds us of the many small eruptions of Mt. St. Helens—only a slight rumble, a little puff of steam, yet evidence of the power that lies beneath the surface.
There is Pentecost in simple acts of kindness, in quiet acts of love and charity, in sitting with another, listening, offering a spiritual presence, extending God’s compassion and forgiveness.
There is Pentecost in standing with those without power or voice, in standing up for the oppressed living in fear and giving hope to the desperate.
The Rev. Jeff Sells of St. David’s, Shelton and our Sarah Monroe were pictured in the Seattle Times on Thursday as they sat with a large group of demonstrators in downtown Seattle calling for immigration reform. It was a peaceful gathering and an effective method of bringing to light the injustice of our present system.
There is Pentecost in ordinary and extraordinary ways as the spirit moves through us and within us, bringing reconciliation and reuniting all of creation.
Whenever new voices speak in the spirit of God’s love there is Pentecost.
(Excerpts in this sermon are from the writings of the Rev. Mary H. Ogus, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Clinton, North Carolina.)