What does God looks like? I find it hard to get past the image of a kind old gentleman with a long beard. If you’ve seen any of the Harry Potter movies you’ll know that Dumbledore looks a lot like God. I know that we are supposed to understand that God is neither male nor female, and is much bigger than something so small as a human, but for the sake of my conversations with God, my prayers, it is nice to have a vision of something I can understand... a friendly, old man.
In our story today from Acts, God appears to the apostles in the form of the Holy Spirit. God as a huge wind. God as fire dancing on the heads of each overwhelmed person in that room. God in the tongues of each person as they converse in the languages of the world.
Jerusalem was crowded with travelers from all over the area who had come to celebrate Pentecost. The apostles were gathered in a small room. I wonder what they were talking about. Were they arguing about what to do next? Were they praying? Were they grieving and missing Jesus? Although Jesus had commissioned them to go out into the world and share his good news, I bet they felt powerless and afraid after all they had been through, all they had seen. Maybe they were wishing that Jesus would show up one more time. I’ve certainly felt that way after a loved one died.
Suddenly, in their midst, inside of this closed house, a violent wind came, blowing like a tornado. The sound was deafening, everything was getting blown around, the apostles were grabbing onto each other to keep from getting thrown down. As if that wasn’t enough, they saw tongues of fire alighting on each other’s heads! This was a wild experience but instead of being terrified they were filled with complete, incredible joy! They began whirling and dancing and shouting with glee!
They couldn’t be contained by that small house anymore so they rushed out into the crowded streets, making a loud noise, exclaiming their love for Christ, for God, for each other and for each stranger they met. The joyous apostles joined the people from many nations and although they were Galileans, they were able to speak in the languages of every person who heard them. Suddenly they were multi-lingual!
The crowds in the street thought that they were drunk and I can’t really blame them. They were drunk with love and joy and the power of the Holy Spirit. They were drunk with the realization that Jesus had not left them at all. He had entered their very souls and given them his power!
But Peter wasn’t going to have anybody laughing at his friends! He explained their crazy behavior by speaking loud and clear: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. These men are not drunk for it is only nine o’clock in the morning!” And he then begins to preach a very powerful sermon, first using references from the Hebrew bible that the people could understand. He goes on from there to make sure that the crowd believes that Jesus is the messiah and that God had worked through him to do miracles. Peter preaches the good news to the crowd with such fervor and conviction that they were cut to the heart and accepted what he said. Three thousand people came forward to change their ways and be baptized!
A church was born that day. The apostles went from frightened men cowering in a room to joyous proclaimers of the gospel in the streets, in the world. They went outside to proclaim the love of God. And that, in a nutshell, IS the church. Church is not about gathering on Sundays, singing and praying together. Church is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; everyday, each of us BEING St. Mark’s in the world.
For me, coming to church on Sunday is like coming to a filling station to be filled up with Holy Spirit so that I can go out into the world to try to do God’s work. Being Christian, being helpful, being open, and most important, BEING LOVE. That is church. That is being filled with the Holy Spirit.
I began this sermon talking about God - wondering how we each envision God. This windy, fire filled image of the Holy Spirit as God can be hard to understand. Here is a story about a child who also had a hard time getting this: A little girl woke up one night after a terrible nightmare. She KNEW that there were all kinds of monsters hiding under her bed. She raced to her parents' bedroom and after her mother calmed her down, she took the child back to her own room and said, "You don't need to be afraid, you aren't alone here. God is right here with you in your room." The little girl said, "I know that God is here, but I need someone in my room that has some skin on!"
The Holy Spirit doesn’t have skin on. But God filled the apostles, and God fills us with the Holy Spirit so that we can be God with skin on! We can each use our gifts to help others know God’s love.
St. Teresa of Avila says this beautifully:
Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ's compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which
He is to bless us now.
Can we do this? Can we be the hands and feet and eyes of Christ in the world? Absolutely! Not only has God given us all the gifts we need to bring Christ’s love to the world, God also gave each of us the Holy Spirit. In the power of that Spirit, and made ready with God’s gifts, let us take the joy of the gospel into all the world!