Doesn’t everyone love a party? It’s fun to get together with friends, neighbors or family for any reason at all, just to be together. Years ago our young grandson said to his mother, “Can we have a party?” “What kind of party are you thinking of?” she asked, “It’s not a holiday or anyone’s birthday.” “That’s ok, we can still have a party. You dial the phone number and I’ll do the talking.”
Now can anyone resist when a little boy’s voice is heard saying, “Will you come to my party?” It was short notice, but people came, some bringing little gifts, small items they found around the house then wrapped in bright paper. As each gift was opened, no matter what it was, our grandson exclaimed, “Oh, thank you, it’s just what I wanted!” We ended the evening with a dish of chocolate ice cream and still remember the fun of that impromptu party.
Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate, to have a party as we remember the birth of the Christian church.
The followers of Jesus couldn’t have been in any mood to celebrate on that long ago Pentecost feast day. Jesus had ascended, leaving them to wonder what was in store for them, yet it was an important date in the Hebrew tradition, so they gathered together as was the custom.
Can you imagine the excitement and chaos that swept over them? Suddenly a sound like a gale force wind filled the whole house. Then like a wild fire the Holy Spirit was poured out on all of them and they began speaking in many different languages. Hundreds of Jews had come to Jerusalem for this feast day, they heard the noise and sounds of confusion and all came running. “What’s happening? We hear these people in all our languages.”
Some even thought they were drunk on cheap wine. In the midst of them, Peter stood up and in a loud voice began speaking, “Listen carefully, remember the words of the prophet Joel, ‘In the last days, the Lord declares I shall pour out my spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, your old people dream dreams.’ What you now see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit. According to the book of Acts, 3000 people were baptized that day. It was the birthday of the Christian church, when twelve young men received power from on high and went about preaching and healing like they had never been able to do.
The Holy Spirit is God’s power working in the world to its widest reaches, without limits. The Holy Spirit brings hope, courage, joy, strength, goodness, and wisdom. The Holy Spirit is our companion on the way.
Now we have another story for this day of Pentecost, this from the writings of Ezekiel, a prophet speaking more than five hundred years before Jesus.
This is a dramatic vision of that time when the people of Israel, living as captives in Babylon had lost all hope of ever returning to their homes. Their faith had dried up long ago, they were as lifeless as the bones in this vision. Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones, they were very dry. God told him to prophesy to these bones, say to them, “I will cause breath to come upon these bones and they will live.” Suddenly there was a rattling and the bones came together, then sinew and flesh and skin. God called to the four winds, “Breathe on them so they might live.” Then God gave the promise they longed to hear. “Oh my people, I will bring you back to your land, I will put my spirit within you and you shall live.”
These people had lost everything—homes, land, and community—in exile for two or more generations. Now they can dare to hope again. God has promised to bring them home. His spirit is so powerful even dry bones will live again, the gift of renewed life was given to the people.
Yet even in this story there was no neat and tidy happy ending. Hard work awaited the returning exiles. Many years were required to rebuild the temple and restore the land.
We are reminded that God is God and we are not, for when the Spirit stirs things up, the dust may settle in ways not of our own choosing.
There are many references to the Holy Spirit in the Bible affecting people in at least two different ways. We may prefer a spirit that abides in us bringing joy, peace, and safety, One that is a comforting and welcoming presence, One that answers prayers and sets things right.
And there is a different side to this force that knows no limits, that swoops in when we least expect it in the most surprising way. This is the spirit that blows and burns and turns things upside down, that brings discord rather than harmony. This is the spirit that comes roaring into our lives and we may not get exactly what we want.
Alan Jones, priest of the Episcopal Church, once said, “Only a fool would pray for the Holy Spirit, that is only a fool for Christ. For the Spirit may be most present in the unpredictable, in the place of risk and in those areas over which we have no control.”
The Holy Spirit is an uncontrollable force, it blows where it will.
Last Tuesday as usual St. Mark’s provided the monthly birthday cake for the residents at Monte Health & Rehab. Those having birthdays during the current month are named and we sing Happy Birthday to them. Cake and punch is served, then I go to the piano and play and sing some of the old familiar hymns. Several of the residents join in singing quietly. Quite unexpectedly, one of the residents, Joanie (not her actual name) began singing, loudly, often making up the words in places where she didn’t recall the lyrics, sometimes singing in pitch, sometimes not. I was trying to keep an eye on the other residents concerned that this “two part harmony or disharmony” might be disturbing for some of them. I finished the list of hymns for the afternoon. As I stood up, Joanie began singing “Jesus Loves Me”, in a lovely, soft voice, on key. When she finished we all applauded and she was absolutely glowing. She wheeled out of the dining room, clapping her hands and proclaiming, “I am so happy, Oh I am so happy.”
I glanced over at the one resident who would have been most likely to disapprove of this unusual rendition of her favorite hymns. She nodded in my direction, smiled a bit and said, “Yes, Joanie is very happy.”
No one could have planned a more spirit-filled birthday party! AMEN!