John 14. 8-17, 25-27
The Spirit comes, not in the extraordinary,
but in the unremarkable.
The first song we sang, this morning, about says it all! “God of tempest, God of whirlwind, as on Pentecost descent!” And it only went on from there … God of blazing, God of burning! God of earthquake, God of thunder! God of passion, God unsleeping! This is the God we’ve come to expect! Especially on holy days, like this! All kingdom! And power! And glory! From start to finish! Beginning to end! The rush of the violent wind! The divided tongues, as of fire! The speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gives ability! This is what believing is all about! Supernatural! Otherworldly! Exceptional! Extraordinary! We look for god in the places we expect god to be found. And here we are, again, on the Day of Pentecost!
I read through the passage from Acts, this week, for old time’s sake. This happened to be the first lesson I’d, ever, read in front of a congregation, way back in ’77! And verse nine, almost, undid me! Parthians! Medes! Elamites! And all the rest! This time, it wasn’t quite so intimidating. But something else came to mind. A story. Not from the New Testament, but from the Old. About Elijah. He’d just defeated the false prophets of the queen. Destroyed them, actually. And Jezebel was out for blood! For his blood! So, Elijah was running for his life. And he fled to Mt. Sinai. He hid in a cave and waited for god to appear. As the story goes, first, it was a great wind. A wind so strong it split mountains and shattered rocks. But, we’re told, the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire. But, as before, the Lord wasn’t in the fire. Finally, there was the sound of sheer silence. And it was there, in the silence, in the nothingness, that god spoke.
Elijah was just like us. Looking for god in the places he expected god to be. Looking for god in the places he wanted god to be. But when god spoke, it came as a total and complete surprise. Because god came in the ordinary and in the everyday. God came in the very things we overlook and take for granted. We strain for the rush of a mighty wind and for tongues of fire. We year for the rare and the unusual. For those once-in-a-lifetime things. And instead, god comes in nothing more than a pinch of bread and a sip of wine. God comes in a bowl full of lukewarm tap water. God comes in the stutter and stammer of an average preacher. It’s isn’t in the bright and shining that god appears. It’s in places like this! To people like us!
Today’s Pentecost. But one thing we’re never taught is that there are other stories in the New Testament about the coming of the Spirit. And none of them are like Acts 2. Matthew’s Pentecost happens on Good Friday afternoon with Jesus crying, one last time, with a loud voice. “And he breathed his last,” the passage is translated. But the Greek is more, “and he handed over the spirit!” And he handed over the Spirit! And then, there’s Pentecost according to John. It’s Sunday evening, that first Easter. The disciples are gathered together behind locked doors. Jesus comes and stands among them. He shows them his hands and his side. “Peace be with you,” he says, “Peace is yours! As the Father sent me, so I send you!” He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Receive the Holy Spirit! But I guess those two stories were never good enough. Nothing to catch the imagination. Not what the church was looking for. Too boring. Too tame. And so, year after year after year, we return to the same chapter of the same book. And we read it over and over and over, again and again and again. This is our inspiration! We look for the wind and the earthquake and the fire and we find them all right here, in the second chapter of Acts.
But contrary to popular opinion, that’s not where god is found. That’s not where god speaks. That happens only in the sound of sheer silence. Only in the unexpected. Only in the familiar. In the very, very familiar. Not in power, but weakness. Not in the spectacular, but the ordinary. Not in glory, but humility. You see, if the church is about nothing else, we’re about love. And if the gospel is about anything, it’s about love. And love – real love, true love, honest-to-god love – is anything but overpowering, anything but overwhelming. Love doesn’t rain down from heaven; it rises up from the earth. Love doesn’t control; it endures. Love doesn’t vanquish; it suffers. Love doesn’t lord over, but becomes a slave. Love isn’t, so much, violent winds or tongues of fire, as it is mangers and crosses. No. We do love a disservice, we do god a disservice, when we get so swept up and so carried away by this moment.
Twenty-one verses! Just twenty-one verses with no mention of Jesus! Twenty-one verses and the cross proclaimed not once! Twenty-one verses that determine everything we know, everything we believe about god-the-spirit! And then, there’s the creed …
I believe – we believe – in the Holy Spirit. I believe – we believe – in the holy catholic church! In the communion of saints! The forgiveness of sins! The resurrection of the body! And in the life everlasting!
What that means, the good doctor writes, is that god comes to us! We don’t go to god, but god comes to us! And god changes us! God makes us different! God makes us new! God gives us life! All through the gospel! Through the good news of Jesus! The good news proclaimed! The good news administered!
God wants us to love just like Jesus! That’s the will of god! And that happens by telling us, by showing us, how much Jesus cares! Every word, every syllable, every letter, has its effect. Not by tempest. Not by whirlwind. Not by blazing or burning, by earthquake or thunder. But the god, the spirit, comes in each sigh and every whisper!
(Taking the loaf out of the bread machine and holding it up before the congregation … ) My friends, this – THIS – for us, is Pentecost! This is what it looks like! This is what it smells like! This is what it tastes like! And this is what Pentecost sounds like … In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!