Note: The Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson Jr. prepared this sermon to record for the Day1 radio program and podcast scheduled for Pentecost Sunday 2020. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to record his program in time for distribution. Here is his sermon script for your edification. With gratitude to Dr. Levenson for allowing us to share it, we hope you enjoy it.
On one of his “News and Commentary” moments, the late Paul Harvey shared the story of an auto mechanic who had received a car into his shop. The work order read, “Customer reports loud clunking sound when turning corners.” The mechanic went meticulously about his work – checking the car from bumper to bumper – when he finally found the problem. The car was returned to the customer and written upon the repair slip were these words, “Corrected clunking sound: removed bowling ball from trunk.”
At times in life the human ability to grasp the obvious is quite astounding, and I think that may very well be the case with the day of Pentecost, the anniversary of that day when the Holy Spirit visited the Apostles with such power as had never before been experienced in the Judeo-Christian story. For many of us, understanding “Pentecost” may be confusing. We’re comfortable with God, with Jesus – but what about the Holy Spirit? I’d like to look at two pieces connected to Pentecost – first Pentecost itself, and then, any implication it would have for you and for me.
First, Pentecost itself. Pentecost was originally a Hebrew holiday which celebrated the Feast of Weeks and remembered the anniversary of the Passover.
But it was upon the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus that Christians adopted this point on the timeline as the birthday of the Church.
Certainly Pentecost was not the first experience of the Spirit of God moving among his people – for the opening chapters of Genesis remind us that the Spirit of God brought to life creation out of the dark chaos. And the Spirit from that day forward moved across the pages of the human story. The difference then with the story from the Acts of the Apostles is that on this day in history, the Spirit of God was not simply active through certain events, such as the Creation, the Exodus, or the Parting of the Red Sea; nor was the Spirit only active through certain great figures, such as Moses, Ezekiel, Deborah or Isaiah. Instead, on the first Christian Pentecost, the Sprit of God was poured out in a way as never before. God let loose his mighty Spirit empowering all those who believed and were willing to receive – a power beyond all powers that is available to us today.
So then, let us grasp the obvious – Pentecost is about receiving the power of our Trinitarian God which sustains us in this life, in our death, and in our rising to life again.
What then is the implication of Pentecost for us? Frankly, a power from outside ourselves, which comes to us not by our own doing and not really under our control, often makes us uncomfortable, perhaps even unwilling to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The powers in which we typically trust – wealth, health, talent, government, even relationships – so often fail us. And if that is the case, do we not need to “receive” the power that comes from God?
Virtually every reference to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament makes it plain that we do not earn this power, nor do we “achieve” this power, but this power is given as a gift, plainly and simply to those who are willing to receive. That is one of the reasons infant baptism is such a wonderful symbol. We bring to God children, who have no real “will” of their own to comprehend or embrace the promises on their behalf. The Church “gives” baptism to these children as a “gift.” And the hope, the prayer, is that as they age, they will come to embrace the promises made for them on their behalf.
Suppose someone deposits a million bucks in your name in the local bank the day you are born. At six months or six years old, you would have no way to comprehend what such a gift would mean. But then let’s say at 26, you learn of this gift that could make your life so completely different. Now, you can choose to draw on this wonderful gift, or pass it up – but unless you draw on it, it simply stays put.
The same is true of the gift of the Spirit. God makes that gift available to each one of us. The Spirit is there, not for the asking, but there for the “receiving.” And who would not want such a wonderful gift?
However, it may very well be that when receiving any gift, something gets in the way. What might hinder our ability to experience the power of God’s Spirit in our daily lives?
Some of us, for instance, have had the experience of traveling by plane somewhere, and in preparation for landing, being told that we cannot land because there is a ground fog. How many of us do not experience the power and peace of the Holy Spirit in our lives because the fog of intellect, or pain, or sin, or fear have blinded the eyes of our hearts to see that it is only through this power that we can only really live!?
In the foothills of the Andes Mountains, in the region known as Patagonia, natives live with a powerful, almost constant wind they call “La Escoba de Dios,” The Broom of God. This “broom” is under no one’s control, it moves as it will, and to try and fight against it is useless. The wind itself provides a useful purpose – cleaning the plains of debris, carrying fertilized seed to fertile ground, sweeping clean the ground and making way for new life and growth.
The Hebrews called the Spirit of God ruach – or the Breath of God, the Wind of God – and they too believed it was this wind that swept clean the hearts of those willing to receive, making way for new life and growth. The wind, the “breath” of God, is vital to the Christian life. Many of us are burdened by the fog, and yet unwilling to allow the Broom of God to sweep the way clear.
God does wish for us to carry the burdens of our wounds or messes, our sins or pains, our skepticism or cynicism. God calls us through his Son and Spirit, “Come until me all, all yet that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28).
There is an ancient tale that tells of a young monk coming to the abbot of his order for spiritual direction. The young man asks his superior: “Where shall I look for peace?”
“Here,” the abbot said.
“When will it happen?”
“It is happening right now,” the abbot said.
“They why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you do not look,” the abbot said.
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing,” the abbot said, “Just look.”
“Anything your eyes alight upon,” the abbot said.
“Must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No,” the abbot said, “You don’t.”
“Why ever not?!” the monk demanded.
“Because to look you must be here,” said the abbot, “And you’re mostly somewhere else.”
The reason many of us do not receive is simply because we are somewhere else – we are bound up clutching to ourselves our precious cargo of burdens, unwilling to let them go; unwilling to let ourselves go, when that is precisely what that still small voice of God is whispering to our hearts. The Spirit-filled life is not reserved only for a select few, only for prophets, apostles, or holy rollers – but it is poured out on all those willing to receive.
So, I bid you this day, if you have not yet experienced the wonderful Spirit of God, simply let go and receive. There is no need to make more of it than that. What awaits you in the gift of the Spirit is not something beyond our grasp or understanding. If you are willing to receive, the mighty Broom of God will sweep away all that stands in the way of knowing the peace of God in this life, paving the way for peace in the life yet to come.
Let me close with a powerful prayer from the 4th Century of our Christian tradition – and if you do want to receive that mighty Broom of God’s grace and power of His Spirit in your life, may this prayer become yours.
Come O Holy Spirit, Come,
Come as Holy Fire and burn in us.
Come as Holy Wind and cleanse us.
Come as Holy Light and lead us.
Come as Holy Truth and teach us.
Come as Holy Forgiveness and free us.
Come as Holy Love and enfold us.
Come as Holy Power and enable us.
Come as Holy Life and dwell in us.
Convict us, convert us, and consecrate us
Until we are Holy Thine for Thy using.
In Jesus Name.
Indeed, come O Holy Spirit, Come.
[Mother Catherine Grace, of All Saints’ Convent in The Comfortable Word, Vienna, Virginia.}