In 1864, Samuel Longfellow wrote this lyric that was put to music by Orlando Gibbons. The words say:
"Holy Spirit, Truth Divine, dawn upon this soul of mine.
Word of God and inward light, wake my spirit, clear my sightÃ‰"
Long before Longfellow wrote those beautiful, prayerful words, a man named Luke continued the story he had begun in the Gospel he wrote by sharing with us the awesome experience of Pentecost. Jesus had physically lived among them, Word made flesh. He had died and risen again, and for forty days he walked and talked with his followers. And then, while they were watching, he was taken up into a cloud. They could not see him, but as he went up they kept looking up into the sky. Suddenly two men dressed in white clothes were standing there beside them, and they said, "Why are you men from Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky? Jesus has been taken to heaven, but he will come back in the same way that you have seen him go."
For two thousand years, we who are disciples of Jesus have been waiting. Paul, who like us had never seen him physically, experienced him spiritually on the road to Damascus. And in his conversion experience from persecutor to disciple, he could have sung, "Holy Spirit, Truth divine, dawn upon this heart of mine, Word of God and inward light, wake my spirit, clear my sight." And that's exactly what happened.
Paul was struck blind so that his sight could be clear. His spirit was awakened and Ananias, in the 9th chapter of Acts, says to him, "The Lord Jesus has sent me to you, and he wants you to be able to see and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Paul becomes the dedicated, persecuted, and courageous missionary whose spirit waited throughout his ministry for the second coming of Jesus. He will come back in the same way that you have seen him go, Paul believed. I believe as Paul did and as those men of Galilee did, who stood looking up toward heaven, that if God so chooses, Jesus will physically return as they saw him go. But, in the meantime, I want to dwell on the Pentecost experience in Acts 2, verses 1-13, as the evidence of his presence among us. When I die and when you die, they will bury our bodies and our spirits will return to the God who created us and gave us physical life as a gift. But when Jesus died and rose again, his body returned to God, and at Pentecost his spirit returned to be forever alive in us.
As a United Methodist, and perhaps this is true for you in your walk of faith, we believe in the Trinity--God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit--three in one. I'm not waiting for the second coming of Christ the way many believers do. In my heart and in my spirit, I believe he has already come to me. Jesus promised his first disciples, "I will be with you always." And in John 14, Jesus is speaking with his followers and he promises the Holy Spirit to them by saying, "I have told you these things while I am still with you, but the Holy Spirit will come and help you because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place."
Leslie Weatherhead helped me to understand Pentecost, when in his book, "A Plain Man Looks at the Cross," he said, "That night in the garden, Jesus never prayed, 'Father, if it be possible, let this death pass from me.' Rather, he prayed, 'Let this cup pass from me.'" And Weatherhead concludes that a cup is a receptacle. You fill it up and you pour it out. That's what a cup is for. And there in the garden a homesick son is being told by the Father, "Son, I need for you to be alive forever." And so Jesus physically ascends into heaven after the resurrection of his body, and at Pentecost he keeps his promise and God's promise through him: "I will be with you always."
All of human history flipped over at Pentecost: Body ascends. Spirit descends. And here we are, two thousand years later, the inheritors of wind and fire and spirit dwelling among us. That's why I sing with such joy: "He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow wayÃ‰"
He kept his promise! Oh, I admit that some of you who are listening might be thinking, "She drinks a bit," like those observers did two thousand years ago, and I will also admit that even though I never drink, I am overwhelmed with joy and tears when I experience his presence in my daily life. It doesn't have to be some overwhelming experience of standing on Holy Ground for me to know that he is present.
Let me share an experience I had a few months ago with a beloved precious cousin of mine. Linda Lou had been struggling with cancer in her lungs. She was only in her late 50s and had so much to live for--two beautiful daughters that she adored, grandsons who were the joy of her life. I was in the room with her at Vanderbilt Hospital and I had sent her family down to the cafeteria to eat lunch. I was alone in the room with her. She had not spoken or opened her eyes for over forty-eight hours, and we all assumed that she was in a deep coma. I had recited the Twenty-third Psalm to her; I prayed very close to her ear and I attempted to sing the Lord's Prayer. Suddenly, her eyes opened and a heavenly smile came over her face and in a whisper that had no fear in her voice, she asked, "Who is that man up there?" I looked in the direction she was looking and I saw no one. Again she asked, "Who is he?" Forty-five minutes later, with all her loved ones standing near and crying softly, I believe that man that she had seen took her hand and walked through the valley of the shadow of death with her to the other side of the promise he made.
In John 14, "There are many rooms in my Father's house," he said, "and I'm going to prepare a place for each one of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together."
PentecostÃ‰the second coming for Linda Lou: "Who is that man?" Oh, Linda, that's Jesus the Resurrection and the Life and he has kept his promise. He came back for you!
I was not drunk on new wine that afternoon at Vanderbilt Hospital, but I was overjoyed by his presence when she saw him and I experienced him, not in a noise from heaven nor a rushing wind, just in her peaceful smile.
There's another hymn that speaks of his presence. Listen, it's verse 4 of "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" by Edwin Hatch.
"Breathe on me, Breath of God
So shall I never die,
But live with thee the perfect life
Of thine eternity."
Linda Lou's body died that day, but I do believe with all my heart that he had a room prepared for her, and she is alive in God's eternity.
Lloyd John Ogilvie, in "The Communicator's Commentary on Acts," says these words:
"Our spirit is the port of entry for the Divine Spirit. When he enters a human being, the mind is transformed, the computer of the brain is given new data, the will is released from bondage, and the nervous system becomes the channel of supernatural energy. That's what happened at Pentecost, the beginning of a new age of spiritual renaissanceÃ‰the greatest need in the church today is for a contemporary PentecostÃ‰."
I believe this is happening right now. We are attempting to speak clearly in every language of humankind the Good News--reconciliation among people of all walks of faith, the likes of which the world has never known. There is an ability because of modern technology to communicate with people around the earth in a way never possible before. There is a hunger for world peace that has never existed the way it does now. Why? Because we turn on our TVs or internet and we experience with our eyes and ears and hearts the joys or pains of people around the world--instantaneously. We are no longer free to ignore a child dying in Africa from hunger or AIDS because that child sits across from us on the evening news. We can't pretend that we don't know about the strife in Israel or the devastation of our natural resources in America or in Iraq.
Perhaps my illustration was too simplistic when I shared Linda Lou's death experience. Perhaps it's too complicated when I speak of the complexities of technology or the AIDS epidemic and the need for peace in Israel. But, either way, simple or confusing, we need a Pentecostal experience where we are awakened to the holy in all of us, where our sight becomes clear, and where the Spirit of God descends upon us all until we are filled with life anew and until our hearts are made pure and, with each other, we learn to will what God wills for us--life that is abundant and filled with the spirit of life and oneness with all humankind.
Those first disciples could no longer be content to just stand around looking up toward heaven. You will need to read all of the Book of Acts to see what they did with their lives after Pentecost. The real question is, what will you and I do with our lives when the Holy Spirit has come to us?
Let us pray. Gracious God, long ago those first disciples had an
awesome experience. The most miraculous thing about that experience is
that they began to speak in languages people could understand. They
weren't babbling; they weren't nonsensical; they were truly speaking the
Good News of his presence among us so that all could hear and understand.
And here we are, so many years later, still unable to communicate the
Good News in the way we want to. Perhaps sometimes it's because we
speak clearly, but we do not live the words that we are sharing in a way
that people see Christ in us. Could it be that we need a Pentecostal
experience even more than they did? For they had seen Him, walked with
Him, talked with Him, and we live on the other side of Easter where we
experience the presence of the spiritual Christ. And too many times, Lord,
we don't have those moments that Linda Lou had where we clearly see
Him. "Who is that man?" For her, he was the one who took her hand and
walked through the valley. For us, he is the one who will take our hands
and walk with us. Amen