When I first arrived at St. Peter’s, I was surprised to see how many red blouses and skirts and jackets suddenly appeared at the service on The Day of Pentecost.  It was a tradition here, to wear red to mark this momentous day in the life of the church.  Over the years the red blouses have disappeared and flames hanging from the balcony and on the walls, and this year even behind the high altar have appeared instead.  I must have preached more than 30 times on Pentecost, and I still love to think about the Holy Spirit loosed on the earth, working all over the world, in every area of our lives whether we’re aware of it or not. 

In case this story is new to you, you might be interested to know that the word Pentecost comes from the Greek “pentekostos” meaning 50th.  The day of Pentecost is 50 days after the day of Resurrection.  Originally a Jewish festival celebrating the spring harvest and the revelation of the law at Mount Sinai, Luke tells us in Acts that 50 days after Christ’s resurrection the festival was given new meaning.  He shares how the disciples were in a room altogether because after he ascended to heaven Jesus told them to go and wait for the gift he would send.   They were all together, praying when without warning the Holy Spirit suddenly appeared from heaven as tongues of fire, symbolic of God’s power entering and resting on the heads of the disciples.  This was followed by a great wind that literally blew them out of the place they had gathered to pray and wait.  They suddenly found themselves able to communicate in many different languages, or tongues, with the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the festival from different nations – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, from Pontus, Egypt, Rome and parts of Lybia to name just a few.  The Spirit empowered the disciples to testify to God’s desire to bring unity and wholeness to all the peoples of the earth, not just a chosen few, but each person that had come to the festival to celebrate.  God’s Spirit of peace and unity was at work, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity was loosed on the world in an extraordinary way. 

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the disciples had ignored Jesus when he told them to go away and wait for the gift that he would send?  What if they had dispersed after several days, figuring that Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant them to stay in one place for a whole week?  What if they had just gone back to their old way of life, fishing, or visiting relatives, or whatever else they might have been up to?  What if they fell into the trap of believing that the whole thing was a mistake, that Jesus was a fraud, not who he claimed to be at all?  The story would have been very different.  Instead, they waited prayerfully as Jesus asked them to, listening with their ears and their hearts as well as their minds, ready to receive the incredible gift that Jesus had promised. 

As we think again on this incredible story, perhaps we will take in how important it is for each of us to listen intently, with all our senses for the ways the Spirit is working in our lives today.  The Spirit is at work among us, just as she was among those early disciples.  The problem is we are prone to miss what the Spirit is up to.  While we might dress in red to show we are aware of the importance of Pentecost Sunday, we don’t expect to be driven out onto the street by a mighty wind, or filled with a fire that will enable us to communicate with people we would never before have been able to understand.  But think again.  The Pentecost story assures us that the Spirit has been poured into the world.  The Spirit is constantly at work in every part of our lives, through creation, as we listen to the words of scripture.  When we listen, the Spirit will guide us in small ways, and large, perhaps as simply as the encouragement spoken through a friend or stranger, a chance happening that is life-giving, a sense of peace that overwhelms us after a visit in hospital and a prayer for our health, spoken or unspoken.  We need to pay attention to such moments, and allow God to speak to our minds and hearts to help us understand that each life-giving act is God’s Spirit present in our world. 

Pentecost is an event that speaks not only of the possibility of intimate relationship with God.  It also speaks of the fire from God, which may cause us to sense God’s hand on our back, pushing us out of the safety of what we known into places that are unfamiliar, unknown.  The Spirit may come as a fire that burns from within, compelling us to speak God’s truth, God’s passion to release us from the things that separates us from one another.  In the face of our differences we may find ourselves compelled to speak God’s language of understanding and compassion, of freedom and justice, and to take that word outside the safety of the four walls within which we live, to speak to the outsider and the oppressed as well as those among whom we enjoy a sense of companionship and community.

I want to share a time when I began to sense God’s passion for routing out things that separate us from one another without even realizing we are separate.  I was in England and I went to a big department store with a good friend.  She was a person of color, and we had been friends for several years.  We walked into the cosmetic department with wonderful smell of different perfumes wafting around.  Then we approached the counter that sold cosmetics.  I picked up a foundation cream and tried some on my hand.  Do you like this?  I asked innocently.  “It’s fine for you” she said, but there’s nothing here that would work on my skin.”  I looked at her in astonishment.  Before she told me, it had not occurred to me that the cosmetics in this big department store were all geared towards white skinned people.  I had not understood the privilege that just seemed normal to me,  while she as a black English woman was constantly reminded that the culture was not set up to meet her needs.  She might be a citizen but she was still an outsider, and always would be.   

Since that time, God’s has continued to keep a hand on my back, reminding me, teaching me, helping me peel off the layers that over the years had caused me to become blind to the needs of people from different cultures in my own country.  I continue to ask God’s Spirit to set me free from the ways I inadvertently cause some to feel like outsiders, while I because of the color of my skin am secure in my place in the world.  My prejudice is so deeply imbedded that it’s easy to miss.  A few weeks ago, I realized that I was very impressed with the way our diocesan treasurer was leading a meeting.  After awhile, but because she was a Hispanic woman.  Even now, I didn’t expect a Hispanic woman to be so facile with numbers and so good at leading a budget meeting.  I had to rethink the prejudice that was lingering in my heart and mind, probably since I was a child, watching the pools being cleaned and the sheets changed in our hotels.  The prejudices we learn from childhood remain hidden yet powerfully active without our knowing.  When we are open, God’s Spirit will slowly keep our feet to the fire to recognize and lay aside whatever causes us to separate ourselves from others.  The Pentecost story asks us to be brave as we move out from the safety of the walls which surround our safe little homes and risk the kinds of encounter that will release us from the things that blind us to one another’s needs.  Wonderful things will happen when we speak each other’s languages, and learn one another’s stories.  It’s the only way to grow into God’s beloved community, to ourselves become a people who are loving, liberating, and life-giving.

I love what was on Amy Julie Beker’s blog about The Holy Spirit,

In nudges and whispers.
Like a seed growing, imperceptible at first. Like wind, invisible, refreshing, transformative. Like water, cleansing, renewing, powerful.
Unpredictably. Uncontrollably.
Praying: for us, with us, in us, through us.
Convicting, like a judge in a courtroom. Comforting, like a mother with a frightened child in the middle of the night.
We know her work by experiencing it. She will not be pinned down, can only be described with analogies.
But wherever there is forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, grace, she leaves her fingerprints.
Always the one connecting, making us into the Body of Christ, God’s hands in the world.