The Rev. Andrew Suitter
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O God, my rock and my Redeemer.
To whom do you pray?
In divinity school, I had a professor who reiterated the importance of stating just who it was we were praying to. They did not believe that one should assume a prayer is directed to God unless God—or a name of God—was clearly stated. Names like Rose of Sharon, Father, Mother, Mighty Counselor, Abba, Alpha & Omega, or Love. My professor thought if we wanted to pray to God—it needed to be obvious.
On the other hand, it is hard to be obtuse about praying to Jesus—unless you prefer to call him Savior or Lord—and its even more difficult to be vague about the Holy Spirit.
Even in our beloved Book of Common Prayer—most prayers are written to God, and are sealed either in the name of Jesus, or with an invocation of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—rarely do we see a prayer specifically directed to Jesus.
So, I am curious, to whom do you pray? By a show of hands—
Who prays to God?
Who prays to Jesus?
Who prays to the Holy Spirit?
Christians have for centuries prayed to God in the name of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. In my mind, while each of these are different parts of the same God, I understand their roles in the life of Christians to be quite different. Often, my more formal prayers are directed to God—my crisis prayers are often to Jesus—and the “oh no” prayers are often calling on the Holy Spirit…with desperate immediacy...
I know all of us have those “oh---no” prayers. It counts! I promise.
Scripture shows us time and time again how Jesus is part of God’s story, and how the Holy Spirit is the one who comes after Jesus to be a real presence of God among us—and our lessons get to the heart of this today. But first, what is Pentecost?
Pentecost, meaning 50, began during the time of the Jewish feast of Shavuot. Shavuot is a 1-3 day festival culminating in a pilgrimage to Siani, where Moses received the 10 Commandments. It is a time for the faithful to again, receive the Ten Commandments, and live more faithfully. This is just as we do today in reciting our baptismal covenant as we will do today in our baptisms. Shavuot comes seven weeks or 50 days after Passover, which is in line with Pentecost coming 50 days, or seven weeks, after Easter.
Now, in today’s passage from Acts, we see a great number of people assembled—gathered in Jerusalem near Sinai to again receive the Ten Commandments.
This would be for us, like Times Square—New York City—New Year’s Eve. There is chatter everywhere, the smells of foods from around the world, languages being spoken at top volume, and skin colors of all shades. And then--the ball begins to drop…and at midnight Dick Clark’s voice—which I think is now Ryan Seacrest’s--becomes the voice that everyone hears—and understands! That is at least how I imagined this Pentecost story to unfold—that Ryan Seacrest’s voice becomes the voice that everyone understands in their own way. Can you imagine it? It is likely that all those gathered there spoke Akkadian, Aramaic, Arabic, Egyptian, Elamite, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Median, Persian and possibly even more languages—and the hearts of all those gathered—were changed after being able to understand one another.
We see in this passage a time when God’s Spirit called us to inclusion—and the magnificent thing about this story of inclusion is that no one—not a single person—had to give up their own identity to be changed by or experience this move of the Spirit of God.
God moved in a way that was familiar to them, and enabled them to see clearly how God united them rather than divided them. It was a story of God’s Spirit transcending any and all of our identities, and making us a new community—a community whose walls have been broken down by an experience of God so rich—that we have no choice but to be changed by it and to live differently thereafter.
This experience of God called each of them to speak on God’s behalf—and to tell the stories of God so that others might hear. God gave them dreams about the future life they wanted and visions for their children and their children’s children. This experience tuned them into the movement of God’s Spirit so that when Spirit moves—they might recognize it and again be both renewed and changed by it.
The Spirit of God moves in new ways all the time. God moves in and through us—through the things we see—the things we say—the ways in which we love others and ourselves—the ways in which we serve and care for the world.
The spirit of God moves in and through us in ways that move us closer to God, closer to God’s people, and it brings us closer to the brokenness of this world that sometimes makes us very uncomfortable—and this is part of this calling we share. Life isn’t always pretty.
This is the part of God at work in us, changing us, to better love and serve this world. This is allowing God to be the center of our dreams, so that our prophetic voice brings light to the pains and injustices of the world. This was Joel’s vision recalled in Acts—that we partner with God to spread God’s light—God’s love to this world that is beautifully broken and jagged. Joel imagined a world where we were prophets to the dead bones that this world has long abandoned and that we speak life to them, telling them to rise up and take their place as God’s beloved.
Over twenty years ago, my friend the Rev. Becca Stevens began a program called Magdalene House. Magdalene communities seek to offer women a free, two year residential program where they can piece their life back together after being homeless, trafficked, and often incarcerated. A few days ago, I came across a post of hers on Facebook. What she said startled me. She says this:
“[I] Can’t take beds for granted. For many survivors who are brave enough to leave the streets and somehow find their way out of a morose prison system, they need a bed. They need a bed they haven’t been assaulted in. They need a bed they don’t need to turn a trick to sleep in. They need a beautiful and safe and free bed. Thistle Farms Nashville just had to buy 14 new beds for new women gracing our threshold. I went to Sprintz Furniture and asked the salesperson if she could help me. She gave us all the beds at cost. It was an amazing gift. I am so thankful for my bed and thankful for all the compassionate salespeople who forgo commissions for compassion.”
This is the Pentecost I know. That our personal and communal convictions—lead us to thin spaces where we meet the Holy Spirit doing holy work all around us—softening hearts to give, opening arms to take in. Where people are so moved as to offer safe spaces for hurting people to recover and heal for free. Such a gift surpasses language, it radiates love, and it changes us when we bear witness to the Holy Spirit at work in her people’s hearts, minds, and bodies.
Opportunities for Pentecosts happen all the time, my beloveds. And not only for people in immediate crisis or need, either. Our own community of St. Augustine’s is in a time of transition, too. We are doing some strong work around figuring out who we are, and how we are uniquely gifted to love this world together, and how we want to continue doing this into our future. Our search committee is doing incredible work to articulate who we are, how we work, serve, grow together, and how we love one another and the world, so that whomever joins us as Rector for this next season of our life, they are able to clearly see and hear the language we speak—the heart of our very soul—and will understand us—and be ready to change further with us.
This work is the continuation of our community. It is the retelling of what the Spirit has already done in and through us—and it helps us figure out what the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—might be calling us into next. This side of the Holy Spirit helps us to see how God moves among us and through us to build a better and stronger community where people know they are loved, and where people know they are free.
Now on the other hand, the gospel lesson today highlights another side of the Holy Spirit, a side that might be harder to talk about.
Today, we see the first mention of the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel. We come to Philip, who pleads with Jesus to show him God. Jesus, who has been preaching the same message for quite some time says, essentially, “for as long as I have been with you—you still have not seen God? Have you seen me? Have you not seen the work we have done, have you not seen the miracles I have done?” How can you say, “Show us the father,” when you have been seeing God the whole time?”
Jesus is confronting Philip with the aloof tone of his question---Phillip—why are you asking this unless you have not been paying attention? Can’t you tell that God is in me, and that I am in God? Even if you cannot believe that God is in me, and that I am in God—can’t you see God in the works you have witnessed?
Can you not see God at work in the things you have done as well? Look! I am sending you the Holy Spirit—someone who will be with you when I cannot be with you—who will lead you into the same kind of work we have done together—in fact—even greater works than we have seen together. I will send you someone you can turn to for help, for guidance, for protection—and this Advocate—this spirit—it comes from God. If you love me…you will continue this work…and my Spirit will guide you. I leave you in peace, and I leave you in a love that the world does not know. I am always with you.”
This spirit, is the very presence of God, and if you wonder what it looks like, look at the ministry of Jesus. Talk with a woman who no longer has to sell herself just to be safe, secure and housed. Talk with someone who saw death flash before their eyes and lives to tell us about it. Talk with someone who has understood grace in such a way that it brings them to tears to recall God’s faithfulness.
If you want to know how the Holy Spirit relates to you, think back to a time when you were not sure you had the strength to get through a trial and the only sense of calm and peace you knew was this gentle hand guiding you. Or, think back to a time when you had no choice but to loosen the grasp you have on this life because for the first time you might have realized you were powerless without the presence of God in your life.
John tells us about the side of the Holy Spirit that shepherds us as the ultimate comforter—our chief advocate and companion—and healer. Acts tells us about the impact that bearing witness to the spirit has in our lives—and reminds us that this move of the spirit is bound to happen wherever we look—and it commissions us to go and to share this love of God that we have come to know.
The disciples were afraid of what was to come. They had a hard time imagining a world different than what they already knew. The teacher they had come to love was leaving, and the future seemed bleak.
But they were not left empty-handed, and neither are we.
Everyday, we bear witness to the Holy Spirit reminding us of who our God is. We feel moved to step into a gap and meet a need for someone. We have a growing sense that someone we love might need a call or a text and we do it to find out they are in a bad way. We wake up in time after a failed alarm to witness something beautiful; something beautiful in our day that inspires us and changes us.
We witness the nearness of God in the tears that fall down our cheeks.
We remember God’s faithfulness when we hear the joy of another’s burden being lifted.
We get out of our heads long enough to remember that God really does love us and equips us to be centers of love and compassion for this world in which he died.
We encounter something in God’s beauty that might well have been in a cathedral and we are mesmerized, and once again captivated.
Each of us are like Philip. We want to see more to believe. We want to know that everything we are supposed to do, is clearly marked and we are prompted when to move, when to love, when to be guided.
The Spirit, God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is alive in each of us. The Holy Spirit knows us, flaws and all, and still moves in and through us as we seek to be Christ bearers in this world. And it is easy to forget that God is closest to us in the form of our neighbors—another person the bearer of a soul made in the image of God instilled with this very same Holy Spirit—even those we find it a challenge to like, let alone love. The Spirit consoles us and wraps us up when we feel most vulnerable. The Spirit prompts us and lets us know when we are needed to step out in faith and serve and love this world.
God created us, Christ redeems us, and the Spirit marks us as God’s own forever. We are sustained in God’s good love, challenged by it, and called to share it—wholly depending upon the Holy Spirit. It is both our gift and burden to serve this world and love it in the ways that we can—and it is God’s gift to us that we make communities, just as we are doing today with Avery and Tessa--communities built upon such a love that knows no single identity—no single language—where we can marvel at God among us.
In the name of the One God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.