Holy Spirit: Superhero, Superpower – May 20, 2017
Come, listen! The voice of the Spirit speaks within the whole of life. Hear and know a God whose love for us is as warm as a flame, reaching into every cold place and breathing new life. Amen.
You are driving in a car at a constant speed. On your left side is a valley and on your right side is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you. In front of you is a galloping pig which is the same size as your car and you cannot overtake it.
Behind you is a helicopter flying at ground level. Both the giant pig and the helicopter are also traveling at the same speed as you. What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation? Get off the children’s carousel and, next time, don’t drink so much. Yes, those “spirits” that come in bottles can make one do outrageous things.
That’s how those gathered in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost more than two thousand years ago thought had happened to the disciples of Jesus—that they had a good jag on. They were gathered together in Jerusalem deep in prayer and, all of a sudden, all holy hell broke loose—a rushing blast of wind blew through the room and flaming tongues settled on each of them.
Yes, the first reading from a book of acts shows a God who comes not in a safe and predictable way but one whose loving sometimes takes the form of fire and wind. Miraculous things happened immediately. They got up, went out into the streets and boldly and enthusiastically preached the Good News about Jesus Christ. Everyone in the city—and there were many people who spoke different languages—everyone understood every word they said. Never before had the crowds experienced such an astonishing phenomenon so naturally they assumed that the disciples just had too much wine. But at such an early hour in the morning?
A new entity was born that day, one we know as the “church” and God had sent Sophia, Holy Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, the gift Jesus promised that would turn the lives of its first members upside down with power from on high. The Spirit totally disrupted their lives and with great holy commotion empowered this small group of believers to stir up the hearts of the thousands of people who heard their passionate preaching. From the very beginning of the church’s life, its dreams and visions have been shaped by the windy whims of the Spirit who calls us to imagine this world as it should be, to hear the melody of God’s future—and to dance to it.
The Reverend Buddy Stallings, formerly rector of St. Bart’s Church, Park Avenue, offers this poignant reflection about Pentecost: It helps to remember that the Church, this lumbering, perplexing and often maddening entity, began in a burst of enthusiasm that changed the world. Far from the stodgy uptight reputation we have managed to earn and cherish, the church began with some wild and crazy carrying on! Through all the twists and turns of the church, many of which, old and new, make us cringe, the Good News remains an invitation to a new thing, to a new life, to a life of creativity and joy.
Pentecost celebrates how resurrection plays out in our lives. What the Spirit does is to help us believe in and build a new reign of God where God’s values are paramount.
What we don’t want to miss is what Peter reminds the crowds about the promise God made through the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…” All flesh. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, male or female or non-binary, straight or gay. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or whether you came from a wealthy or dirt poor family or whether some church denomination has ordained you or not. It doesn’t’ matter because God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh. And in the Acts of the Apostles, the author doesn’t say that the Spirit descended on the best and brightest of them. It descended on all of them.
So just who is this Spirit and what does She do in the world? The superhero genre became popular in the 1930s with comic books, movies, and radio programs revolving around Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel, and others. Some, such as Batman and Spiderman, appear to be ordinary human beings; yet they are endowed with secret identities and powers.
The Holy Spirit is the quintessential Superpower. Receiving the Holy Spirit means being filled by our superpower. The Spirit is infinitely larger than we are –filling us up and giving us the strength to do more than we ever imagined possible.
I know that we think of the Holy Spirit as the One who offers comfort and consolation. We refer to the Spirit as “the Giver of Life” and as “the Sustainer” and healer. Yet that same Spirit also presents us with a paradox: She does not always come to solve our problems but to create them—though in a good and exciting way.
Think about it: if the Holy Spirit had not descended on the disciples of Jesus, they would go back to their previous life as fishermen. Once the Spirit comes, however, that return to routine is no longer an option. hey will be thrusted into the world to proclaim the unlikely message that God has redeemed the world through a migrant preacher from the boondocks of Palestine who was executed on a cross for treason and blasphemy.
The Holy Spirit came to those first, frightened believers as the great surprise of God—kind of like a little old lady who wades into a barroom brawl waving pistols and She’s still around today ready to challenge us and empower us to be the church that can change the world.
This same superhero Holy Spirit can work through us to build a new reign of God where there is no more gun violence, no more sex trafficking, no more lying or corruption or plundering the environment. No more hate speech against people of color and immigrants and LGBT people. No more exploitation of the poor and the “have-nots.” No more war and atomic weapon contests.
Whenever we gather as a community of faith, we should be prepared for surprise and adventure because a living God calls us to expect great things – of ourselves and the creative movements of God. Just as She did on that first Pentecost, this Holy Comforter, the very Spirit and Breath of God, makes itself known in community, where we find the most intense challenges—and the deepest blessings—we will ever know.
You are—all of you—are part of this God-initiated whirlwind experience. As followers of Jesus we have been given the power to live on behalf of the values of God. You are the great commotion that God generates in the world. Claim it, use it, be a part of it!