in surprising ways… and in ordinary ways…
Pentecost was a harvest festival day. Jerusalem was full of people from all over, pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to worship. But Jesus followers – a group of believers of about 120 people - about our size – were by themselves… gathered together.
It started out as an ordinary harvest festival day except that this time…all over the city people heard the sound of a strong wind, a gale force – a tornado – and they ran to see what was making this noise. And when the people arrived they heard Jesus’ followers – mostly Galileans – speaking their language and telling about the glory of God. And they all wondered…how could this be?
The Holy Spirit made quite an entrance on that first Pentecost. The sound of a wild tornado made people look. And then they listened. And then they heard the good news.
The Holy Spirit is still showing up in our world and in our lives today--- sometimes in surprising ways – and sometimes in more ordinary ways.
The Holy Spirit was present this past week in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you heard the story, but on a busy commuter train in Portland, a man whose last name, unfortunately, was “Christian” began to shout racial slurs at two young women, one of whom was Muslim and was wearing a hijab.
In response to this hateful speech, three men – a college grad, an army veteran and a poet got up to intervene. Two of them, the 23 year old recent college graduate, Namkai Meche and the army veteran, Rick Best, were stabbed to death. The third man, Micah Fletcher, the poet, is still in the hospital after suffering serious injuries.
Why did they act? In another context, the army veteran Rick Best said to a reporter "I can't stand by and do nothing." I think that that statement was true for all three. In the moment of seeing a man bully, taunt and threaten two young women, these three men stood up against the evil. They acted out of their convictions.
Was this the work of the Holy Spirit? I think so. As Paul writes, “There are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Both of the men who died were reported to be men of faith – one a Catholic and the other’s faith was not named. But whether or not these men proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in their faith life, they acted as Good Samaritans. And, if you remember the Good Samaritan story, Jesus doesn’t mention anything about how the Samaritan worships. He only tells the story of how the Samaritan – the person least expected to respond with love and care – was the one who responds to the need at the side of the road.
Their action got a lot of attention. Sometimes the work of the Holy Spirit is dramatic – and causes people to do something that is so out of the ordinary that it makes others take note.
But this is not the only way that the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit was also active as one of our members recently took another person to Lutheran Social Services to get help writing a resume. The Holy Spirit was present as the faithful gathered to send Bill Kranz home to the Lord and gathered to celebrate with Nicole on her graduation celebration yesterday.
The Holy Spirit was present when I called Catholic Charities this past week asking for help for a friend. There were a lot of reasons that I can’t share publicly that I did not think that they would want to help me – or my friend. But I called anyway. A woman named Marie answered the phone. She had a lovely voice. I said, you probably don’t want to help me but… and I rattled off three or four reasons why they wouldn’t want to help. I was expecting her to say no. And yet, Marie batted down every reason I gave for why she wouldn’t want to help my friend. In short, the Holy Spirit prevailed. In the end, all I could say was, “Thank you.”
The Holy Spirit is alive and well and active among us. Some of you bake loaves of bread, bars and bundt cakes to share. Others deliver a meal to a neighbor in need – or through Dinner at your Door. Others have opened up their home. The list goes on.
Sometimes I think we simply neglect to name and claim the work of the Holy Spirit. But naming and claiming the work of the Holy Spirit is important – because otherwise it will just be dismissed or mis-characterized.
That’s what happened on that Pentecost day in Acts. People noticed the wind. They heard the good news spoken in their own language. But not all of them were ready to believe. No, they were ready to sneer – and assume that this unusual behavior was because they were drunk on cheap wine.
I always thought that this was just bad sarcastic behavior of unbelievers. But it turns out that there was a religious group at the time that did get drunk on cheap wine and worked themselves into a frenzy – and claimed that it was the power of God. This is why Peter had to stand up and debunk the false stories. He had to explain that the people were not drunk – but that the Holy Spirit had come.
And that is why people today have to stand up to evil too. We do not want to be identified with people who call themselves Christian or who are named Christian - yet who don’t act like it.
At the Synod Assembly last month, Assistant to the Bishop Deb Stehlen said that Christians need to be unafraid to look weird. Because if we don’t sound and act differently than the rest of the world, who would notice? What would be compelling about being Christian if it doesn’t make a difference in our lives? She encouraged us take Sabbath seriously. Listen to the Word of God. Pray. And then…Act on our convictions. That’s when people will take notice. That’s when they listen -- because something different is going on. Just like at Pentecost – people noticed something different was happening. And then they listened.
It isn’t always going to be easy. It wasn’t easy for the three men in Portland. Micah Fletcher, the poet who survived reflected,
"I am alive,
I spat in the eye of hate and lived.
This is what we must do for one another
We must live for one another
We must fight for one another
We must die in the name of freedom if we have to.
Luckily it's not my turn today"
Fletcher challenges us to stand up against hate – and for our neighbor. And that is what we, as Christians, are called to do every day: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Share the good news.
But we cannot and should not try to do it alone. We are not called to be super heroes. We, as the body of Christ, are called to follow Jesus. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to walk beside us, to lead and guide us to help us act with love –and not hate. And like Peter, we have to tell people why we act with love and kindness. It’s not just because we are good people. It is because the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.