Acts 2:1-12, NRSV
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Preached Sunday, May 20, 2018 (Pentecost Sunday) at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman
One of my earliest political memories is from when I was seven years old. It was 1992 and Bill Clinton was running for president. I don’t remember much about it all—I was seven, after all. But somewhere along the way, what I heard the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid!” I know that’s not a very nice church word, but hang on with me for a bit. I didn’t have a clue what the what the “economy” was. Heck, even now I’m not entirely sure how it works. But I, years later, I understand the sentiment. I understand now, particularly after a decade of church work, that sometimes the most obvious things aren’t the most obvious things.
Luckily for us, the Bible is chock full with stories about the people who miss the obvious. Time and again in the gospels, it seems like Jesus couldn’t be more direct and his followers completely miss his point. Pair those encounters with the countless parables that are could be considered anything between a little murky to downright confusing, and it seems like our hope of gaining any real understanding of scripture or our faith is a lost cause.
I bet the disciples felt the same way that Pentecost morning when they were huddled together in that upper room. The last months were a whirlwind. It seemed like only yesterday that they were following Jesus around Galilee. But then they headed to Jerusalem, and everything changed. There was a final meal none of the really realized was the last, then a betrayal and trial. Then the crucifixion and all the devastation that came with it. They thought that was it. But then they discovered the story wasn’t over yet. Jesus met Mary in the garden and they realized the story wasn’t over yet.
But after that, things quieted down. They didn’t know what to do next, not without Jesus at the helm. Their once merry band of followers scattered. Even Peter went back to fishing. But Jesus had told them it wasn’t over, that he would send an Advocate to guide them, lead them, teach them. Fifty days later, they found themselves back in Jerusalem, knowing something was on the way but not having a clue what it was. And that was when God shouted, “It’s the Holy Spirit, stupid!” All right. Not really, but God did the next best thing. God’s Spirit rushed into the room like a mighty wind and it descended on them like tongues—or in our case, poofs—of fire. And suddenly, they could speak all the languages. They could communicate with people from Ethiopia and Nigeria, from Korea and Germany and Iran. From Russia and Puerto Rico. And when others discovered this newfound ability, they questioned it. “Aren’t these from Galilee?” Put another way, “how do these rednecks know all those languages?!” Easy! It’s the Spirit, Stupid.
It’s not the first time we’ve encountered the Spirit. In the beginning, God’s Spirit rushed over the waters and formed the firmament. Later, Moses bore witness to God’s Spirit in a burning bush then Elijah heard the Spirit not in a fire or in an earthquake or in a storm, but in a whisper. The Spirit isn’t anything new, yet—despite millennia of our shared Spirit encounters with her—we never seem to know her when we we see her. IT’s like we need one of those cartoon mallets to knock us over the head with an emphatic, “It’s the Spirit stupid.”
For me, I realize that the Holy Spirit isn’t always a windy incarnation, sometimes it’s a gut one. That is, sometimes, what I think of as a gut feeling or intuition is, if we were to put in theological terms, the Spirit’s guiding. While I like to think I’m a smart guy and am pretty on top things, I know how oblivious I can be and that not all the intuitive credit gets to go to my gut. No, there’s got to be something more—something more intentional, more real.
Tell the story of moving to CT, deciding to move, instllation,
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with one of the 18 people who joined the Sunday after our Steeple Stay. We’d just raised more than $55k in a day and there was a palpable energy pulsing through this place. Toward the end of the service, I said, “I don’t normally do this but this has been a remarkable week for our church—one when we’ve become who we’re called to be in a big way. If you’d like to be a part of that—of this remarkable place, an official part of our family—you’re welcome to come up and do just that. I held my breath. I knew two would come. I didn’t know if any others would. Soon, I was standing in front of 18 new Westfield-ers. How did that happen? Why did it happen? It’s the spirit, stupid.
Two years later, I was talking to one of those 18, and I asked her if she’d thought of joining before then. “Not really,” she said. “You had been on the radio for Steeple Stay,” she continued, “and ended by saying, ‘See you Sunday!’ and I thought, “OK. Maybe I’ll go!’ and when I did, I was impressed. And when you asked if anyone wanted to joined, I just felt compelled to go up.” And I looked at her, dead in the eye and said, “It’s the spirit, stupid.” NO. No, I didn’t. But I did say, “That’s the Spirit—that’s the holy spirit!”
We don’t know when she shows up—or how. We don’t know exactly how she works, and so we’re quick to write her off as intuition or gut feeling. But however we think of her, the truth remains—It’s the Spirit—and we’re in good hands, just like the disciples 2000 years ago. amen.