Day of Pentecost June 5, 2022
I was blessed or cursed, your choice, with a puckish sense of humor, which blessing undoubtedly explains why my favorite verses of the reading from Acts is not those holy verses that illuminate the power of the Holy Spirit but rather verses 14 and 15 after members of the crowd jeered at the Spirit drunk apostles. “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.’” In other words, they had not had their fill of beer or mimosas at happy hour that day since it was only 9 in the morning. Many of you know these verses tickle my fancy because I return to this idea every few years on Pentecost Sunday. These words are an amusing reminder that the men who we honor for their witness in dangerous times were people like ourselves, people who could see not only the truth but likely also the humor in a comparison of being drunk by spirits and drunk by way of the Holy Spirit.
People continue to look at the work of the Church and the attitude of its members as if we were high on the Communion wine. There is reason for that, if we think on it, especially for those who are church light or even unchurched altogether. We preach of the killing reality of sin, yet happily get on with life convinced of the greater reality of God’s forgiveness. We acknowledge the reality of death and loss, but look with a certain hope to the joys of heaven and the resurrection of the dead. We do admit that Jesus does not walk the streets of Jerusalem or any other cities in this day and age, but we hold, often through our tears, that He is with us now by way of His Holy Spirit.
That’s not typical, everyday thinking, not unless you are raised in the Church or you come to the Church in search of a relationship with Jesus. And, clearly, the events of that day were not typical, and so, perhaps, those hearing the previously terrified but now brazenly bold Galileans speak their languages, sought an answer to this unnerving event that put the onus for it on the Galileans themselves. It always feels better to blame the highly unusual and uncomfortable on someone else. So, they posited, drunken Galileans were somehow responsible for how they, the men of Jerusalem on the streets that day, heard the Galileans speak in their own languages. It’s as if Sue spoke to me and I heard Farsi, or Bridget and I heard Italian. And even though I know, know for almost a surety, that Sue has never even heard Farsi nor Bridget studied Italian, that the Italian and Farsi I heard was their fault. Nothing supernatural here, folks, so move along and go gawk at something other than the drunken Galilean followers of a crucified Master engaged in a whole new, thing.
That whole new thing is, of course, a reversal of the Tower of Babel story of the first reading. God confused humanity by way of language, multiplying families of languages, with the intent of making it so very much more difficult for humanity to seek godlike status for themselves. We remember, from the Ten Commandments, that idolatry is humanity’s presenting or foundational sin. Whatever sin we commit, at its heart is the assertion that we may determine what is right and what is wrong for ourselves. We’re not going to let God tell us what to do, no we are not. It does not matter how old we get, somewhere, there is that inner toddler screaming to get another popsicle even if it will ruin his dinner or make her sick.
The tummy ache of the over indulged toddler is more than a metaphor for the damage sin does to us. The more we indulge that inner toddler, the sicker our spirits become. And with our spirits, our lives. All the messes of our lives, and of our lives together, have their origin in our intent to make ourselves the center of our own universe and the insistence that others do the same. Our lives and the world around us become increasingly divisive, monstrous, and destructive. There is no respect for life, for the benefits of giving of ourselves for another’s good, no willingness to pursue common goals. Children become an unconscionable burden, our elders inconvenient, our neighbors a bother, our employer our enemy. And it just continues to spiral down, becoming increasingly worse faster and faster as time goes on. And the whole while this is going on the world, the fallen world, the world of babel, insists that sin is not real so there is no need for repentance or the forgiveness of sin, that what we see as suffering is health, and that there is no need for talk of a Savior’s resurrection much less our own, for life is just a sad and meaningless quest for self-satisfaction that ends in the crematorium’s fire or the dirt of the grave. And the sicker and sicker our souls become, even unto death.
That soul sickness that is peculiar to humanity responds truly well to one particular medication, and that is the inoculating power of the Holy Spirit. Two thousand years ago, on the fortieth day after His resurrection, on the day He ascended or returned to the Father, our Lord promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom, our Advocate and Guide. Whether we visualize the third Person of the Holy Trinity as a beauteous dove on the wing, a purifying fire, or the wind of creation, Christ will be present to us, for our support, for our assurance, for our comfort, for our strength, for our faith, and even, on occasion, for our admonition.
Stop indulging that inner child the Spirit preaches, and open yourself instead to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The gift of the promised Holy Spirit is not given once, in the waters of Baptism, to be lost to the busyness of the day. No, rather, the Holy Spirit comes to us again and again in the word of God, in the gift of His body and blood, and in the still watches of the night, when we reach out in prayers of thanksgiving or petitions for healing.