Holy Spirt: Fiery inspiration and Calm Comforter

I love the drama and flair of the coming of the Holy Spirit!

As today’s reading from Acts describes, there are the visible signs of the Spirit:

the rush of a violent wind, divided tongues of fire, and the ability to speak in many languages…

so that all people may hear what God is saying to God’s people.

That’s why we wear red on Pentecost, to remind ourselves of the fiery power that the spirit brings.

That’s why we hear the first reading for today read in many different voices and languages.

The scene becomes even more dramatic when we understand a little bit about the context of Pentecost.

While we often appropriate Pentecost as a Christian celebration of the coming of the holy spirit…

Pentecost is actually a Jewish festival of the harvest.

Pentecost literally means “fiftieth day,” and on the fiftieth day after Passover, Jews from all over the Middle East would gather in Jerusalem….

for pilgrimage, worship, and celebration.

People from all over the known world, gathered in the same place.

Based on the languages that today’s reading tells us were spoken, there must have been people from the equivalent of modern day

Saudi Arabia, Northern Africa, Turkey, Iraq, and as far away as Iran to the East and Rome to the West.

That is a lot of different kinds of people, not just different languages, but also different clothes,

different kinds of food, different cultural contexts, and different appearances.

This is a dynamic and diverse crowd, and when suddenly everyone can understand each other…

and share in the experience of energy and passion for God…

it must have been an amazing, energizing, and dramatic moment.

I love that about the Holy Spirit, that she has the ability to breathe into God’s people a holy zeal, energy and power,…

that she sets us on fire to do God’s work in the world!

In a world where complacency, the status quo, where division and apathy often seem to rule…

A Spirit who brings unity, energy, and change is just who we need!

It’s not surprising that when we think of the coming of God in the Holy Spirit,

it is this kind of zealous, dramatic, inspiring Sprit who comes to mind.

And yet, the description of the Spirit in today’s reading from Acts is not, in fact, the only version of the Holy Spirit that there is.

We also have today’s reading from John.

Where, instead of coming to a diverse group of people from all over the world celebrating festival,…

the Holy Spirit instead comes to small group of gathered disciples, who are so fearful…

that rather than engaging with the world, they have instead locked themselves away.

Jesus has just been crucified, and even though Mary has told the disciples the news of Jesus’ resurrection…

They are still too fearful and sad to believe it.

They are still trapped in their grief, their guilt and their fear.

And so Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And this Spirit, instead of coming like a rush of violent wind and dividing tongues of fire,

This Spirit comes as a gentle breath from God, a gift of peace, forgiveness, and compassion.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

“Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”

I love this Holy Spirit too, this gentle, comforting Spirit of God who comes to us in our moments of fear, doubt, and despair…

and fills us with peace, comfort, hope, and possibility for the future.

The Spirit of John is the same Spirit as the one in Acts, and yet she looks and feels so very different.

Almost the opposite from the fiery zealous Spirit that we most often tend to make her out to be.

And in a world where people can be whipped into a frenzy of anger, fear, and despair by a simple Tweet or a forwarded email….

We need this gentle, comforting Spirit too.

Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit appears as both the fiery inspirer of God’s people, and as calm comforter.

And many of us, I am sure, have experienced the Spirit in both these ways also.

Once, as a young child, when I was going through a phase of chronic worry and fear, I literally felt the peace of God come over me.

That was the Holy Spirit; I felt her presence as the peace of God which passes all understanding.

And, when years later, I experienced the electric energy of thousands of Episcopalians from all over the world, worshipping and praying together….

That was the Holy Spirit like a rush of violent wind, inspiring us to live God’s love.

We have seen and felt the Spirit in all her many guises.

And these differences in the way the Holy Spirit looks, arrives, and feels says something important about how we respond to God’s Spirit in our lives.

A fellow pastor I know once said that the Holy Spirit functions almost like our opposite.

The Holy Spirits always invites God’s people to the places where we aren’t currently dwelling, invites us into something new or different.

And so if we find ourselves chronically angry, fearful, rigid or unforgiving,

then the Holy Spirit invites us into a place of God’s peace, comfort, forgiveness, and assurance.

And, on the other side of the equation, if we find ourselves too comfortable in our lives of faith, if our life of ministry seems rote and uninspired…

If we find ourselves closed off to welcoming new people, to speaking different languages, different languages of lifestyle, race, age, wealth or even values…

Then the Holy Spirit comes to us like a rushing wind of fire,

opening our ears and our lips to speaking and hearing God’s presence in new ways, people and places.

Knowing this about God’s Spirit, that she calls us to live in the places we are not yet dwelling, to see God in the people we don’t know,

to invite us to the ministry and the way of life that we are not yet experiencing, but can experience, with God’s help…

To know that the Spirit so often comes in unexpected ways, helps us, in our lives of faith to look for her.

To see her presence among us when she comes.

Because She does come.

She is here right now, in fact.

God’s Holy Spirit dwells among us in all that we do as people of faith.

Sometimes the Spirit’s coming is as dramatic, palpable and inspiring as it was for those disciples in Jerusalem,

on that day of Pentecost all those generations ago.

Sometimes the Spirit’s coming is a little quieter, peaceful, and calm, like it was for those few disciples who had locked themselves in a room.

But God’s coming into our lives is no less powerful, regardless of how we see the Spirit in our midst.

Because whenever God comes, God’s people respond with change.

With transformation, and with the knowledge that God is working in our lives.

In our churches, in our schools, homes, offices, in our world, in us.