The Rev. Dianne O’Connell

First Congregational Church

June 12, 2011


Numbers 11:24-30

John 7:37-39

Acts 2:1-21

I Corinthians 12:1-12 


The Holy Spirit Comes to Church

Good Morning, it’s Pentecost!  The day the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven and fired up the Disciples of Jesus and about 120 others and sent them forth with the Good News that Jesus Christ was not dead but lives on, calling the whole world to service, love and fullness of life. 

Now that message shouldn’t be too much different than the messages I have been offering from this pulpit all year – the one difference possibly being my level of enthusiasm this morning.  It’s one thing to know something intellectually and to be able to discuss it intelligently with one’s friends and peers – it’s another thing to feel the same thing in one’s bones to the point of singing out, clapping, and maybe even dancing. I’m going to settle down now, because I come out of the Reformed Tradition, as do most of you.  Our worship style is not only reformed, but refined and reflective. We start with the basics, the foundation, and build from there.

Pentecost is a major Christian holiday, coming seven weeks after Easter.  All the excitement surrounding the Easter event was subsiding.  Life was getting back to normal.  Life was IN DANGER of getting back to normal.  The Disciples were quietly getting organizing.  Believing that there must be twelve of them, they replaced Judas with Matthias. They spent some time speculating on when Jesus might return.  “That’s not for you to know,” Jesus had told them – and he told us again just a couple weeks ago.

In the first chapter of Acts, the Lord did tell his disciples, “You will be baptized by the Holy Spirit … and when you are, you will receive the power and abilities to take my message to every corner of the earth.” Now they and 120 of their closest associates had gathered to observe the Jewish harvest festival Shavaot – commemorating God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. They waited and prayed for additional guidance.  The disciples knew about the Holy Spirit. They and their ancestors were familiar with Her power. 

Nelly read a passage from Numbers this morning –in Spanish. Moses had been leading the Hebrew people through the desert for forty years.  Yahweh had provided sustenance of manna, but the people wanted meat. Moses had asked Yahweh for help and he got it – first the land was covered with quail, enough quail to provide meat for the people til they made themselves sick.  Second, Yahweh told Moses to call seventy elders together at which time the Holy Spirit descended upon the seventy and they began to enthusiastically prophecy and to help Moses take care of the people.

But then Nelly told us, there were two other guys, Eldad and Medad, and they began to prophecy, too.  Joshua didn’t know what to make of this, so he went and tattled on the two guys, and asked Moses to stop them.

“I’m not going to stop them,” Moses says.  “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on all of them!”

Let’s talk about the Holy Spirit for a moment.  Have you ever noticed that the Holy Spirit is often spoken of as a female?  The third person in the Trinity is the female aspect of God.  You think I might be wrong about this?

Let’s go back to The Beginning, when God is talking to Himself in Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”   And male and female, he created them.  Who was God talking to?  I maintain He was talking to Herself, the Spirit, the WomanSpirit of God. Later on as the Hebrew Scriptures unfold we meet Sophia, Lady Wisdom, time and again – again the part of God felt and experienced as female.  The aspect of God which travels with God’s People through this world is often portrayed by the Jewish mystics as Shekinah, again, a divine female Presence.

So with this as background, it was with some pleasure that as I combed through your Congregational Church hymnal for resources, I found our Call to Worship this morning, No. 256 – She Who Makes All Things New – Holy Wisdom. And No. 449, which you will hear as the Benediction today:  May God Embrace us – with HER justice.  No way I could not include such readings in our service today.

So for me, I experience the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, as that welling-up of emotion and joy inside me that makes me, enables me, to burst forth and get something done – with energy and excitement, with commitment and even courage. It’s electrifying, like being set on fire. It’s female energy set loose, a wildfire. That’s the Spirit at Work.

So back to the second Chapter of Acts, where the disciples and the others are waiting and praying and WHOOSH – it was like a mighty wind, it was like loud trumpets, it was like a fire set loose in every one of them.  The Spirit was there. We can add our own details – people have been doing that for centuries – there was shouting, and singing and clapping, and dancing – and, well, preaching in every language under the sun.

There were a whole bunch of Jewish people in town from all over the known world.  They were there because of the holiday.  Hearing the hullabaloo over at the Upper Room, they came running – and to their utter amazement, the disciples and the others were sermonizing in their own languages.

Peter stood up and spoke to the crowd.  “It’s like the Prophet Joel said it would be, I will pour out my spirit on ALL people, and a lot of other things will happen, but the important thin is that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”

            And tradition says, The Church Universal was Born.

What about us here gathering this morning? Is this message for us, too? Have we gathered today expecting the power and glory of God to come down on us?  Are we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, called to do our part to bring in the Kingdom of God?

The Holy Spirit is calling all of us – not just the seventy elders in Moses time, but also Eldad and Medad back in camp.  Not just the Board of Trustees or the Deaconate, but each one of us, including Gordon Shortman.  Gordon spends the worship hour each Sunday downstairs preparing coffee and treats for us for after church.  He has a marvelous commitment and a marvelous talent.  He tells me that he listens to my sermons over the intercom in the kitchen.

“Hi, Gordon!  Thank you. Your spiritual gifts are greatly appreciated.”

Let’s all say, “Thank you, Gordon!”  THANK YOU, GORDON!

And George White is downstairs right now, too, looking after our infants and toddlers.  Let’s say thank you to George.  THANK YOU, GEORGE!

God wants the power of the Holy Spirit to be manifest in and through our lives, for some of us to speak in other languages, to prophesy, to be instruments of divine healing, to have visions and to dream dreams. All to bring in the Kingdom of God on Earth.  And this takes enthusiasm, hard work and commitment.

I’ve been reading Pentecost sermons this week. Oh, mercy. Not everyone would agree with me.  There are preachers who believe that a major responsibility of the clergy is to protect the flock from excess emotion. The risks and pitfalls of having the Holy Spirit intrude into a Sunday morning worship service are much too great to allow it to happen.  The Holy Spirit tends to be pushy, assertive, antagonistic, and imperialistic. It is the nature of the Holy Spirit to want to take over wherever she intrudes.  A chief pastoral role is to protect the congregation from unwarranted intrusions of the Divine that might keep them past the hour of worship – 60 minutes is enough.  Such things might be tolerated in some denominations or some regions of the country – but not among mainline Christian churches serving urban areas like, say, Anchorage, AK.  We’re proud of our Scripture discussion groups, and our social justice work, and our sense of community and our care for one another in time of need.  And believe me, those are really, really good traits to have.  But feeling and bone-shaking excitement is good, too.  Maybe essential.

I’m reminded of the Corinthians passage read to us this morning in Latin and Greek by Sharon and Ann.” There are different kinds of gifts, but one Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

I’m thinking again of our deacons and our trustees and our church school teachers – and O Lord, our wonderful musicians. Differing gifts.  Differing spiritual approaches.  Differing beliefs about just what the Good News of Jesus Christ might really be.  You realize that some of our worst fights as Christians are with each other – over just what the Good News means for each of us. And our worship styles – including music.

You might have noticed that when the Scriptures were read this morning in Spanish, French, Finnish, German, Latin and Greek – we didn’t immediately read them in English – as if English would clarify what was REALLY being said, what was really meant by the Word of God.  Kate typed up a “cheat sheet” for those of us who are not multi-lingual, but English wasn’t offered as the Real Language – because it is not.

When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, She could have just as easily made everybody speak Greek – or Hebrew – or Navajo.  Why didn’t She just make it easy, pick a language and make everybody use it?  I have a theory.  My theory is that it was a Divine Plot.  It is true that each language, each culture, each denomination or world religious, holds some Divine Truth.  But each of us was given just a few verses of that truth.  Verses 5 through 8, or 35 through 42, but not the whole story.  To understand the whole story, we need to learn each other’s language, put our passages together, sit down and figure it out together.  It’s the Holy Spirit Mother God’s way of encouraging Her children to share and play together, learn from each other, and sing each other’s songs. 

When we do, it will be the true birthday of the church, the church as God-the-Father, Christ-our-brother, and God-the-Holy-Spirit would have it be.

Let us sing hymn No. 420 as we prepare for Communion together.

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