Come, Holy Spirit, Come
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”
I wonder if anyone here has experienced the Holy Spirit falling upon them? If you have, you will know that having the Holy Spirit fall upon us is a GOOD thing, one that opens us up and gives us new life, new joy, and new hope.
I wonder if you know, exactly, what the Holy Spirit is? Well, no one knows EXACTLY what the Holy Spirit is. However, I learned in seminary that the Holy Spirit is that agency of God that reveals God to us—that agency of God that reveals God to us. You see, we humans cannot even get an inkling that there IS a God—we cannot even draw near to God—without God’s help.
At least that is the “book answer.” I like to think of the Holy Spirit in another way. The Holy Spirit is that “back door” in creation that God, who is beyond time, that God uses to be present to us in our finite world. You probably know what a “back door” is. Creators—people like computer programmers and artists—use back doors to give them unique access to their creations. So, too, the Holy Spirit is God’s access to us—and our access to God. The Holy Spirit is God, Christ Jesus, present and at work in our lives.
I’ve given you an intellectual idea of what the Holy Spirit is. However, the Spirit doesn’t work much along rational lines. And this is one reason why we don’t dwell for very long on the Holy Spirit in our church. After all, the Holy Spirit goes where the Holy Spirit will, does what the Holy Spirit wishes, and moves whatever the Holy Spirit will. We Episcopalians, on the other hand, like more CONTROL than this.
But the Holy Spirit is, if nothing else, persistent. So I want to explore with you today what the Holy Spirit was up to in our first lesson today to figure out how the Holy Spirit is at work at St. Andrew’s today.
In the early days of the church, the days that the Acts of the Apostles tell us about, the Jesus-followers originally had to also obey all the dietary and other cultural laws of Judaism. And the biggest law of all was that you had to be Jewish to worship. There was a good reason for these laws—God had given the Israelites these laws to follow as a way to be God’s people.
Over time, though, we humans forget that GOD is the maker of God-laws and the judge of ALL things. Over time, we humans begin to think of the laws, as we understand them, as absolutes, and treat God-laws as if God cannot grant exceptions to or even change the God-laws. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to shake things up, to shake US up, to remind us that God is not bound by OUR understanding of God’s laws.
What came just before our first lesson today is the story of Cornelius. Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man, but he was not Jewish (and, what’s worse, he was a Roman soldier (Unclean!). There’s that boundary again, that boundary that gets built in God’s name: clean ~ unclean. Maybe you have known a Cornelius; maybe you have even been Cornelius, on the outside, looking in, wanting with all your heart and your soul to be at one with God and with God’s people.. Maybe you know a Cornelius who, against all odds, somehow KNEW and LIVED the truth that those around him were trying to protect.
I once heard of a man like Cornelius. He was a Jewish man who owned a very fine restaurant in DC, one that I am sure many of you have eaten in. This Cornelius was a man who discovered that a runaway teen (Abused!) had been sleeping outside and enjoying his food, although it was somewhat used (Disgusting!) by the time she ate it. This Cornelius hired the teen as a waitress (Illegal!). This man knew and lived a truth that was bigger than his synagogue, which wouldn’t let him in because his life was judged to be “profane!”
Have you noticed that the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to care about who is “clean” and “unclean?” The Holy Spirit told Cornelius-the-Unclean to send for Peter-the-Pristine. Peter was having his own Holy Spirit moment when he received Cornelius’ invitation. Peter had experienced a vision about animals that he could not even touch, much less eat, if he were to remain inside the God-circle. In this vision Peter had heard a voice, a voice that had told him to eat these unclean animals. And just in case Peter missed the point, the voice told Peter, “What God has made clean, you shall not call profane.” This vision was troubling Peter greatly when Cornelius’ messenger came a-knocking. But even as Peter and other scrupulously clean Jesus-followers were making haste for Cornelius’ house, God had prepared Peter to redraw the boundary, to let Cornelius in.
What, exactly, did Peter do? Peter preached a sermon, one that began with the words of Psalm 98, which we read today. Peter’s sermon began, “Sing to the Lord a NEW SONG, for he has done marvelous things.” Maybe you have sung this song, or experienced this reality in your own life. After all, are we not ALL Gentiles who have been allowed to enter the God-circle?
It was during Peter’s sermon that the events in our Acts lesson took place. “While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell uponall who heard the word,” fell on those inside the circle, and fell on those outside of that same boundary. Our first lesson tells us that what happened: “The Jewish Jesus-followers who had come with Peter to Cornelius’ house were ASTOUNDED those who were outside the circle were acting like those on the inside. And Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people who have received the Holy Spirit outside the circle we have drawn around God?’”
I am here today to bear witness to this truth, that in the kingdom of God we ourselves can draw no circles. We are to be one, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. God is the gate-keeper to God, and God doesn’t need our help. Every once in awhile the Holy Spirit shakes us up and breaks our circles open, just to remind us that deciding who’s in and who is out is not up to us.
Will YOU allow the Holy Spirit, the very one who is at work within and among each of us, to transform and energize your life and the life of this congregation with joy and hope? Having been joined with the Holy Spirit in baptism, will you allow the Holy Spirit to lead you from death to life? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to FALL UPON St. Andrew’s, so that here the lost continue to be found, the captive to be set free, the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the hopeless to receive hope?
WHO will you call to come join us, and with whom will you share this Good News:
Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; // lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing….
In righteousness shall God judge the world // and the peoples with equity.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.