For the Season of the Spirit

by The Rev. Shelley D. McDade
Pentecost, by Sawai Chinnawong

OPEN TO THE SPIRIT: Sawai Chinnawong’s 1997 painting Pentecost (acrylic on canvas) puts Christian disciples in the position and postures assumed by the Buddha in Thai Buddhist art. From The Christian Century, May 28, 2014 issue.

Preached on the Feast of Pentecost, Sunday, June 8, 2014, at the Church of the Ascension

Let us pray…

O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me.
Let me only know Your Will. Amen

— Cardinal Mercier

In preparing to speak to you today inspiration came from various scholars of faith who I will quote within my own text and faith journey. It is interesting to note that when faced with the study of the Holy Spirit there is no right or left, no high or low, no Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu. There is only surrender to faith and an honesty of spirit.

In Jesus’ final discourse in the Gospel of John prior to his death and resurrection he makes it clear to His disciples that He must depart from them in order for the Advocate to come and be with them forever. So, with this clear directive from Christ let us be comfortable in putting Jesus over to the side for just a moment, and let us give our full attention to the person of the Spirit.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is a person. No specific gender but all the attributes of being human.

He breathes, has intellect, emotions, and will.

He speaks, hears, intercedes, leads, commands, guides and appoints.

He can be lied to, insulted, blasphemed, and grieved.

He is not an impersonal face for he is both person and divine.

He is eternal for there was never a time when He was not.

He is all powerful, everywhere, all knowing.

He is Creator. He is God.

 

Within the life of an individual He “illumines” the mind, opens the heart and deeply inspires.   He “indwells” in the body in order to bring comfort, peace, sanctification and healing.

Once a person is marked by the Spirit there is nothing in heaven or earth that can ever separate them from God.

Within the life of various communities throughout time the Holy Spirit has brought about renewal of life…Offering an outpouring of power and fulfillment to all God’s people young and old, male and female, black, brown, white, and yellow for the singular purpose of participating in God’s ongoing mission in the world.

To love as God loves.

To gather and unite.

To forgive and raise up.

 

When a life is changed by the grace of God… Changed through the power of the Spirit, it is always for a purpose.

In the mystery of the fire and wind, language and understanding the fearful disciples are converted to the work that God has always been doing.  The work of Christ.

The community in that room that night could have articulated any and all reason not to go out. Yet, they suddenly and miraculously were inspired despite themselves to act as Jesus.   The very body of Christ. Our chief end is to glorify God.  And to enjoy Him forever. We are marked by God for God and the holiness of this image goes to the heart of our identity and mission in life.

Many images, icons and paintings have tried to capture the essence of the Holy Spirit specifically from the writings of the New Testament during the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was not a moment and, in my opinion, it wasn’t even an event.  It was an expression of the power of God meant specifically to carry the message of God to all people in all languages to all nations and tribes of the world.

It was not a division of race but rather an invitation of unity: Unity of faith; unity of spirit; unity of God. Paintings of this subject traditionally associate the tongues of fire with the tops of the disciples’ heads. In the May 28th issue of Christian Century there is an article on a Pentecost painting by Christian Thai artist Sawai Chinnawong.

In Thai art it is common to see Buddha seated in the center of the space, often with his head surrounded by a stylized flame similar to other art we have seen of Pentecost. But in his painting, where one would anticipate finding a singular figure of Buddha, instead we see,  a community organized around a massive holy fire that is repeated in small tongues of fire burning above each of the disciples head.  The community is made up of 11 disciples: men, women and one child.

The Holy Spirit fills the space and the disciples enlivening their minds and their bodies.

They “gesture”  or “speak”through various bodily motions more so than by open mouths conveying colorful, individuality and commonality through the unity of the Spirit.

Many of their hand gestures resemble that of a priestly orans position used in Christian prayer and sanctification of the Eucharist. But their positions also resemble the Buddhist signs of spiritual power, fearlessness and reassurance often found in images of the standing Buddha.

The similar orans hands position of prayer is an expression of compassion, giving and willful acceptance. All signs and expression of a spiritual power filling the church and the world.

In Buddhist expression the idea of being holy and enlightened is to be a fully alive human being. Our same Christian expression of holiness is an enlivenment and enablement of the Divine within our human lives. The sights, sounds and words emanating from the Holy Spirit are not just informative but per-formative. Disciples are moved into relationship with others in openness of life. They are united in a spirit of eternity rather than time. For the Holy Spirit is not a moment but a beginning, middle and an end.

Western thought has come very close  to closing the mind to the reality of any kind of a Pentecost.  For various reasons both religious and secular. And it’s a shame because to resist the calling of the Spirit is to set yourself apart from God…rather than being set apart for God.

Most deep spiritual movements of rebirth today are taking place in the Global South where there is still a raw hunger for the sacred mystery and the indwelling of the Holy.

We in the North and West may have desire for the Holy but we are too often distracted by what the world has to offer.

But it does happen.  Those of you who have been here for a few years remember how closed up we were as a parish.  Partly because we were going through a massive renovation and partly because we allowed ourselves to be closed off. The Building and Grounds Committee requested that we open up the front gates so people could walk in and enjoy the front garden. Sounds like a no brainer, right?

Then they requested we put benches in the garden and really invite the community to sit and stay a while. Then, they went totally over the top, and pushed to have the church open several days a week for a few hours so people could come in and see the sanctuary.

All of this sounds ridiculous but the reality is there are big security issues. We used to be known as the Open Door church. People without a place to be would come in and sleep in the pews at night. But in the 60s, when crime became the norm, we had to close up. We shut everything up, and out, except for the times of service.

When our parishioners pushed to open the gates open the church and invite the community in there was a complete change in the feel of the parish.   You could feel the energy and spirit coming alive again right here in this space.

There was and is a very clear indwelling of the Holy Spirit at work here in our Ascension home. And we are all invited to participate and receive it.

Several weeks ago, I preached on the text of Jesus’ final discourse where Jesus offers to give us anything we ask for in his name. I explained that the request was not for our own benefit but for the power to offer ourselves in ministry.  We have the open invitation to ask for the Spirit’s gifts.  But it is a waste of time to ask or look for the power of the Spirit if we do not intend to use it.

Why ask…

For might in prayer… unless we pray.

For strength to testify… without witness.

For power into Holiness… without attempting to live a holy life.

For power in service… unless we serve.

 

God gives dying grace…only to the dying! And we are not dying!

If you want to really know whether or not you are asking for something in and of the Spirit ask yourself….

“What in my motivation in wanting to be filled with the Spirit?”

“Is Christ becoming more and more evident in my life”

Are people seeing more of Him — and less of me?”

It’s not a matter of how much of the Spirit do we have within us, but rather, how much of us is in the Spirit?  If you want to open yourself up more to the filling of the Spirit then you need to have a better understanding of what God is revealing. Basically, that means you have to get into scripture.  You can’t avoid it. And, if you say you have already read the Bible 10 times, then read it 11.  Trust me….you don’t know it all.

Just ask any one of the several people who come on Monday nights to read and dialogue together about what is being said. They leave, filled. Guaranteed.

Second: Surrender. Submit. Two words we don’t like in the Global North.  Renounce your own way and seek that which is from above. Get rid of your stuff — whatever it is that keeps you from knowing God more intimately.

And finally: Walk in faith. It comes easier after you have understanding and surrender in place. If you can’t walk out that front door in faith… then don’t bother walking in.

Pentecost is something we are merely called to trust.

Let us pray….

Fill me, Holy Spirit, fill me.

More than fullness I would know.

I am smallest of Thy vessels,

Yet, I much can overflow.