Acts 2:1-8, 11-13
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
June 12, 2011
The Gospel writer Luke, in his sequel to his Gospel, Acts of the Apostles, recounts for us a wonderful story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, they were all gathered and the Holy Spirit moved through their midst. People were filled with energy, enthusiasm, and great understanding. People could actually understand other's speaking on foreign tongues.
Luke says that they were ‘amazed' and ‘perplexed' by all of these remarkable happenings.
We, in Christianity, have something of a dilemma with the Holy Spirit..
We officially like and approve of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, of God, and we officially like and approve of God.
We read such things of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, such as charity, joy, peace, etc., and they all sound good to us and we approve of them.
We read about gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as wisdom, knowledge, understanding, etc., and we approve of them.
So, Christianity officially approves of the Holy Spirit. Obviously. Easiest thing ever said from this pulpit.
Here’s the thing. Unofficially Christianity has worked hard to keep the Holy Spirit from running loose. Churches organize themselves so that the Holy Spirit doesn’t run amuck in them.
Popes surround themselves with people who will protect the Pope from people saying crazy, Holy Spirit inspired things, and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is established in a way that they don’t have to worry too much that the Holy Spirit is going to run amuck.
The United Church of Christ often seems to be the opposite of this because we are so loosely structured. But down deep, in churches, we work hard to structure and organize ourselves in such a way that the Holy Spirit doesn’t get loose. After all, when the Holy Spirit gets loose, strange things begin to happen. And churches don’t like strange things to happen. In all honesty, pastors don’t like strange things to happen at church.
For one, when the Holy Spirit gets loose, the Holy Spirit proves to be disruptive.
We don’t often like disruption in the church. I found a collection some time back of things to do during boring sermons. Listen to these for a moment:
See if a yawn really is contagious.
Slap your neighbor. See if they turn the other cheek. If not, raise your hand and tell the preacher.
Sit in the back row and roll a handful of marbles under the pews ahead of you. After the service, credit yourself with 10 points for every marble that made it to the front.
Using church bulletins or visitor cards for raw materials, design, test and modify a collection of paper airplanes.
Start from the back of the church and try to crawl all the way to the front, under the pews, without being noticed.
When you sing a hymn, sing the wrong verses and see if you can confuse everyone around you. Or, make up new words for hymns. Being in a Roman Catholic seminary we were not allowed to date or get married. There was a psalm response that went, “Arise, come to your God, singing your songs of rejoicing.” A few of us got creative and changed it to “Surprise, there is no God, you left your girlfriend for nothing.”
They stopped using that song.
Most of us wouldn’t do any of that stuff because we’d be afraid of disrupting the Worship Service.
The thing with the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is disruptive, and not always predictably so. Sometimes the Holy Spirit messes with long held beliefs and such.
In the latter part of the 1940's a Christian ethicist named Bernard Haring began writing about Christian ethics in a way many people found troubling. Haring has been a Roman Catholic priest who was drafted into the German Army to serve as a chaplain. He spent most of the war in Poland as a chaplain to soldiers, but also serving several small churches as their Pastor.
Haring began to write after the war. He began to write that morality was not based on obedience but on personal responsibility and conscience. His observations of what happened in Nazi Germany, where people followed with blind obedience, was that blind obedience was never good. People had to develop their own consciences.
Since much of Christian ethics, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, was based on some sort of concept of obedience, his words fell like a bomb. As time went on, people began to realize the Holy Spirit was at work and individual responsibility and learning about conscience began to pervade teachings. Of course, Haring was loudly condemned by many because he was seen as disruptive. The Holy Spirit disrupts.
Today, two young women have made a decision. They allowed the Holy Spirit to disrupt their lives and they join with us, in celebrating the disruptive presence of the Holy Spirit.
So my words to them are simple. Be careful. When the Holy Spirit lets loose, things happens. Chaos reigns and the world is disrupted.
But God is served!