The wonderful preacher Fred Craddock once told a story about a lecture he gave at a seminary on the west coast. Just before his first talk, one of the students stood up and said, “Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room quickly grew silent. Craddock said he looked around for the Dean of the seminary to see if he could get some help. The Dean was nowhere to be found. The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. “Are you a Pentecostal?” he asked again. Craddock was taken aback, and so he said, “Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” Craddock replied, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” The student said, “I am asking you if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “I don’t know what your question is.” The student said, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal” and he left the room.
Well, I am Pentecostal. I am not “a” Pentecostal, but I am Pentecostal. I am all about the Holy Spirit present in the life of the church and in my own life as well. In fact, I think when the church is alive in the world it is only because it is Pentecostal – full of the Spirit. So, St. James’s, at our best we are Pentecostal. And you thought we were Episcopalian!
In our gospel for this morning, Jesus tells his disciples that he must leave them but that he will not leave them alone. He will give them the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River. This Holy Spirit will be like a counselor, an advocate, to sustain them and guide them into the future. Pentecost, the source of the adjective Pentecostal, comes from the book of Acts and refers to the day when the disciples received God’s Holy Spirit – the 50th day after Easter, pentekonta in Greek. It is the day we celebrate the birthday of the church. So if Pentecost refers to the day when the Holy Spirit was given to the church, then to be Pentecostal is to live in power and the presence of the Spirit.
What is the Holy Spirit? In short, it is God’s love at work amongst us. It is what animates this place. It is what makes the baptized part of the body of Christ. It is what makes us more than a bunch of lukewarm Christians. It is our muse, our conscience, our cheerleader, our guide. It moves us to pray even when we aren’t sure there is anyone out there listening. It enables us to forgive even when we have good reason to hate. It keeps us caring when we could easily turn inward. It keeps us striving to do for others even though we might comfortably think we are doing enough. The Holy Spirit is what changed the disciples from being a bunch of terrified men, hiding in fear after their master was crucified, into the leaders of a movement willing to risk life and limb to spread the good news of Jesus Christ across a significant portion of the planet. The Spirit is what prods and pokes, challenges and cajoles us. It never violates our free will, but if we are willing to follow the Spirit’s movement, it can profoundly change our lives. The Spirit is everything to the church.
I remember so well sixteen years ago being quite happy in Savannah, Georgia as the Rector of St. Peter’s. I was part of a great church, a growing church, and we had a happy life there. When someone contacted me and asked if I would let my name be submitted as a possible candidate for Rector of St. James’s, I wasn’t at all sure. In fact, I was pretty sure it was probably a bad idea. Why try and fix something that wasn’t broken? Why enter a search process with dozens of other good candidates and risk rejection when I had a good thing going? Why move when everything was going so well just the way it was? After being asked, I remember stalling for weeks unclear what to do. But during those weeks, in the quite moments of my day, in my silent times of prayer, I could feel the nudges, the prodding, the pull of the Spirit on my heart. I could feel it in my guts. I could feel the Spirit pushing through my fear, my hesitation, my worry. I could feel the Spirit urging me on, encouraging me to take the risk and enter into the process. I know it was the Spirit because I know those nudges weren’t coming from me, they were coming from beyond me. In the end, whether the search committee selected me to come to St. James’s or not, I knew I was being called by the Spirit to be a part of that search process. I knew I was being called to come here.
The Spirit moves in all of our lives. It isn’t just for the church or the clergy. All of us have callings, big and little, moments when the Spirit moves, nudging us in new directions. I remember having lunch some time ago with a member of the parish who decided she wanted to be baptized. After taking Pilgrim’s Path and hanging around our community, she knew she was ready to make a commitment. We were having lunch to catch up and discuss the big day. During the conversation she mentioned that she had an estranged brother she had not spoken to in over a year. This estranged brother struggled with substance abuse. He was manipulative, untrustworthy, and after years of trying to help him my friend knew it was better for her and her family if she just broke off all ties. However, this brother had recently become a father and now, after more than a year of silence, she was wondering if she ought to reach out and try again. Here she was on the verge of her baptism, on the edge of claiming a new life for herself, a life in Christ, and I have no doubt that it was the Spirit moving in her heart and in her soul. I have no doubt it was the Spirit opening her up, helping her to let go of anger and hurt, encouraging her to take a risk to reach out to her brother and try again, one more time – in the name of love.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor once described the Holy Spirit this way: “When Jesus let go of his last breath – willingly, we believe, for love of us – that breath hovered in the air in front of him for a moment and then it was set loose on earth. It was such a pungent breath, so full of passion, so full of life that it did not simply dissipate as so many breaths do. It grew, in strength and in volume, until it was a mighty wind, which God sent spinning through an upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath, and it worked!” My brothers and sisters, have you ever sensed the Spirit moving in your life? It is there with you, as close as your own breath. As God’s love at work in the world, the Holy Spirit always seeks to help you be the best version of you that you can be. It seeks your fulfillment, completion, wholeness. It is the source of the peace that Jesus promises us, a peace that the world cannot give. Pray for it to move in your life. Pray for the insight to recognize it at work in the lives of others. Pray for it to burn brightly within our church community. Because without it we are lost. But with it we become the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
Come Holy Spirit, come.
Come as the fire and burn.
Come as the wind and cleanse.
Come as the light and reveal.
Convict, convert, consecrate
Until we are wholly Thine.
Come Holy Spirit, come. Amen.
 Craddock Stories, Fred B. Craddock, edited by Mike Graves & Richard F. Ward, Chalice Press, 2001, Kindle Version, location 288 of 2262.
Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith - May 1, 2016
Easter 6 Sermon, 9:00 a.m.
From Series: "Sermon"
Sermon delivered at the worship service for St. James's Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA