Pentecost Sunday – Year B

Come Holy Spirit, and fill us.
Come as fire and burn.
Come as wind and cleanse.
Come as light and reveal.
Convict, convert, consecrate
Until we are wholly Thine.
Amen.

I read a strange and yet fascinating article the other day by David Pogue from the New York Times. Now if you don’t know Mr. Pogue, he is the technology columnist for the Times and I am a lover of gadgets. As a result, I wait expectantly every Thursday to see what new enticing gadget David is going to write about this week. On May 28, David’s article wasn’t about a gadget but about an event that took place last Saturday on Roosevelt Island next to Manhattan. It was sponsored by a group called “Improv Everywhere” which has become famous, in a sort of underground way, for sponsoring large crowd events that are a cross between a grand practical joke and performance art. Anyway, Improve Everywhere has quite a cult following and last Saturday they sponsored this “happening” called the sixth annual MP3 Experiment. If I lost you, an MP3 is a type of music file that you put on your iPod. Anyone who wanted to participate in the event was invited to Roosevelt Island. Ahead of time they had to go to the Improv Everywhere’s website, download a specific MP3 file to their iPod and bring it with them. They were instructed not to listen to the file until precisely 4 p.m. Only then were they supposed to put on their headphones and turn on their iPods. Well, believe it or not 3,000 people showed up on Roosevelt Island last Saturday. At 4:00 everyone, not knowing what would happen, put on their headphones and pushed the play button. David Pogue was there with his sixth grade son. He said what followed was wonderful and hysterical at the same time. While there wasn’t a sound to be heard by anyone not wearing headphones, for everyone else there was a guy named Steve giving them directions. Like some silent choreographed game of Simon Says, 3,000 people all began to act in unison. Touch your toes, Steve said, high five the person next to you, square dance with each other, fall down and pretend you are taking a nap, Steve ordered. They played freeze tag, marched around the island, and generally had a great, albeit totally ridiculous, time together.

O.k., by this point I know there are a bunch of you no longer paying attention to the story. Rather, you’re sitting there wondering – “How is he going to make sermon out of this?” Well, bear with me.

This morning we celebrate God’s gift to the church of the Holy Spirit. But what exactly is the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Holy Spirit is the animating love of God that gives the church all its power. Like the voice of Steve speaking through all those iPod headphones, the Spirit is the love of God speaking to our souls. It is an inner voice that comes from God inviting us, empowering us, to live in ways that are more than self-serving. Like those 3,000 silly people all listening to their iPods and following Steve’s directions, there are millions of people across this globe who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Christ. If you looked down from a helicopter at Roosevelt Island last Saturday you would have seen thousands of people acting as one for a couple of hours because of Improv Everywhere. If you could somehow look down and see the whole world at once I suspect you could see hundreds of thousands of people all acting in some Christ-like way because of the Holy Spirit. In fact, whenever the church does anything Christ-like it’s the Holy Spirit that has made it possible. What is the Holy Spirit? Simply put, it is the lifeblood of the church. Without it we are just a bunch of people who gather together on Sunday. With it, we have the possibility of becoming the body of Christ.

What makes people spend thousands of dollars to travel to Haiti, Sudan, or Honduras to care for folks they don’t even know when right here at home most folks have plenty of their own problems? I believe it’s because of the Holy Spirit. What gives a church community the will and the energy to rebuild and indeed thrive after a fire destroys them? – the Holy Spirit. What makes people give hundreds of hours over the course of a year to mentor a needy child, cook food for the homeless, work for the Peter Paul Development Center, serve on the altar guild, teach Sunday School, or volunteer at our own Children’s Center? Say what you will, but I think deep down all of that activity is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells of meeting the guard from the concentration camp where the Nazis held her during the Second World War. She had been speaking at a large church meeting, and after the meeting this man approached her. She recognized him at once, even though it was years after the war. He put out his hand to her, and she instinctively pulled back, remembering the horrors to which that hand had been put or in which it had cooperated, but then, she testified, something came over her, she knew not what, and she reached out and grasped his hand and extended her forgiveness as tears rolled down his cheeks. Only the Holy Spirit can move us to do such extraordinary things.

Last week a lady came to see me from the Diocese of Newark in New Jersey. She was in town for meetings and had heard about St. James’s. She wanted to meet with us to find out what we are doing that makes our church so successful. She wanted a recipe she could take back to Newark. We talked for a while and tried to answer her questions. But when you get down to it the recipe for success is rather simple, though not easy. When a church community focuses on proclaiming Christ and following Christ it thrives, when it doesn’t then it dies. In other words, a living church community is one that follows the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Today these beautiful children are given the gift of the Spirit as a result of their baptisms. It is up to us in the years to come to teach them how to respond to the Spirit’s presence, how to plug in their spiritual head phones, if you will. Because only with the Spirit we can any of us live lives of service to Christ and one another. Only by the Spirit can any of us be truly Christian.

Come Holy Spirit, and fill us.
Come as fire and burn.
Come as wind and cleanse.
Come as light and reveal.
Convict, convert, consecrate
Until we are wholly Thine. Amen.

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