Sermon for Sunday, May 15, 2016 || Pentecost C || Acts 2:1-21
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve started describing God’s presence while writing a sermon and then realized that I accidentally quoted Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars movie. It has happened at least a dozen times. So today, instead of accidentally quoting him, I’m just going to quote the dialogue delivered by the legendary Alec Guinness in 1977. He says this about the mysterious energy field that gives the Jedi their power: “The Force…surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
As a kid, I longed for the abilities of a Jedi: deflecting blaster bolts with my lightsaber, lifting spaceships out of swamps with just the power of my mind. I practiced with tennis balls and a plastic lightsaber. Sadly there were no swamps near my house. Or spaceships to lift out of them. I used to stretch out my fingers towards the TV remote and hum the theme music to Star Wars, trying to get the remote to jump into my hand. And to this day, when I go through automatic doors, I flick my fingers at them to pretend I opened them like the Jedi I’ve always wanted to be.
The ten-year-old part of me that gets a kick out of walking through automatic doors will always long for the powers of a Jedi. But the adult part of me knows that I have access to something much greater than the fictional Force, something else that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. That something we name the Holy Spirit.
Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait together in Jerusalem, saying, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” A few days later when they were all together, Jesus made good on this promise. In today’s reading, Luke reports that “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” Tongues of fire rest on each of them, and “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Obi-Wan might as well have been talking about the Holy Spirit when he described the Force. When the sound of the wind rushes through the house, the power of the Spirit surrounds the disciples. When they are anointed with the tongues of fire, the power of the Spirit penetrates the disciples. We are inheritors of their anointing through the sacrament of baptism. When we anoint the newly baptized with oil, we are applying a little fuel for that tongue of fire from the Holy Spirit.
This presence of God that we name the Holy Spirit surrounds and penetrates us just like it did the disciples on that day of Pentecost. The very air around us is charged with the wind of the Holy Spirit. The breath within us is also charged with the Spirit’s power. It’s no coincidence that the ancient words for Spirit, wind, and breath are the same. You can’t see the effects of the wind unless you take the time to look for it blowing through the trees. You can’t control your breath unless you focus on it. But each is present whether or not we pay attention.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit surrounds and penetrates us no matter how little we heed the Spirit’s presence. But when we do look for the Spirit’s effects on our lives, we notice so many things: The Spirit keeps us afloat when we start sinking. The Spirit breathes new life into us when we start drowning. The Spirit blows us to into the path that is our calling from God. The Spirit brings peace and comfort when we are afflicted and shakes us up when we get too comfortable.
The Holy Spirit surrounds and penetrates all people on this earth – after all, to paraphrase Obi-Wan, God “binds the galaxy together” which includes everything, not just people who agree with our understanding of God. The gift of our baptism is an awakening to the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives and in the life of this world. With this awakening comes the desire to participate in God’s renewal and reconciliation of all things in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We pray a special prayer at the end of each baptism, which asks God for the gifts to sustain this awakened state throughout our lives. We pray, “Sustain [the newly baptized], O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
The inquiring and discerning heart is the gift of two things. First, curiosity; that is, the desire to know more and know deeper. Second, the ability to listen to God’s call from inside oneself and from the community. The prayer locates discernment in the heart, rather than the head because true listening is more than a mental exercise. Discernment is the capacity to get quiet enough to listen to the part of you that is eternal speak to the part of you that is not.
In the garden when his disciples can’t stay awake with him, Jesus laments, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” When we pray for the courage to will and to persevere, we ask for the will to choose what is right over what is easy. We ask for endurance for the days when life isn’t working out the way we hoped it would. We ask for the faith to know that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death; we don’t get stuck there.
A few months ago, I defined love as the desire to be woven together. This definition holds in this prayer when we ask for a spirit to know and to love God. We are woven into God’s family, which includes all the beloved children on this earth, and in baptism we are woven specifically into the piece of God’s family known as the Church.
Finally, in my favorite part of the prayer, we ask for the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. Joy is more abiding than happiness. Joy is the deep gladness that comes from knowing we are surrounded and penetrated by God’s presence. And this knowledge leads to wonder, which delightfully has two meanings. The first returns us to the curiosity I mentioned earlier. The second evokes the awe that catalyzes our desire to worship.
In this special prayer, we ask God for the gifts to sustain our awakening to the Spirit’s presence and power throughout our lives. This week, I invite you to make this your prayer. Ask God to awaken in you again curiosity and courage, love and joy and wonder. Focus on your breathing and thank God for the gift of life. Notice the wind blowing through the trees and thank God for God’s constant presence, which abides despite our lack of attention. And above all, thank God for the Holy Spirit, which surrounds and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together.