Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-21
June 4, 2017
Just before his Ascension, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received “the Promise of God.” Well today, on Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of that promise. And as we do so, we also celebrate the coming of that promise in our own lives. And I ask you, do you know of that promise in you?
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the other time Jesus told his disciples about this “promise.” Do you remember? It was just weeks before this, in the Upper Room. He was with them for the last time. And he gave them the “New Commandment?” And what was that New Commandment? “Thou shalt(?) love one another as I have loved you.” Then immediately after he said that, he told them of “the counselor,” “the comforter,” the Spirit of God that would be sent to them. And we noted at the time, that was no coincidence. Because they couldn’t do what he commanded, they couldn’t be the people he wanted them to be, they couldn’t love one another as he loved them, without that “promise,” without that Spirit. And neither can we!
When we read the story of Pentecost, it’s important that we have our mental images. That’s the way we humans think. We think in images. That’s why the personal computer took off the way it did in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Computers wouldn’t be nearly as widespread in our world if we all had to work with MS.DOS. Does anybody remember that? No, computers became popular when they started using images, when they started thinking like us!
Well that’s the same thing when we read these stories. We have our own mental images. We see the disciples with “tongues as of fire” on their heads. Maybe even halos! We hear them speaking other languages. We see the astonished crowds gathering to see what was happening. We see Peter standing before them. We have our images of those things, don’t we?
That’s good. But the other thing we have to do is see ourselves as part of that story. As I said at the start, we also celebrate today the coming of this “Promise of God” in our own lives!
“But how can we?” (I hear you ask.) “How can we even be remotely compared to, or associated with, this story and with these people – people who changed the course of history? It’s hard to make that association, isn’t it? We think this story is “other worldly.” It’s not our world. But even if we could, even if we could see ourselves as part of this, it’s still hard to see ourselves as being empowered by that same spirit. Many amazing and miraculous things took place that day! And we sometimes think of all that as being for another time and place.
But that is the promise! It was not just a promise for those men in the Upper Room. It’s not just for those who were watching Jesus’ Ascension. The “promise” is for us. Joel prophesied that even the least of people in the world would feel that power! “Even upon the manservants and maidservants I will pour out my Spirit!” “Yeah, but sometimes I don’t feel the power!” “In fact, often, I don’t feel the power!” “Other people seem to feel it more than I do.”
Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever compare your faith with the faith of others, and feel like you come up short? Do you ever wonder about whether or not you have the Holy Spirit inside you? Do you know of the “promise” in you, as I asked at the start?
Think about this sacrament. When we come to this table, we often long for some feeling – some warm, comforting sensation – to come over us. But then there are times we don’t feel it. And because of that, we feel like maybe nothing has happened. (We don’t want to say anything, or we don’t want to let on. But we feel like we’ve missed something.)
Well, here’s what I want to say about that. This is one of those “Love is not a feeling” kind of things. You’ve heard me say that before. Love is not a feeling. Yes, there are wonderful feelings associated with Love! But love itself is a choice of how to treat each other. That’s why it’s hard to follow Jesus’ commandment that we “Love one another as I have loved you.” Sometimes “love” calls us to make hard choices!
This is the same kind of thing. The Holy Spirit is not a feeling. Yes, sometimes there are feelings associated with it – feelings that may even overwhelm us! Feelings that may bring us to our knees! But the Spirit is not a feeling. It is a promise. God promises that we have the Spirit within us – whether we feel it or not! Let me say that again! God promises that we have the Spirit within us – whether we feel it or not!
In another one of those “coincidences” that’s not really a “coincidence,” I happened to be reading C. S. Lewis this week. And I read these words he wrote about the Holy Spirit. This is part of a letter in which Lewis was responding to a friend who had had a somewhat emotional experience with the Holy Spirit.
This is what Lewis wrote. “It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God. But remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations [the feelings] that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be – perhaps not ever – experienced as sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go, and you are once again emotionally flat (as you certainly will be), you might think that the real thing had gone, too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. It may even be most operative when you can feel it least!” (From “The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III”)
Isn’t that great? And isn’t that just what we’re talking about here. You don’t not have the Holy Spirit because you feel like you don’t! That’s not how it works. “Feelings” are not how you can be sure of the Spirit. You know that you have the Holy Spirit because God promised that you do! That’s how you know! I don’t know about you, but I’m very glad for that promise!
So, as we seek that Spirit, that sustaining power in our lives, as we seek God’s guidance, direction, and peace, may we indeed remember this story! May we see our images of the power that came over these men, power they needed to change the world the way they did! And may we remember that the Spirit is a promise, not a feeling! And may we be sure that we too can rely on that promise every day of our lives!
As you come to this table today, think of that promise. You may not be overwhelmed here by a sensation – a feeling – of God’s presence in this sacrament. And then again you might! But whether you are or not, know that the promises of God are indeed for you, (!) just as they were for the disciples in the Upper Room, just as they came to fulfillment on this day of Pentecost!
Eternal God, we thank you and praise you for all the covenants and promises you have made with your people down through ages. Help us to know, in our lives today, that your promises are sure, and that we can live our lives by your strength, though your Holy Spirit. Fill us each day with the Joy of your Spirit, and give us the power we need to be the people you want us to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.