Come Holy Spirit Come!

Sermon Preached on June 9, 2019 – Day of Pentecost
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17, 25-27

Come Holy Spirit Come!

We’ve spent a great deal of this Easter journey talking a lot about sheep and shepherds; and here at St. Bart’s, we’ve been following the story of one sheep in particular. So before we get too caught up in languages and flames – an update on our sheep.

Wobbles is growing quickly, she is nearly a fully-grown sheep now, no longer that small little lamb we worried about when she was being hand fed. She is living on my mother-in-law’s pocket-farm in Bethel, and as you can see from the photos – she has big news. Just over a week ago, Wobbles got a baby brother, Timothy. He’s another bottle baby and needs special care, he is a rescue sheep like she is. Wobbles is not alone anymore, which is good, because we are not meant to be alone.

Which brings us to Pentecost.
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.-Acts 2:1

And this blessing from Jan Richardson:
When We Breathe Together¹
This is the blessing
we cannot speak
by ourselves.

This is the blessing
we cannot summon
by our own devices,
cannot shape
to our purpose,
cannot bend
to our will.

This is the blessing
that comes
when we leave behind
our aloneness
when we gather
together
when we turn
toward one another.

This is the blessing
that blazes among us
when we speak
the words
strange to our ears
when we finally listen
into the chaos
when we breathe together
at last.

Pentecost is the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to those gathered in Jerusalem, when we began to breathe together, as the early Church.

But first – we heard the story from Genesis of the tower of Babel. This ancient story reminds us that our hubris and pride, our wanting to be like gods, leads us to division, fear, and violence. All it takes is not speaking the same language as one another, for misunderstanding to breed mistrust, and defensiveness and contempt quickly follow. We don’t like not knowing things. We don’t like feeling unprepared, or “other”; or even less than articulate. Every year it’s difficult to recruit people to read a few sentences of the Acts lesson in another language. It makes us uncomfortable, even in this safe environment. Imagine how much worse it would be if the stakes were higher. Vulnerability tends to make us feel small – and sometimes we act out.

What we hear in the following text from Acts is God’s response to the unnecessary and sometimes harmful divisions we build between us. When the Spirit comes, divisions are overcome.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. – Acts 2:3-4

Another blessing from Jan Richardson:
This Grace That Scorches Us²
Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not
for you alone.

It is stubborn
about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own.

To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures
are not exact echoes
of your own.

Bring your sorrow.
Bring your grief.
Bring your fear.
Bring your weariness,
your pain,
your disgust at how broken
the world is,
how fractured,
how fragmented
by its fighting,
its wars,
its hungers,
its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history it refuses
to rise above.

I will not tell you
this blessing will fix all that.

But in the place
where you have gathered,
wait.
Watch.
Listen.
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.

See then whether this blessing
turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom

or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones,
a clarity
in your heart
that tells you

this is the reason
we were made:
for this ache
that finally opens us,

for this struggle,
this grace
that scorches us
toward one another
and into
the blazing day.

My Friends, consider this – when the Spirit comes, everyone can understand in their own language; the good news of the Gospel is for everyone. From the very foundation of the Church – everyone is equal before God. We are given the mandate to respond to everyone equally, to treat everyone equally, to proclaim the Good News to everyone equally. Everyone is equally worthy before God – a full member of this new Creation, this new Church.

When the Spirit comes there is unity across difference, people don’t cease to speak their own languages, but they can understand what is said. The Spirit comes to everyone, as they are.

What an extraordinary moment that must have been for the disciples and those gathered with them, for the community of people who followed Jesus. And not only for them, but for those others gathered for the festival in Jerusalem, who are now included in the mix. As together they have to figure out how to be this new thing – the community of the Spirit, which lives on after Jesus, and shares the story with others, and lives in a new way.

It’s an equal opportunity Spirit after all, in a less than equal world – so this will be a very different kind of community than those around them. Living with a whole new set of rules about how to be together, and how to worship, and how to care about those in need beyond their group.

When the Spirit comes – young and old, men and women, slave and free, are all called to something new. And this group becomes a new family, sharing what they have with one another, breaking bread, worshiping God and spreading the story of Jesus. The early Church has begun, and it’s something completely new, redefining social structures and living the way Jesus taught them to live; loving God and their neighbor, in the ways that Jesus showed them. These are the people of The Way.

On Pentecost, the Spirit comes to everyone. As we follow in their footsteps, being people of The Way of Jesus, I’m wondering what that means for us? When the Spirit comes – there’s a sound like the rush of wind, and then there are tongues of fire, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it? This gift of God’s Self, descending as Tongues of Fire.

I went searching for a way into this image of God’s fire, and found the wisdom of Catherine of Siena:
You, God, light coals on fire
with the love that eventually
melts hatred and bitterness
from the hearts and minds
of those who are full of anger.
It will even turn their hatred
into tenderness.³
I love her description of God’s fire as it works on us – melting bitterness, turning hatred into tenderness. Come Holy Spirit, come! This might be exactly what we need! In our lives and in our communities. In our world.

In her book, Wearing God, Lauren Winner, devotes an entire chapter to Flame as one image for God. One aspect of the fire-y God she considers is fire that is regenerative.
In the Rev. Dr. Winner’s words:

It’s worth noting that fire’s very destructiveness is sometimes regenerative. … Some trees require fire to survive: many “fire-dependent” firs need fire because the pinecones that contain their seeds can only open and let the seeds out if exposed to intense heat. The seeds then find a congenial place to germinate in the beds of ash left after the fires have cooled down.

Maybe, if God is fire, we are a grove of ponderosa pines. Without the heat and burn of God’s flame, our pinecones would remain closed tight around the seeds that are needed for our thriving and growth and new life.⁴

Come Holy Spirit Come! New growth and new life! Thriving and becoming something new. God’s new Creation – beloved community. As we’ve said, it’s an equal opportunity Spirit after all, in a less than equal world. Reminding us to live the way Jesus showed us, a community marked by generosity of spirit toward one another and those in need. We, who worship God, break bread together, and spread the Good News of Jesus.

On this day when we celebrate the beginning of the Church, may we remember who we are – those gathered together, who leave behind our aloneness, turn toward one another, and breathe together. May we be open to one another in all our differences: of opinion, of belief, of practices and culture, and language.

May the fire of the Spirit burn away any bitterness, hatred or judgment in ourselves and our world, and turn our hearts to tenderness.

May the flame of God’s love open whatever is ready to become new within us, bringing us new life and growth. Come Holy Spirit, Come! Amen.


1 Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, Wanton Gospeller Press: Orlando, 2015. p. 167-168.
2 Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, Wanton Gospeller Press: Orlando, 2015. p. 169-171.
3 As quoted in Lauren Winner, Wearing God, HarperCollins, New York: 2015. p. 222.
4 Lauren Winner, Wearing God, HarperCollins, New York: 2015. p. 210-211.