Intoxicating Spirit

Intoxicating Spirit

Most of us don’t like surprises. We like buttoned down, nailed down everything under control. We like to plan, and all the arrangements set – like concrete. We want to know that the bills are paid and where our next meal is coming from. We don’t like phone calls in the middle of the night, or last minute change of plans. Most of us have learned through experience that surprises usually are unpleasant, because they at least require us to make adjustments, and change is often inconvenient if not painful.

Our story this morning about the first Pentecost was a huge surprise. Pentecost was actually a Jewish High Holy Day, Shavuot, one of the days in the Calendar, when good Jews were supposed to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Shavuot coincided with the harvest of the winter wheat and the presentation of first fruits in the temple.

It was the tradition to fast and pray the night before Shavuot. Jesus followers from many towns around Jerusalem had crowded into the City for the occasion and according to the text there was a company gathered. We can assume this was more than the eleven, it might even have been the company of 500 to whom the Risen Christ appeared. The exact number we do not know. As they were praying together, however, about 9 a.m. they heard the sound of a rushing wind, and lights appeared like flickering flames. The followers of Jesus began to laugh and shout, and dance. They were on fire with the Holy Spirit, and they rushed out into the streets to share their joy and the news that Jesus was a living presence among them.

No one had anticipated that the Holy Spirit would show up. They were caught off guard and propelled to share their joy. By standers began making fun of them because they were so jolly and enthusiastic claiming they were drunk, full of new wine. The presence of the Holy Spirit was intoxicating.

When I was a very young new pastor in Allentown, Pennsylvania I was working in a church that for a UCC church was very high church. The Sanctuary was a gothic structure with a high vaulted ceiling, like a European Cathedral. There were even kneeling benches in the pews, because the congregation knelt for communion. The Senior Pastor was seventy years old, an old school Herr Pastor. And everything about the place was formal and controlled. It was so formal and controlled it squeezed the life and the spirit out of the faith.

I began working with a group of young adults, who were seeking to break out of the stifling atmosphere of that church to discover some connection with the divine. So we began meeting in homes, and as part of our meetings we shared communion. One evening as we sat on the floor passing the elements around the circle, the Holy Spirit showed up. People began laughing, actually enjoying themselves, something unheard of at the church building. Suddenly one of the members of the group stiffened up and said, “oh we’re kind of loud, what will the neighbors think?”

And the hostess, God bless her replied, “Oh, they’ll just say it’s those rowdy Christians again.”

Rowdy followers of Jesus, that’s what we might become if the Holy Spirit showed up, and we were open to allowing ourselves to being carried away by the Spirit. Sometimes as followers of Jesus we are just too sober, too cautious, too calculating, too safe. We forget we are called to risk and joy. Love is risky especially when we reach out to others. God might call us to move out of our comfort zones. We might have to rub up against lowlifes, and poor people, give away what we have in order to find the joy of Jesus. God help us if we should get intoxicated like that – right?

Thank God, the Spirit sometimes surprises us anyway. I remember as the budget meeting began in January, I was ready for the same old litany of there isn’t enough money, so let’s start cutting. And then Greg Kamback said, “let’s go back and look at the income side again.”

And then quite to my surprise and maybe everyone else, Fred Phillips said, “you know I’ve really been surprised by how much some items can bring on e-bay,” and that was the beginning of the on-line yard sale. And then the Holy Spirit showed up. There was an explosion of creativity in the room, that has carried over throughout the Spring. We decided we were going to try to be more than we thought we could be. When we make room for the Holy Spirit, when we allow ourselves to be surprised miracles can begin to happen.

The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung had a sign hanging in his home, “bidden or unbidden, God is here.” And so I am reminded of a scene from Forrest Gump. Forrest and Lieutenant Dan were out shrimping, and they had caught nothing. So Lieutenant Dan who was very bitter with life said to Forrest, “where’s your God now.”

And Forrest who is the narrator says, “and just then God showed up,” as a hurricane arrives. Bidden or unbidden God shows up, and we might all want to be prepared for a surprise. We can deny God’s presence, we can be blind to the miracles all around us, we can refuse to respond to God’s calling to a life of service to others, but in the end God will not be denied.

I am thinking of the last verse of our next hymn: “When the evening gently closes in and you shut your weary eyes, I’ll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise.”

Are we going to be open to God’s surprises or are we going to insist that it has to be our way, buttoned down, nailed down arrangements set in concrete. We plan and God laughs. On this Pentecost Sunday let us open ourselves to God’s surprises, welcoming the God who comes bidden or unbidden.

God’s blessings may come as a surprise, and how much we receive depends upon how much our hearts can believe. May we be blessed beyond what we expect.


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