It’s the Same Spirit
Acts 2:1-21    1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Pentecost    June 12, 2011

    The morning of Pentecost is one we come back to each year at this time.  It is the story of how the Holy Spirit was introduced to the followers of Christ so that they could carry on the work Jesus had asked them to do in his name.  Many refer to it as the birthday of the church because until this time, the disciples had been going ahead on their own steam, often unsure of what to say and how to say it, what to do and how to carry it out.  The coming of the Holy Spirit marks a new era in this movement, though.  Now, finally, the disciples have an infusion of energy directly from the divine.  They are literally filled with new breath, they can speak in languages that they did not know before the Holy Spirit touched them.  They have been changed in ways that they don’t even suspect in those first moments of living under the Holy Spirit’s influence.
    Pentecost is all about the shift that happens in our lives due to the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is different, and has a different effect on us than anything or anyone else.  The choice to follow Christ Jesus is something that is up to us.  We may make the decision when we are quite young, or it may not happen until we have some experience in the world;  but the decision to follow him is a choice we make, an act of the will.  Our belief in God is something that comes to most of us almost as a preconception.  It is the foundation upon which we build our lives and our faith.  It is one of those truths that resonates within us with an intensity that is difficult to escape.  God is simply God, and as such is a powerful presence in our lives and our experience.  There is little to be said or done about this at the most basic level, although many scholars, theologians and even common folk like to debate and discuss what they think about God and how they perceive God.
    The Holy Spirit, though, comes into people’s lives in an incredible variety of ways.  We describe the Spirit using so many different words and images, it is almost as if we are all talking about something different - descending dove, flame of fire, comforter, breath or ruach in Hebrew.  I think there is something to this diversity.  I think we do each experience the Holy Spirit in ways that are unique to us.  Because we are individuals with specialized interests and particular needs; it makes perfect sense that the Holy Spirit will appear to us in different ways.  When we go back to the way Jesus first described the Holy Spirit, as the “Comforter,” it can give us insight into who the Holy Spirit is and how she appears in our lives.  Think about what comforts you.  What you need for comfort probably depends on the situation; and what will offer you comfort may not be what another person in the same situation might look for.  Even if you bring the word “comforter” down to its most homey meaning - a blanket of some sort - the variety of such comforters is endless.  All you need to do is go to the bedding department of a large store and you will be confronted with enough choices in comforters to make your head spin.  There are light comforters, heavy-weight ones, hand or machine-made, florals or geometric patterns, down filled or poly.  The possibilities are endless!
    The first Pentecost experience was much like this.  Heads were definitely spinning with the variety of experiences. People who were present wondered what could possibly be going on.  The disciples were all talking in different languages, there was such enthusiasm and excitement in the air that at least one observer questioned if the disciples were drunk.  People were wondering what had happened, and what was still happening.  Everything was in an uproar. 
    This is what happens to our lives when the Holy Spirit enters in.  Everything goes into an uproar.  You cannot control it.  You might not even be able to control yourself, as the disciples, speaking in languages foreign to themselves, discovered.  The crowd around them caught the excitement too, and were difficult to keep under any sort of control.  Everyone present was touched by the Holy Spirit in one way or another, whether it was by receiving a gift directly or by hearing the good news spoken in their native language… and no one was ever the same afterward.  They couldn’t be.
    This morning’s reading from Acts looks at the effects of the Holy Spirit as it outlines some of the gifts that people discovered within themselves after the Holy Spirit touched them.  Some had wisdom, while others had knowledge; some were given the ability to speak in tongues while others were given the ability to interpret what the first folks were saying.  Later scriptures outline even more gifts of the Holy Spirit such as teaching and prophecy, discernment and being an apostle.  The reality is that there are countless gifts to be received from the Holy Spirit.  Each of us is given what we can make the best use of.  For some of us, the gifts are evident and obvious.  We use these gifts well because they seem to be a natural extension of who we are and of what we are called to do in the world.  Other gifts are a bit more difficult to understand.  We sense them within us, but we are not really sure how they come into play.  How can we put them into action?  What are we really meant to be doing with them?  Finally, sometimes we don’t see the gifts we have at all.  They are hidden within us so deeply that we are not aware of them until all of a sudden they are needed and pop up almost without our consent.  For example, have you ever found yourself saying something to another person without really knowing what you were saying; but it was exactly what they needed to hear?  Or maybe you felt the need to do something for another person without understanding why; and it turned out to be something they dared not ask for? 
    The Holy Spirit really does make a home within us, working through us to bring God’s touch to those who need it, to bring God’s word to those whose souls need to hear a little good news for their lives.  The beauty of this “Comforter” whom Jesus promised to us is that she is not just a comforter for those of us who know about her, who have a relationship with Jesus.  The Holy Spirit works through all of those who make themselves available to her power and her gentleness, and in so doing touches the lives of everyone around.  Jesus was intent on leaving the disciples so that the Holy Spirit could come to them.  It was difficult for his followers and closest disciples to come to terms with this because they felt his companionship so powerfully, they knew his touch.  He was a living presence in their lives, in the flesh.  But now, the Holy Spirit, the very Comforter whom Jesus promised, stretches out to touch all lives.  Sometimes she is seen, but many more times, the Comforter comes to people and all they know is that they feel better, safer, surrounded with protection and love.
    Come Holy Spirit, and touch our lives this day.  Breathe on us and breathe through us, out into the winds of the world, covering every corner, every person, every country and every community.  May your gifts overwhelm us today as they did those who were present on that very first Pentecost.  Amen.