Who do you listen to? Who do you trust to give you insight and hope…to speak a word of life in this world…to speak the word of God?
I can tell you right now, if you would have asked that question in Jerusalem during the feast of Pentecost about 2000 years ago….if you would have polled the thousands of visitors who had arrived from around the known world to worship at the Jewish Temple…..not one of them would have listed Galilean fishermen. They might have mentioned priests …or philosophers….or some well known political figures. Some might have even mentioned Jesus, the rabbi they had heard speak last year, before his execution…or they might have named some other travelling rabbis or respected teachers. But no one…NO ONE…would have listed a bunch of unknown, ordinary, not particularly educated Galilean men and women.
Yet….that is exactly who the Holy Spirit used that day. It’s not surprising people’s first reaction was that they were drunk…making fools of themselves on this holy day…speaking up like they actually had something to say that others should listen to. Most people would have been embarrassed for them, rolled their eyes, and ignored them. But they were the ones with a word of hope for them all that day. They were the ones speaking the word of life …the word of God….in words that every person could understand if they just bothered to listen.
So who is speaking the word of life…the word of hope in our world….if we would just bother to listen. Peter quotes the prophet Joel….that your sons and daughters will prophesy….are we listening to our youth? And your old men shall dream dreams….are we listening to our elders? And the slaves will prophesy….no, we might not have slaves…but we definitely have folks who work in jobs that we think only deserve a minimum wage, if that — our child care workers, our fruit pickers, our checkout clerks, our restaurant dishwashers and hotel cleaning staff….are we listening to what they have to say?
Pentecost is a reminder that the Holy Spirit isn’t something the church and its religious leaders have control over or sole ownership of. Nope…the Holy Spirit is on the loose, in the world, fully alive in all kinds of people. Ordinary people who live in love and hope and faith …who bring a word of life into the world. Ordinary people who work toward the common good with the gifts they have been given. Paul says there are a variety of gifts…a variety of services and activities people exercise…but it all comes from the same Spiirit — “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” When we are “spirit filled”…we make the world a better place. We become balm to the wounds of the hurting…we become living water for the thirsty…we become hope for the disheartened….we become assurance for the frightened.
This past week, we saw three spirit-filled men stand up to hate on a train in Portland. When the man initially became angry and started his threats…most passengers hoped he would just go away. His rants were targeted at people of color, so Rachel Macy, a Native American, tried her best to be invisible. But three men moved closer…trying to diffuse the man’s anger…standing between the man and the young Muslim girls he had targeted. Rick Best died immediately. Micah Fletcher, the one who survived..in his statement this week affirmed that Portlanders need to stand up for each other…that the city should be a home for everyone. And as Taliesin Namkai Meche died, he was comforted by Rachel Macy….who just kept telling him “You’re not alone. We’re here…what you did was total kindness. You’re such a beautiful man…I’m sorry the world is so cruel”…and .his last words to her before being taken away on a stretcher were, “Tell everyone on this train that I love them.”
That is the Holy Spirit at work. It is people, who, in the face of hate…act with courage and love. In the face of division…see strangers as family. It is people, who, in the face of a world that encourages us to look out for ourselves…serve others…love others…are kind to others. The Holy Spirit is at work when people seek the common good.
That is the test of the Holy Spirit. It is not moral uprightness or religious fervor. Too often those are the very things that foster hate and anger and division and ugliness. No…it is our concern for the common good…for the welfare of our neighbors…that is the calling card of God’s Holy Spirit in the world. Following Jesus does not lead us to a place where we despise others — but to a place where we love others. Where we listen to others. Where we realize this world, like Portland, should be a home for everyone…and that we need to stand up for each other.
And when we realize this, one of the things that becomes clear…is that the Holy Spirit’s work isn’t limited to the Church…or people who call themselves Christian. No, the Holy Spirit is God unleashed throughout the creation that God’s very breath gave life to. The Holy Spirit is at work in ALL people..who bear God’s image…and who live their lives in love toward their neighbors.
We do not claim ownership of the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Day. No, instead, today we stand in wonder and awe at God’s Spirit…powerful and beautiful…and also dangerous….calling us to take risks…to speak up…and to listen….and calling us us to bring living water to God’s beloved world that is dying of thirst. Jesus says…”out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Out of your heart and mine, this day and always, may rivers of living water, as full as the Pend Oreille this weekend, flow …bringing words of life…bringing kindness and hope… to those around us. Amen.