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What does this mean?

What does this mean?
May 15, 2016
Passage: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17 (25-27)
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What does this mean?
I’m sure some of you read the 2007 novel, The Shack. It tells a twenty-first century story of a spiritual journey not unlike Dante’s fantastical pilgrimage in search of his lost beloved, except that this one takes place in a shack in Eastern Oregon. Along the way the protagonist, Mack, encounters the three persons of the Trinity as individual characters in the novel. What is probably my very favorite scene features the Holy Spirit: a mysterious, sylph-like creature, more energy than person. There’s a wonderful moment early on in the story when Mack comes outside after breakfast and encounters the Spirit in her garden. The garden is filled with every kind of flower, vegetable, and vine, but it is overgrown, wild and unkempt. He is astounded by this garden and all he can say is “What a mess!” She replies: “Oh, thank you!”


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could detect the work of the Holy Spirit evident in all of the chaotic places and messy moments of our own lives? Since today is a day of baptizing young children, I know at least a handful of you/people who can relate to a particular kind of mess and chaos in your every day lives.
Today’s Pentecost scene from Acts is kind of a mess. It’s chaotic, as the Spirit upon the disciples in a cacophony of wind and wild speech that I expect was hard for Luke to put into words for all of us who weren’t there.
Everyone wants to know: “What does this mean?”
Peter’s explanation is that this scene is part of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, of a Spirit poured out upon all flesh, a time when young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams and sons and daughters everywhere will prophesy. I’m sure he just left out the part of about dreams and visions of middle-aged women.
What does this mean?
Jesus has been promising the Holy Spirit for weeks. He calls this Spirit the Advocate, the Teacher. We might think of the Spirit as the invisible thread that knits faith communities or friendships together. Or we experience the Spirit as the wind beneath our wings, the still small voice beside us or within us that speaks when we don’t know what to say. Throughout the Book of Acts, the Spirit is the source of power that allows disciples to do the work of healing, reconciling, and becoming Church. The outpouring of the Spirit has many forms.
On this Spirit-Red day, Peter and his community of disciples are about to baptize 3000 people. The descent of the Spirit is all about baptism, on the first Pentecost and today.
Baptism is our sacrament of vocation, whether our calling is to be a parent or a high school teacher, a dancer or a cellist, a financial analyst or an Uber driver. Baptism invites the Spirit into that vocation. The passage through the waters of baptism, whether by dunking or sprinkling or splashing, is passage into new life in Christ, partnering our life with God’s. Today, five people will be initiated into this divine partnership. In whatever sphere of life God calls them, their part in this divine partnership will be to proclaim the kingdom of God in all the ways spelled out in the baptismal promises. When we promise to pray, persevere, proclaim, seek, serve, and strive for justice and peace, we bind ourselves to our vocation as followers of Jesus in this world God created and God loves, this messy world infused with Spirit.
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, the Holy One promises. On chubby baby flesh, on frail old flesh, on smooth flesh and on cracked and bleeding flesh. Flesh and Spirit go together. That’s why it’s so appropriate that the symbolic, tangible action of sealing the newly baptized in the Holy Spirit is done by putting oil on flesh. Each one of us is commissioned in baptism for ministry in this messy, fleshy world.
The earliest converts baptized on Pentecost—the 3000 you meet if you read on in Acts—wanted to be baptized because they heard the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and responded “What should we do?” We hear and partake in the same story every Sunday in the Eucharist. It is into this story and into our Eucharistic rhythms that Peter, Quincy, Jasper, Naomi, and Anton will be baptized, and it is by these rhythms that we are renewed in our own vocations.
As parents, godparents, friends and strangers say “I will!” to this new vocation of Peter, Quincy, Jasper, Naomi, and Anton, we say again “I will!” to our own vocation and our particular place in the world.
As we pray for these children about to be baptized and witness this acting out of the Spirit’s descent upon each of them, maybe even as we continue to wonder, “What does this mean?” let us reaffirm and celebrate the ways the Spirit continues to rest upon us and fill us. What visions will we see? What dreams will we dream?