Pentecost May 19, 2013 Acts 2: 1-12 Romans 8: 14-17
Rev. Catherine Purves
Every Wednesday morning I pray for children without homes or families. That is one of about six set petitions that are included in the intercessory prayers I use. They change depending on what day of the week it is. So, on Wednesday, every Wednesday, I pray for children who have no loving family and children who have no home.
I was struck this week by the fact that at the top of our prayer list we have two children. Little Sophie was very seriously ill in a hospital in Massachusetts earlier this week. Blaine is here in Pittsburgh, and he also has medical concerns. Sophie, the granddaughter of Betty and Robert Peckman, is being cared for by her loving family, and on Wednesday of this week I contacted many of you by email asking for your prayers for her. Thankfully, she seems to be doing better. Little Blaine is a friend of Charissa’s daughter, Lexi, and he is in the foster care system here in Pittsburgh. He has no family and no home, and the foster care system has not been kind to him. At the moment, adoption is more a dream than a possibility. Two children, both in need of our prayers, both with health concerns, but one is blessed to have a home and a family and the other is not. How very different their lives must be. Hold onto that thought.
Our reading from Acts described the extraordinary events that took place on the day of Pentecost. Ever since Jesus was resurrected on Easter morning, the disciples had been waiting for this. Of course, they didn’t exactly know what they were waiting for, but Jesus had told them to wait for the gift of the Spirit, to wait for the promise of the Father, to wait until they would be clothed with power from on high. And so, they had waited, and then, ten days after Jesus’ ascension, when the city of Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims because of the Jewish holy day of Pentecost, the waiting was over.
But even after that strange Pentecost event took place, they still weren’t sure what had happened. After experiencing the violent wind filling the house, seeing tongues of fire appear above each of their heads, and hearing one another speak in foreign languages – that whole crazy experience was still inexplicable. Luke tells us that, not surprisingly, the disciples were amazed and perplexed, and all they could say to one another was, “What does this mean?” What does this mean?
I guess the church has been asking itself that question for the last 2,000 years. What does this mean? How are we to understand this Holy Spirit? What does Pentecost have to do with us in our rather tame and established institutional church? Are we also supposed to wait for that gift, that promise, and that power? And what can we expect to happen if we do? Well, the thing is, even if we could somehow prepare ourselves for the whirlwind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in tongues, that might not be the way that the Spirit comes to us. The ‘where’ and the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of the Spirit’s coming is just as unknowable for us as it was for the original disciples. So today I’d like us to think instead about the ‘why’ of the Spirit’s coming.
There is still a lot that could be said about that simple question of ‘why’, but turning now to our reading from the eighth chapter of Romans we are only going to look at one aspect of this broad question of ‘why’. Still, I want to suggest that what is described there is a vitally important facet of the Spirit’s work, even though it sometimes goes unheralded. In Romans 8, Paul writes, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” A spirit of adoption.
Remember little Blaine and Sophie – Blaine without a family and a home, and Sophie surrounded by her loving family? I can’t help but think that they represent, in a real way, the before and after reality of our waiting for the Spirit and then receiving the Spirit. Before Jesus left his disciples he told them, “I will not leave you orphaned.” (John 14: 18). In saying that, he was promising that we would not be left to fend for ourselves in the world. We would not be like children who have no family and no home. Paul confirms this when he writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” This is the work of the Spirit of adoption. We are folded into the family of God, part of the household of God, and members of Christ’s church. This is not something that we can do for ourselves, any more than an orphaned child can wish himself into a family, any more than a beloved daughter could choose her parents. Being part of the family of God is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption.
In a particularly poignant expression of the surprisingly gentle work of the same Spirit who orchestrated the uproar of Pentecost, Paul says that the Spirit of adoption teaches us how to say “Abba, my Father.” This is not something that comes naturally to us. It is not something that we can take for granted. This is a tremendous gift given only to those who belong to Christ and who are in God’s family. Abba, my Father, our Father – the Spirit leads us into an understanding of that treasured relationship which is pure gift, teaching us to pray, and to trust, and to live in the reality of our being children of God.
I have never yet figured out how to talk about church membership in such a way so that prospective members won’t get the wrong idea about what is actually happening. You may have noticed the rather peculiar way in which I phrased that announcement about church membership in the bulletin: “Is it time to take the next step and join the church?” Why turn it into an indirect question like that? Well, the unspoken subtext of that question, in my mind, is this: “Has the Holy Spirit taught you to say Abba yet? And has the Holy Spirit adopted you into the family of God? And has the Holy Spirit given you a particular home here in our congregation?” Church membership, just like being part of a family, is not really based on a decision that you make; it is not something that you can choose or not choose. It is something that God, through the work of the Spirit of adoption, does in your life.
Where would we be without this Spirit of adoption? Why is this work of the Spirit so important? The short answer is that we would be orphans if the Spirit of adoption did not make us part of the household of God. We would be making our way in the world all alone. We would not have a home. And we would not know how to say, “Abba – my Father, our Father.” We would be like those children that I pray for every Wednesday morning: children without a family or a home.
But the good news of Pentecost is this: the Spirit of adoption is at work in the world. Sometimes that Spirit hits us like a whirlwind and sets us on fire. But sometimes the Spirit whispers prayers in our ears and shows us in quiet, gentle ways that we are the beloved children of the Father. In Christ, God has chosen us to be part of the family of God. That is an amazing thing. The Spirit of adoption shows us that Jesus is our brother, just as God is Abba, Father. And those primary relationships mean that we are all brothers and sisters for one another. No one is solitary; no one is orphaned, because we are all one in Christ, and we are all children of the one Father. Today, on Pentecost, we give thanks, because we do have a family and a home as God’s precious children.