Joe Neville

Acts 2:1-21



The Dance of the Spirit

Let's take a moment to describe the background of this amazing story of the first Pentecost after the death of Jesus. A small group of men and women come together in Jerusalem for the celebration of a Jewish festival. They are folks whose world has fallen apart. Jesus, their friend, has called them to share in his ministry. They have left their old lives, and followed him into a world that bewildered and frustrated them. They have watched as Jesus preached and taught and they have just begun to grasp something of his vision of a brave new world.  They have watched as religious leaders swooped in on Jesus like hungry vultures, insisting that their religion was one of race and nation rather than heart and spirit.  They have stood by as Jesus was brought to trial and perceived as a major threat to the existing order.  They are still reeling from his crucifixion which was the final violent rejection of his call to love and spirit.

For this lonely little group gathering in Jerusalem, it is not just the death of a friend they are grieving, but the loss of a dream as well. Even though stories of his post-resurrection appearances among them have comforted them and perhaps given them hope, they are a pretty discouraged, defeated and depressed group of folks.  What they had been able to do with enthusiasm when he was with them, they have been unable to do without him. They have no message to preach, no power to heal, and they are far too confused to teach.

It is in this mood that those first friends of Jesus came to the festival of Pentecost, a Jewish holy day, scheduled just fifty days after the Passover.  It was a day sort of like our Thanksgiving Day, a time for folks to recall the Passover again.  So this little group of bewildered friends came to Jerusalem, not just Jews anymore, but certainly not Christians either.

The crowd they came upon was a mixed lot.  Judaism had scattered among the lands that bordered the Mediterranean Sea, so the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem was filled with people with strange alien names, from cities far off.  Somewhere in the midst of this crowd of crazy strangers was a little group of Jesus' followers.

Try to picture the event itself.  They are gathered together in a room.  Something begins to move.  First is a sense that something is stirring, like a little breeze that tickles the hair on the back of your neck and lifts it away from your skin.  The little breeze becomes stronger and the disciples find themselves lifting their heads up and looking around.  The hairs on everyone's necks are standing up!  The breeze becomes a gust and the gust becomes a storm.  A sound coming from heaven like a mighty wind fills the room.  It fills the entire house and perhaps the wind even fills them, and a mighty power is set loose in the room and the disciples feel it in every single cell in their bodies.

In the midst of this amazing release of power, there appeared to them tongues of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.// Perhaps there is an electrically charged aura surrounding the head of each person, glowing and pulsating in red or orange or yellow, like a flame or a tongue of fire, hanging there in the air as a kind of gift or blessing or benediction.


The aftermath is not that they are totally wiped out by the experience and retreat to take a nap, they are completely energized by it. // Suddenly, they are new people, filled with power, confidence, and radiance.  Depression has disappeared; fears have vanished; into immeasurable emptiness has come this strange, new power.  They are re-energized and exploding with vitality and new life.

They cannot be contained; they rush into the Jerusalem streets, telling everyone what they have just experienced, hoping that perhaps others felt it too.  The really strange thing is that people from all over the world understand the disciples, each in their own language.  They are so ecstatic and filled with crazy power, that they are perceived as off-the-wall drunk.  But Peter tells the crowd what he knows has just happened; God has poured out the Spirit among them.  People are so impressed that they clamor to receive the spirit for themselves and three thousand people receive the gift of the spirit that very day.  The church--the community of the spirit-- is born.

This is the story of the first Pentecost.  It might have found itself relegated to the place of strange and unbelievable tall tales of the Bible, except for one important thing:  The fact that believers of every age have seen in this story a description of their own religious experience.

Now some of you will say that you've never been in a situation as dramatic as this story. And that may be true.  Some others would say that you have found this experience with alcohol, drugs or mind-altering substances and you would not care to go there again.  And there are others of us who would say that prayer, meditation or worship can produce the same effect.  Perhaps others of us have had an experience of an actual spiritual whirlwind, or we might even have had strange and powerful dreams or visions, so that we might be sympathetic to the Pentecost event.

Whether we can get it or not, can imagine its actual happening or not, the truth of this experience is simply the touch of the Holy Spirit and the recognition that God is present with us in our lives.

The same God who was present in the lives of disciples at Pentecost is with us now as the Holy Spirit and is doing something right now in our own lives.

The story of Pentecost simply describes the experience of the spirit and shows us vividly the activity of the spirit.  That which is divided, is brought together.  Those who were brought low are given hope again.  Empty, tired vessels are filled with vital, life-giving energy.  Those who are defensive, distracted, depressed, dumbfounded can be renewed again and inspired to go on living and believing.

I have seen Pentecost happen here at Brookfield.

I heard it in the stories of some of our new members while we visited.

"This community has given me a reason to hope in church again."

"By making this commitment, we are saying yes! to so many other parts of our lives."

"I hope that my coming here will make a difference in my understanding of friendships and community."

The strong winds of the Holy Spirit dance in our lives.  The Spirit is active in our living, whether we know it or not, believe in it or not, hope in it or not.

I want to make three brief comments about how you and I know the Holy Spirit is active in our living.

The first is that when you are touched by the spirit, you will find that something is changed for you.  You’ll not be the same old person going about business as usual. Something will be different.  You may go to sleep worried and awake with a problem solved. You may hear terrible news and wonder how on earth you can go on and some one will bring flowers to your door or write you a note with only the words "thinking about you" written on it. You may have a feeling of weariness, oppression, even dullness about your life and something, or someone, filled with expectation and buoyancy enters it.  Or perhaps you've gotten accustomed to living or believing or seeing things in a set way and suddenly, you open up and experience a new insight or notice fresh hope.  When you are touched by the spirit, you will find yourself behaving in a different way because you will be different.

The second way that you will know that the Holy Spirit has touched your life with its breath of strong wind is that you will discover that you are sent to do something.  The disciples found their call to preach and teach and gather a new community based on love and renewed hope.  In a similar way, those of you touched by the Spirit will find yourselves asking what form of mission you want to take up - is it teaching Church School, spending your vacation time working on a Youth Camp in the wilderness? Joining Habitat for Humanity, and building a house...or sitting behind the reception desk at church, riding your bike 500 miles for AIDS? Sitting with a dying friend, holding the hand of someone who has just had a premature baby? Protesting the proliferation of nuclear weapons on the world stage, bringing something wonderful to a Food Pantry or stopping to inhale the tender fragrance of a summer rose?  When the Holy Spirit begins to dance in your life, Watch Out!  You will begin to understand that you have been sent, not merely to sit on the earth, but to serve the good of it.

I heard a story of a woman who, when she was a child, visited her grandmother in little southern town.  After attending an emotional revival service where people jumped about and shouted out loud, she asked her grandmother if that meant that the people were being touched by the Holy Spirit.  Her grandmother said a profound thing; "It doesn't matter how high you jump or how loud you cry, it's what you do when you come down that really matters."

When the Spirit touches your life, you will understand that you have been sent not only to live unto yourself, but to help fulfill God's mission in the world--which is to give love and bring justice.///

And the last way you will know that the Holy Spirit is at work, or at play in you, is that you will find yourself drawn to be with people through whom the fresh winds of the Spirit are moving. That is what happened at the first Pentecost. Instead of being separated and remaining alone and isolated, they found themselves being drawn together to share something mysterious and wonderful that had happened and now could be shared in a much broader context, with generation after generation of folks who could go on discovering the dance of the spirit.

It seems appropriate that on Pentecost Sunday, the Sunday we celebrate the dance of the Spirit, we should rise to that challenge.

To be a Spirit filled person or congregation or church, does not mean we have to writhe in holy Pentecostal pleasure; it means simply three things:

The Holy Spirit is active in your life.  You are touched by a spirit and open to the spirit helping you dance in new ways.

You know that you are sent to do something in this world. Just as the disciples moved into the world with a sense of hope, you will move into the world, knowing that you are part of God's holy mission of love and justice.

You are to be drawn to others who share the power of the strong winds blowing.  Instead of feeling isolated, lonely and separated from the great happening, this wonderful wide world, you will be drawn to those who share a vision of a new heaven and new earth.  You will dream dreams and share new visions which come fresh from the dance of the Great Spirit of Life.

On a day when we celebrate the birthday of the church, let us take up a new dance--

Those who want to move (as Henri Nouwen says) out of the house of fear into the house of love, from a state of "on hold", to moving, sharing and always becoming, from isolated self-protection to the community of the spirit, are invited to come along.

Happy Pentecost, my beloved, cherished friends, you have been touched by the holy spirit.

May God's Spirit always dance in you!