+ Do you ever have a movie that anytime you see it on TV or hear a reference to it you just feel good thinking about it? One of those films for me is the now-classic 1986 film, Stand By Me. Any time I see that film, I just come away feeling good. The movie, which takes place in 1959, is based on a short novel by Stephen King. It is about 4 boys coming of age in Maine. And it really is the story of any of us coming of age in our own life.
One of the actors in the movie was the late, great River Phoenix. I was a huge fan of River Phoenix. I once read a biography about Phoenix, Lost in Hollywood, and there was a quote in the book that I thought about a lot over the years. In discussing his talent as an actor, Phoenix tried to articulate what happens when one creates art.
"Everything is kind of tentative,” Phoenix said, “and at a certain point you click in and you just feel the Holy Ghost move you. It’s a great feeling. It’s not like I reason and say ‘Oh, I want to do this.’ It’s just an inherent challenge that grips you and says, ‘Do it.’ Your subconscious says goes with it [and] makes it happen.”
I like that quote—I think it’s a true statement. But I especially love that comment about the Holy Ghost.
“You just feel the Holy Ghost move in you.”
Today, of course, we are commemorating the Holy Spirit moving in us. In us, as the collective Church. And in us, as individuals. And that moving of the Holy Spirit within us, has changed us and made us a wonderful force of good and love in the world.
I think most of us—I hope most of us—have felt his moving of the Holy Spirit within us as some point. Still, even if we haven’t, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling to define who and what the Spirit is in our lives. The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.
But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is: Although Jesus might no longer be with us physically as he was when he walked with the disciples, God's Spirit does remain with us. Jesus will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again. But God is leaving something amazing in Jesus' place.
In a sense what happens with the Descent of God’ Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets, as you’ve heard me say many, many times.
The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible.
That is who the Spirit is in our midst.
The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—is truly the Spirit of the God that came to us and continues to come to us—first to those prophets in our Hebrew past, then in the person of Jesus and finally in that rushing wind and in that rain of burning flames.
It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before. God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration. God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always.
And it is through this Spirit that God comes to know us as well. For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan. We can’t grasp the Spirit. We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do. In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.
So, how do we know the Spirit is working in our lives? Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit. In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us. It was on the feast of Pentecost in Jewish culture on which the first fruit were offered to God. In a sense, what happens on our Pentecost, is God returning those fruits to us.
On the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fruits the Spirit of God gives to us and we can be thankful for them. The Spirit comes to us and manifests itself to us in the fruits given to us by the Spirit.
We often hear about Pentecostals—those Christians who have been born (or baptized) in the Spirit. They are the ones who speak in tongues and prophesy and have words of knowledge or raise their hands in joyful praise—all those things we good Episcopalians find a bit disconcerting. These Pentecostals—as strange as we might find them—really do have a lot to teach the rest of us Christians about the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
For me, the Spirit of God came to me at various points in my life not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a quiet, though just as intense, way. The Spirit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up form within.”
The fruits of the Spirit for me have been things such as an overwhelming joy in my life. I have known the Spirit to draw close when I feel a true humbleness come to me. When the Spirit is near, I feel clear-headed and, to put it simply, happy.
And more than anything, when the Spirit draws close, I am filled with a true sense of hope. When the future seems bleak and ugly, the Spirit can come in and make everything worth living again.
On May 31, I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of my calling to the Priesthood. On that day, I can tell you, when I felt the Holy Spirit move in me, I knew that presence was holy and good and true and right. My life certainly didn’t get easier after that point. But my life changed, and I was led to places by that same Spirit which called me that I would never have thought for myself.
No doubt everyone here this morning has felt a similar experience of God’s Spirit, although you might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit. Maybe it was the joy you felt when a child or grandchild was born. Maybe it was a sense of calm coming to you in the midst of a difficult time in your life. Maybe it was a comforting hand on your shoulder when you were sorrowing or a bit of advice you needed for some problem you had been carrying with you for some time.
This is how God’s Spirit comes to us. The Spirit does not tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives. The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us.
So, this week of Pentecost, let us look for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives and in those around us. Let us open ourselves to God’s Spirit and let it flow through us like a caressing wind. And let us remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us—whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto as it was those first disciples. On this feast of Pentecost—this feast of the fruits of God—let us feel the Holy Spirit move within us and let us give thanks to God for all the many fruits of the Spirit in our lives.