Nurturing the Spirit Within: Acts 2:1-18
Reverend Tricia Dillon Thomas
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit. Come.
It’s called blind contour drawing. It’s an effective training tool for artists to practice discipline by only looking at the object being drawn and not the paper. To practice drawing what they really see, what they might miss if they were otherwise concentrating on the finished project.
It gives the artist the freedom to let go.
When someone asked my friend Casey what it was he was going to paint (in an art class at the conference I was at last week in Montreat), he answered, he didn’t know. Having just heard the words of a hymn to sing later in worship that same night, we were asked to paint a phrase that struck us. That moved us. Casey was just going to put the paint on the cloth and see what happened. I smiled to myself because it was the same way I was painting, and the same way I have engaged my preaching texts for last several years. It’s the way I move beyond the rational and allow myself to really look, to really see what the Spirit is saying. It’s blind contour drawing.
Today’s scripture lesson just happens to be all about the Spirit. About the advocate that Jesus sends to the twelve after he ascends into heaven. It is another birth narrative, the birth of the church. Let us listen now for the word of God.
READ ACTS 2:1-18.
They sat there, in that house in Jerusalem, waiting. Waiting for days. Perhaps praying. Talking to one another about the past 50 or so days and the things God had done. Waiting as Jesus had ordered them. Waiting for “the promise of the father” (1:4). Waiting to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
And she came.
Like the rush of a violent wind she came.
The storm filling the entire house.
So disruptive was her sound that when those in the city heard,
they had to come and see.
Tongues of fire poured out.
Poured out with God’s abundance.
Like mighty seas that had been let loose, the tongues of fire fell from heaven.
As a young person I always imagined these tongues to be hot and wet, like the divided tongues of a snake, hovering and finally finding their rest on the shoulders of the twelve.
And suddenly, on no merit of their own, but as the Spirit gave them the ability, the disciples began to speak in tongues. This abundant Spirit penetrated the barriers of language and nationality, so the people could hear God’s deeds of power in their own language.
The people around couldn’t believe what they were hearing. The disciples were speaking in ways that people from all over the world could understand what they were saying about all the deeds of God. Some wondered cynically if the disciples weren’t drunk on new wine. Indeed they were filled with something new. A new Spirit.
Like the rush of a violent wind she came. And with the deep groans of labor she bore the church.
The church. That which is the body of Christ.
Listen and hear that.
The church. That which is the body of Christ.
Take that statement, hear that statement in all its truth. If we yearn to see Jesus in this world, all we must do is look to the church because it is Christ’s body. The church that is world wide and surpasses all time. The body of Christ that existed from it’s earliest days and reaches beyond the scope of our lifetime. This is the church that was ignited with the rush of a violent wind.
It is God who created the church we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday, and it is God who calls people into the church. It is God’s church. And it is God’s will its members are to express. And as members of the body, we are called to do God’s will, to discern how the Holy Spirit is moving us.
If we remember who it is to whom we belong and whose will it is we are called to serve, (1) then I pray as individuals, as a Church, and as the church universal we will allow ourselves to be opened by the spirit and trust and have faith in how we are being called to move, to speak, to act. It is not always easy to know what God is calling the church to say and do.
But what I wonder about most (not only as a pastor, but as a member of the body, and as a mother who is tired, and as an American citizen who is constantly trying to turn a blind eye to the very tempting idols of the secular world) what I wonder about most on this Pentecost Sunday is what am I doing, what are we doing, how are we actively discerning the Spirit in the body of Christ? If we are each part of Christ’s body on this earth, are we living our lives in ways that help us actively engage the Holy Spirit and follow through with how we are being called?
Are our individual lives and our corporate lives being lived in such a way that we are able to reflect on how God is working in the world and how we are being called to participate in that work?
Are we open to the Spirit moving us beyond Sunday worship Christians to everyday disciplined Christians? Are we empowered through the Holy Spirit as the people of God to bring witness to Jesus the Christ?
Listen to what happens later in the chapter as Peter continues to talk to those gathered.
Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites."
He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, "Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!"
That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.(2)
Their lives were forever changed. They lived in a new way, they worshiped in a new way, with the rush of a mighty wind they were transformed.
As I mentioned earlier, a couple of weeks ago, I left town to spend some time at Montreat. Even though I was reading scripture nightly and praying daily before I left, I felt detached and alone. I was overburdened and tired, my focus was on the finished piece of work (getting the kids to school, making dinner, doing the tasks of my job, taking care of others, etc), not in the present.
When I got there, I was surprised by the quiet.
I was surprised by how much I just wanted to sit silently and listen without an agenda.
My prayer, as theologian Shirley Guthrie encourages us, was “Come, Spirit. Come.”
My prayers were about listening to God instead of talking to God. The listening and the intentionality brought me peace. And strangely enough, I remember towards the end of the week how when I walked across campus intentionally trying to encounter the Holy Spirit in the present, actually calling on the Holy Spirit to come, I found my legs getting heavy as if I became rooted with creation. It is hard to describe in rational, linear terms.
But when I told Judi Creneti about it, she could almost finish my sentence. She has in fact a collage picturing it. A woman with roots coming from her legs down into the earth. I had surrendered to God in a way I had never before imagined and I think the barriers I had put up to control the Spirit began to fall down when I prayed for the Spirit. Great is the mystery of God. And in all things pertaining to the Holy Spirit, in trying to understand this third person of the Trinity, that which works thru us and in us, I tend to wax poetic. (3)
This Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate newness and renewal of purpose, mission, and our calling as God’s people.
And so I bring us back to blind contour drawing.
Have we, like God’s people before us, kept our eyes on what God is doing in the world rather than our finished product?
Are we practicing daily discipline and keeping our eyes on how God is really moving in this world and in our lives? As individuals, participants in Peace Presbyterian church, and members of the body, the church universal, my prayer is that as we pray for the Spirit to come the barriers in our lives will fall to the side and the breath of God will knock us off our feet with the rush of a violent wind.
Closing Prayer: Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us.
An exercise in Blind Contour Sculpting:
Our faith is a journey. Most of us started this journey listening to the stories of the Bible, retelling these stories until we began to know them. At some point in our journey we came or we will come to a place Paul Ricoeur calls “Second Naivete.” It’s when we come to recognize the biblical witnesses and our Christian theology are beyond rational reasoning. They are gray places, mysteries, and “Second Naivete” is living into that mystery, being at peace with the mystery. But it doesn’t mean we stop seeking the God’s wisdom and God’s spirit. Some preachers and other artists try to understand the mysteries outside of the logical brain by accessing the right side of our brain. Through art and music. For me, it is in such places where the breeze of the spirit indeed becomes the rush of the mighty wind.
I invite you during this time to look under your chair for a piece of clay. As we hear the music first sung by the choir, then rung by the bells, and finally sung by us, I ask you to pray, “Come, Spirit. Come.” It’s blind contour sculpturing. The point is not to have a finished sculpture, but to use the clay pressed between our fingers as a way to listen to the spirit. Perhaps you’ll be surprised by what you hear. During our singing, when you’re done, I invite you to place your pieces of clay on, around, and under the communion table. The table that reminds us of how the body is called and a table that is a reminder of the kingdom of heaven here on this earth.
If you don’t have Clay…
In the back are places with baby wipes, and trashcans beside you.
Pray with me now. Come, Spirit, come.
(1) Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine (Westminster/John Knox Press: Louisville, 1994).
(3) Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine (Westminster/John Knox Press: Louisville, 1994).