As the Feast of Pentecost approaches, here is something I wrote for The Living Church last year (May 31, '09):
When I was growing up on the farm we had an electric fence. Being curious, or foolish, or both, my brothers and I would play games with the electric fence. You could hear the click, click as the electric charge pulsed through the fence. So, one game was to see if we could pinch the wire between the clicks. If you timed it right, you could pinch and let go of the wire and never get shocked. Of course, if you didn’t time it right, you got a bit of a jolt. We also experimented to see what would conduct electricity. If you place an old section of rubber hose on the electric fence, nothing happens. If you place a dry stick or an old dry bone on the wire, nothing much happens. If you do the same with a loose piece of wire . . . electricity gets conducted!
The Holy Spirit is like divine electricity given to energize, empower, transform, and sometimes jolt the Church into action. Disoriented and disillusioned, fearful and uncertain, the followers of Jesus who gathered in the upper room on Pentecost were bereft of the life, energy, and power they had known in his presence. Then the Holy Spirit charged – shocked is not too strong a word – them with new life and power.
That first generation of the Church was not energized by some new religious insight. Nor were they energized by some new ethical ideal. They were energized by the power of Spirit of God – the same Spirit that had descended upon Jesus and that he had promised to pass on to his followers. The current of that Spirit electrified them with the love, peace, joy, and hope of Jesus. Empowered by his Holy Spirit, Peter and the others were transformed and became transformers who shocked the world, turning it upside down with the power of the good news of what God had done and was doing through Jesus the Christ.
The Church is like an electric grid, charged through with the Holy Spirit. It is an ever-expanding grid that extends through out the world and back through time to the original Pentecost. As one definition has it, the Church is an ever-widening sphere of an ever-deepening reconciliation. The Holy Spirit is given to the Church to empower and energize that reconciliation which is a sign of the promised “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).
Pentecost is a reminder that the divine-human drama centers not on the individual but on the community. While not strictly a matter of either/or, it does matter where we put the emphasis. By the Holy Spirit, God calls us into community where we learn to love one another as God loves us. In, with and under that community, the Holy Spirit moves like an electric current empowering the Church to make our “life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” (BCP 429).
While the Spirit is free to blow where it chooses, the normal way its presence and power are accessed is by being connected to the community that it animates and energizes. When we are baptized we are connected to the grid and electrified by the Holy Spirit. Or, to use the more organic language of the New Testament, in baptism we are grafted into the vineyard of the Church. There we are able to abide in Christ by the power of his Spirit and bear fruit.
The Holy Spirit is given to us personally primarily through that connection. So connected, individuals are energized and empowered by the love and joy of Jesus. As we learn to love in community, participate in worship and sacraments, pray, study scripture and serve we are continually energized and recharged by that same Spirit. Like the Apostles before us, we too are charged with the spiritual electricity of new life, new creation. And, unlike my crude experiments on the farm, whatever in us that resists conducting that Spirit – the rubber, dead wood, and dry bone of our sinfulness and brokenness – will be transformed into live wire.