On the day of Pentecost, the people gathered in the upper room experienced the most incredible event in their lives. It’s a wild experience. It’s beyond their imagination. There was a stormy sound, like “the rush of a violent wind,” like a tornado. It came down suddenly from heaven and filled the entire house. There was a strange vision. Flames of fire, like tongues, touched the heads of the people. There was an unfathomable wonder. The believers were gifted with the ability to speak fluently in a new language. In the presence of this Spirit of God, there was communication over any human barriers and unity within people’s diversity and differences. This event truly surpassed any human understanding. So the onlookers “were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” And they sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”
For sure, this first day of Pentecost was full of wonder and divine mystery. And today, we are celebrating another day of Pentecost with all Christians in the world. We praise together the coming of the Holy Spirit who gave birth to the church. But we know, today we may not have the same dramatic event. We don’t expect the Spirit to descend on us like the strong wind of fire and embolden us to preach the gospel to anyone we meet. We don’t expect that, do we? Yes, we better admit, we wouldn’t have such drama today.
Nonetheless, I believe, there’s at least one thing we can surely do even today. What is it? I think, that is, to be open-minded to the new possibilities of God. We may open ourselves to the unexpected visit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And we may open our hearts to fresh changes and new experiences. We’ll never know what is going to happen in our lives in the presence of the Spirit. God may do something totally new, something radically unimaginable here and now with us. Yes,why not?
But I know, it’s very hard to be open-minded. It’s truly easier said than done. Think about our human nature and our ego. We are naturally inclined to avoid any sudden surprises. We don’t like any unexpected events and changes in life. It’s because we want control over our life. We always feel like our life is in the way it should be when we can plan on it and manage it.
And in this light, we can understand the onlookers of the Pentecost event. They were just the same as us, just usual humans. They were so surprised when they witnessed the unforeseen work of the Spirit. In such strange situation, they tried not to lose themselves and not to lose control. So they came up with some words to grasp and delimit this event. And they finally figured the closest possible description. That was, drunkenness. They define the experience of the believers as mere drunkenness, saying “Look at them. They are acting like being filled with new wine. Yes, they are.”
This was how those onlookers close off themselves from the astonishing work of the Spirit. And how about us? Don’t we sometimes do the same? How much and how often are we open to the new possibilities of God? On this new day of Pentecost, I believe the Holy Spirit inspires us to honestly look into our hearts. Are we like those earliest believers on the upper room? Do we joyfully open our hearts to the Spirit and yield our control for the amazing presence of the Spirit within us? Or, are we more like those onlookers? Do we just follow our will and delimit the work of the Spirit on our own terms, saying, “been there and done that”? And are we willing for the Spirit to grasp us and use us in a way out of our expectation? Or, are we willing for our ego to hold initiative of our life and lead us in our own preferred ways?
The temptation to close off ourselves from the unexpected work of the Spirit is strong, very strong. But today’s Acts reading testifies to a certain truth and promise for us. If we truly open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and give way to her, the Spirit will get ahold of us and have her way with us. If we surrender our will to control and give room to the Spirit, she will dwell in us and mold us to be more like Jesus. And this is what we call “the way of sanctification,” “the way of holy living.” We know this work of the Spirit can happen in our lives if we truly believe.
Faithful friends in Christ, the great ancestors of faith, spirituals, and theologians in the whole history of Christianity basically teach us this truth, this promise of our salvation, our new life. Our journey of new life is the journey of opening ourselves more and more to God by emptying ourselves. And the more we are open to God, the more the Spirit abides in us, and the more we become sanctified and Christ-like. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, this journey may not go as we expected. The direction of this journey may be suddenly changed. Our planned itinerary may be turned upside down. But isn’t our goal of Christian life to follow Jesus and be more like him anyway? Then, why not? Why not give way, give room to the Holy Spirit? Why not let go of our way, our plan, our control, our will?
Today, let us truly open ourselves to the new and unexpected possibilities of the Holy Spirit. Then, only then, we may experience true Pentecost among us. As the believers of Jesus Christ our Lord, we all have received the Holy Spirit and we are living our lives in the presence of this Spirit of Jesus. This is what Jesus promises in today’s Gospel reading. Thus, for our journey of sanctification, all we need to do is to open our hearts to this ever-present Spirit. In your time of prayer and reflection, ask this Spirit to awaken you and lead your way. Why not? Ask this Spirit to dwell in you and inspire you to keep up the good work of faith. Ask this Spirit to surprise you sometimes and turn you upside down to remain truthful and faithful to Jesus only. And ask this Spirit to come and set you on fire of love that you can love others as yourselves. Open your heart. Give way and give room to the Holy Spirit today. Why not?
Pastor Earl Kim