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Pentecost is Pentecost. There are tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit is no longer a transient visitor. Jesus’ promise appears to be finally fulfilled. As with our yearly Christmas texts and Easter texts, Acts 2:1-21 comes right on schedule. Unlike the disciples, no matter how often we proclaim ourselves to be a Pentecost people; we are never taken by surprise. We know what we’re getting on Pentecost morning. Peter and the eleven are mistaken for a group of bumbling, drunken Galilean fishermen, who play a little fast and loose with a Joel quote from the Septuagint, and end up speaking something that sounds like Latin to the Romans, Greek to the Cretans, and Arabic to the Arabians. That’s Pentecost for Methodists. No surprises. No windows are broken, no tongues of fire are seen, and none of us will be confused for drunken fishermen. Pentecost, like every other Sunday, will be an orderly affair with red paraments, red flowers on the altar, and who knows, I might even wear a red stole. Our Pentecost will be nothing like the first Pentecost, and that, my friends, will be our loss. If we need anything, we need some of the unstructured spirit-driven informality.

Paul also writes at length about the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Unlike the day of Pentecost, where the crowd only assumed Peter was high on hooch, people showed up to the Eucharist drunk in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11: 20-22). Paul wanted to refocus the Corinthians’ attention on the Holy Spirit, not the consumable, alcoholic spirits. He segues from talking about people being carried out of church because they’re too drunk to walk to make this statement: “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” He’s about to launch into an extended discussion as to how the spirit equips people with different gifts for ministry. Paul wants everyone to know we’re all not gifted to play quarterback. Somebody has to be the water boy, someone is the coach, while others are on the sidelines drawing up plays or cheering on the team. Everyone has a unique role to play as defined by the spirit. We get that part. That may be the easiest part of any of Paul’s letters to grasp. We’ve known this idea since we were kids in little league. I’m more interested in that first sentence; we cannot proclaim Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. What does he mean?

We can say, “Jesus is Lord” as easily as we make any offhand comment about anything or anyone. We can say it three times fast, repeat it like a mantra or prayer, shout it out loud, or whisper it under our breath. Paul seems to indicate this confession of faith means little unless it’s done in the right spirit, with the right focus, and directed toward the right priority. That’s where the gift of the Holy Spirit comes in. Unlike the flash-bang Hollywood special effects we read about in Acts 2, Paul paints a more subdued but equally important image of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. The Spirit is that which gives our confession meaning, direction, and priority. Without the Spirit, “Jesus is Lord” are three words. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit does more than enliven our worship. The Spirit points us where, when, how, and with whom to serve. With the Spirit, we are directed outward from our safe spaces toward sometimes uncomfortable places of service, helped to prioritize how, when, and where to build the kingdom of God on Earth and create meaning in a world that thrives on meaninglessness. Our sermon need not be long. We only need three words but we must have the Holy Spirit to connect God’s vision with God’s people.

–Richard Bryant