Pentecost – Holy Spirit Holes
May 22, 2010
Have you ever heard of “Holy Spirit holes”?
I hadn’t either…until this week.
I was at a preaching conference in Nashville,
and a speaker mentioned that churches once had these “Holy Spirit holes!”
They were actual holes in the roofs of churches
in Rome in the 10th century.
They were used just once a year – at Pentecost.
On Pentecost Day, the people would open the holes in the roof
and let down doves representing the Holy Spirit.
The doves flew overhead all around the congregation throughout the service!
(I can see you’re worried about the same thing I was.)
They didn’t say whether or not special Pentecost hats became popular then too….
But the doves weren’t the only things which were let through these Holy Spirit holes.
Also on Pentecost, bushels and bushels of rose petals
were emptied through the roof and into the congregation –
to symbolize the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit.
And that’s not all…
I wish our choir were here tonight,
because the choir had a very special role at Pentecost in these churches.
Their job was to blow and drum like the wind of the Holy Spirit rushing in.
Perhaps you’ll be happy to know that this year
our Art and Design Committee decided to go just for the special banners!
I am always struck by the drama of this reading in Acts though.
There’s no mistaking the Spirit.
It comes upon them suddenly,
with a rush like wind,
with fire and chaos.
They spoke languages for which they had never taken a lesson
or conjugated a verb.
In fact they spoke so well, they sounded like native-speakers!
Native-speakers from all over – all those places that are hard to pronounce —
Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene,
and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
Cretans and Arabs.
It was so chaotic that people in the crowd thought they were drunk.
But they weren’t – according to Peter –
for it was only 9 o’clock in the morning.
And Peter stands up and says
“No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.’
The Holy Spirit descends upon them
and things are never the same again.
Certainly Peter isn’t the same – we can already hear that in his voice!
No longer is Peter the coward
who is afraid to profess his belief in Jesus
lest he suffer the same fate Jesus did.
No longer is Peter the fearful one hiding in a locked room
with the other disciples, startled by any knock at the door, afraid of ghosts.
No longer is Peter the uncertain one who
went back to fishing with his friends because he didn’t know what else to do.
Peter is changed.
In the midst of the chaos of the Holy Spirit, Peter speaks out.
He prophesies in the true sense of the word
– meaning he tells the truth about what he knows about God.
Sometimes speaking the truth about God, being passionate for the faith,
can sound irrational;
it can sound ridiculous;
it can sound like what it sounded to those on that Pentecost Day
– it can sound like, well, it can sound like we’re drunk!
And so very often we try to contain it…
To Sunday mornings perhaps…
If we keep our “God-talk” to church, then maybe people won’t
think we’re one of those religious ‘fanatics’
One of those who sound like we might be drunk.
And that is a problem I see with the concept
of the Holy Spirit holes in those medieval churches.
It seems like the purpose was to let in the Holy Spirit…
…and then to keep it there.
To keep it contained within the four walls.
To restrict it to that worship service.
To limit it to those people who were gathered.
But the fact of the matter is,
the Holy Spirit cannot be contained, restricted, or limited.
The Holy Spirit blows where it will.
A better use of the Holy Spirit holes, I think
would be to let the Spirit out rather than in!
And that in a sense is what is happening this weekend at St. James.
14 young people will affirm their faith tomorrow at their Confirmation.
They will affirm for themselves the promises
that their families and friends
made for them at baptism.
And then we will pray for the Holy Spirit to be upon them with the laying on of hands.
I don’t know about you – but I think this is the most moving part of the service.
I’ve asked our Confirmands to especially pay attention to this part,
as Pastor Mike and I, Amy and Jim, their Confirmation teachers,
family members and will lay hands
upon each Confirmand as they are on their knees.
For whatever else they remember on this day,
I hope that they will know and feel the blessing of this entire congregation
on their heads.
We will pray for the Holy Spirit because all of us know –
we can’t do this thing called faith alone –
and thank God we don’t have to.
Through the laying on of hands
we will pray that the spirit of wisdom and understanding
be upon Kelsey and Elise and Jason and Olivia.
We will pray that the spirit of counsel and might
be upon Seth and Katie and Carrie.
We will pray that the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord
be upon Michael and Chelsea and Owen.
We will pray that the spirit of joy in God’s presence
be upon Landon and Larry and Braden
both now and forever.
And then we will pray that those Holy Spirit Holes in our church be opened —
not to keep anything in –
but to send them out.
Sometimes it’s kind of scary sending young people out.
What was the prophet Joel thinking
that sons and daughters shall prophesy
and young men see visions!
Dare we allow them to?
Dare we open those holes?
In faith, yes we do.
We say that they are ready.
They’ve been prepared.
They’ve worshipped with us,
prayed with us,
played with us,
studied with us.
And now it’s time to unleash the power of the Spirit.
To open the Holy Spirit holes for them…
and to watch and listen to where it takes them!
Sons and daughters shall prophesy!
Young men shall see visions!
Let us watch and listen!