Who You Are – Not Who You Aren’t

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “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.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This week, a friend of mine on Facebook posted this article entitled, “You Are So Much More Than You Aren’t.” It’s written to teens by a parent lamenting all the ways that teens are told they aren’t enough, they aren’t doing enough. The litany begins, “You aren’t working hard.

You aren’t paying attention. You aren’t allowed to sit here. You aren’t trying. You aren’t listening. You aren’t my type. You aren’t a good student.” Teens have requirements to meet to qualify for National Honor Society, to graduate from high school, to be accepted into a good college. You’ve got to check all the boxes so that a college will even look at you. And you’re just trying to figure out who you are, how you’re going to navigate life, what kind of human you are. And this litany of who you aren’t can be deafening. And it can get stuck in us so that we think all those aren’ts are actually true, are actually US.

The writer goes on to say “I want them to hear less of what they aren’t and more of what they are. I long for them to absorb all of their are’s.” Because what happens when the rubber hits the road? What happens when trouble hits, when a crisis looms, when failure comes knocking? What then is rattling around in your brain, in your heart, that you tell yourself? That you never were very good at that anyway? That you aren’t a strong student, that you aren’t in the right crowd, that you aren’t loveable, that you’re aren’t doing it right?

This, of course, is not just a problem for teenagers, although the volume and intensity is turned up to 11 in those formative years. We live in a world where we’re told we’re not enough, that we’ve got to improve on ourselves, make ourselves better. And the world has all kinds of boxes we should be checking as we go through life. Make enough money? Check. Make more money? Check. Work more? Check. Better house? Check. Better body? Check. Be a better parent, a better daughter or son or spouse – check, check.

What does any of this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Good question.

Earlier this week as I sat at a table with other pastors and we wrestled with this scripture together, one of my colleagues talked about the image of the bird that is often used to describe the Holy Spirit. He said that when he was a teenager, he wanted to go around his church and turn all the downward facing doves up. He thought their position was off. Dive-bombing toward the ground? That can’t be right.

He wanted to turn them so they would be flying up, not down. It just made more sense to him in his understanding of birds.

But I think, just like my friend, we tend to think we understand birds, fire and wind better than we do the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Birds don’t fly head first toward the ground! Fire doesn’t just appear above your head. Wind doesn’t just blow inside of an enclosed space without a fan, without some open window or door.

Now, describe the Holy Spirit. What are the qualities of the Holy Spirit? How does the Holy Spirit act?  Well, I am here to give you one solid answer. Are you ready? The Holy Spirit comes down. The downward flying dove is headed the right direction. God’s Holy Spirit does not wait for us to earn favor or check off the right boxes or pray the right prayers. God comes to us first – through the breath of creation, through the person of Jesus, through the wild, uncontrollable  activity of the Holy Spirit. God comes to earth and does not wait for us to climb up to God in some heaven far away.

God’s Holy Spirit comes down and tells us who we are. Claims us as a child of God once and for all.  It’s what is promised to us in baptism – the Holy Spirit uses plain old ordinary water as a sign of God’s eternal commitment to loving us. The Holy Spirit uses plain old ordinary water to drown all those boxes we’re trying to check, to drown out all those aren’ts. And we emerge out of the water claimed as a Child of God. As Enough. Weather we’re graduating from high school with top honors, boxes checked — or not.

And we don’t get to shut the windows and have fire extinguishers at the ready. We don’t get to control any part of God, do we!? We don’t get to look at another person and say, “I don’t think you qualify.” We don’t get to send God away or reign God in or turn God in another direction because we think God’s got it all wrong.

It’s something to trust God, isn’t it? That we trust that God is God and we aren’t. Now there’s an aren’t we gotta remember, right? We trust that the Holy Spirit shows up in our worship – that the Holy Spirit gathers us together. We trust that the Holy Spirit works in us as we chew on scripture together. As we pray the prayers of the people together. As we share milestones. None of those 3 things works with a script. They don’t work without the Holy Spirit moving you. That’s all the work of the Holy Spirit, folks. It’s not scripted. It’s not controlled.

And it’s how we are empowered and made brave to send our kids off into life – if that means moving far away or not moving at all – it’s a next step. It’s another milestone of adulthood. And the power of the Holy Spirit assures us that none of us is on our own, none of us is alone. And you bet it’s scary. And of course it will be hard. But you are sent out into this next part of your life, seniors, to see how the Holy Spirit will stir you up in new ways, help you hear new voices and speak new languages. And ultimately, it will remind you who you ARE – a child of God.

And this is the Good News for all of us, isn’t it?

Thanks be to God.