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Happy Birthday to us! - Susan Bennett

OK, call the church police ... I'm about to say something folks might think is close to blasphemy. I love Pentecost more than Christmas. Christmas is OK - at least, the church part is - but Pentecost is much nearer and dearer to my heart.

Pentecost, which is tomorrow, celebrates the moment when the Holy Spirit showed up, and the church was born. To me, that's incredibly exciting. In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples, "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (or Advocate, is someone who's on your side and will both guide you and go to bat for you) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."

Jesus could not stay forever. He was completely God, but he was God in the flesh, subject to the same limitations we have as regular, flesh-and-blood human beings. He came specifically to save us, to show us God's nature and God's kingdom, and commission his disciples to go out and do the same.

And because of that, it's BETTER that he send the Holy Spirit to be with us. The Holy Spirit can be everywhere, with each one of us, no matter what, in a way that Jesus, at that time, could not.

Look at what the Holy Spirit accomplished in the second chapter of Acts. He introduced himself pretty dramatically, with lots of power - the mighty wind, tongues of fire, people filled with the Spirit and speaking in other languages. The Spirit of God was coming into the world in a new, different, incredibly powerful way. There had never been such a sight, such raw power. Everyone was astounded!

But do you know what I think was one of the most amazing things that happened that day? Look at Peter. We're used to the Peter who gets nervous and starts talking nonsense; the Peter who was once so out of line that Jesus said to him, "Get behind me, Satan!;" the Peter who steps out of the boat and starts sinking.

In fact, we remember the Peter who DENIED Jesus three times while Jesus was under arrest. Peter had moments of great insight and understanding, but he also made some spectacular goof-ups. And we all identify with him - trying so hard, and messing up so often.

Well, there's no messing up today. The Holy Spirit manifests himself powerfully, and fills Peter's heart and spirit. The Holy Spirit gives him courage and eloquence. Peter begins to preach with great power, giving witness to Jesus, supporting his claims with scripture. As a result, 3,000 people were saved and baptized that day. And the church was born.

This is NOT the same Peter we met in the gospels! Don't ever underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit today. It's not always as dramatic as tongues of fire and mighty winds - actually, the Spirit's work is usually so quiet and down-to-earth, we don't always realize it's him. But he's alive and well, and still in the miracle business.

Often we're very aware of our weaknesses and struggles. We see clearly the ways we fail and the long distance we still have to go to be mature disciples of Jesus. What we MISS is what the Spirit's already done in us.

Have you ever reached out to help, when you really didn't feel like it? Have you ever taken the time to listen attentively to your friend, when you really didn't have either the time or the desire? Have you held your temper, spoken the kind word, offered encouragement to someone when actually, you were pretty discouraged yourself?

What's happening is that the Spirit, over time, is turning you into a servant of Jesus, who puts others first - which isn't NATURAL to us at all. It's a work of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit isn't always dramatic - although sometimes it is. But allowing the Spirit to transform us, over time, from the inside out, so that we live the gospel and show the world the kingdom of God, just as Jesus did - all of that gives witness to Jesus.

And whether or not 3,000 souls get saved and baptized all at once ... well, that's up to the Spirit. But when the world looks at YOU, they see someone who is kinder, gentler, and more loving ... and that's just the kind of witness Jesus needs. The Holy Spirit works in ways that are big and small, visible and invisible, dramatic and commonplace. The Spirit turned Peter into a powerful preacher, leader, and apostle. Who knew such a thing could happen? Celebrate Pentecost this year by committing yourself once again to being a disciple of Jesus, with heart and life open to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Give the Spirit thanksgiving for the ways you've already been touched, and changed, and encouraged into spiritual maturity. Let him in! Who knows what will happen?

Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.