This homily follows a short play based on the life of Symeon the Holy Fool.
Symeon the Holy Fool first came to my attention because the middle school youth group chose him as their favorite, in this year’s Lent Madness saint popularity contest. When we needed a story to share in May – I looked up Symeon, and found his biography, written by Leontius, who was a bishop in Greece in the 7th century. We’re sharing that story today, on Pentecost, because Leontius tells us repeatedly that Symeon’s strange behavior was guided by the Holy Spirit at work within him.
What is the Holy Spirit? In the early years of Christianity, Christians began to talk about God as having three different ways of being. Those three aspects are separate. For example: Jesus talks about both God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, as being different from himself. Yet they are also all part of the One God.
We use the word “Trinity” for that three-ness in one-ness. It is a mystery that may stretch our minds, but the church has come to know it as truth: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Source, Word, and Power; The One who creates, the One who befriends, the One who empowers – the Holy and Undivided Trinity.
So: the Holy Spirit is part of God. But somehow different from God the Parent and Source, and from Jesus, God the Friend.
The idea that God’s Spirit was at work in the world was not something that came along with Christianity. In the beginning of Creation, God’s Spirit moved across the waters of chaos. The Old Testament talks about Lady Wisdom as an aspect of God, who welcomes and guides those who seek her.
In today’s Pentecost story, the early Christians receive the Spirit of God in a new way. The Holy Spirit helps them speak God’s good news in a way that others can understand. The Epistles, letters and sermons from the early decades of Christianity, tell us some of the other ways our faith-ancestors experienced the Spirit: The Spirit helps us know what to say, when we speak for God. The Spirit helps us pray, when we can’t find our own words. The Spirit gives us gifts and skills to use for the common good. The Spirit binds us together into one household of faith across our differences. The Spirit working in a human heart, or a human community, can bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
You might have noticed that I sometimes use “She” when I’m talking about the Holy Spirit. I don’t really think the Holy Spirit is a girl. But the church has used “He” for God for so long, in so many ways, when we know that God isn’t really a boy either. Using “She” for the Holy Spirit can help us remember that God is bigger than male or female as we know them. And that all kinds of humans are made in God’s image.
The Church has some special things we do together where we invite the Holy Spirit to join us and make something happen, though what we are doing. Those things are called sacraments.
The Eucharist is a sacrament. I ask God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to take ordinary bread and wine and set them apart and make them holy, so that they can be Jesus’ body and blood for us.
Baptism is a sacrament. When we baptize baby Dahlia this afternoon, we’ll ask the Holy Spirit to make the baptismal water holy, and to mark her as belonging to God forever.
Marriage is a sacrament. Yesterday at Natalie and Howie’s wedding, we prayed for their spirits to be knit together in God’s spirit.
Confirmation is a sacrament. When some of our youth were confirmed last fall, and when Bishop Lee visits us this summer to confirm some people, he will pray over them and ask that the Holy Spirit will increase in them more and more.
Those sacraments, those rites, are very special – even the ones we do often like Eucharist! But the Holy Spirit is willing to show up at not so special times too. The Holy Spirit is meant to be a friend and helper in daily life. And I have found that when I remember to call on her, she is.
She can help us discern – choose a path well and wisely. She can help us find words of comfort, encouragement, and truth. She can give us courage to do what’s right even when it’s hard. She can help us notice what we might not notice on our own – when that noticing might be a gift to us or to others.
And yes, like Symeon, if we’re really listening to the Spirit, she might sometimes nudge us to do something surprising, even something that seems foolish – if that surprising or foolish thing will help someone, or do good in the world.
Here’s a big word for us all: Invocation. It means to call on something. The Church has always taught God’s people to call on the Spirit… to invoke the Spirit. It’s not magic – we can’t control or manipulate God. But the Holy Spirit likes to be invited. We have to open a door to let her come in and help us. It can be as simple as saying, out loud or in your heart: Come, Holy Spirit! – and then, paying attention, patiently. Holding an open space inside yourself.
If you like magic words, though, there’s a wonderful word that early Christians used: Maranatha! It’s in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, and it means, Come, Lord! Maranatha!
Try saying that with me: Maranatha!
Come, Holy Spirit! Maranatha! Bless your church and your people; work within us and among us; heal us, connect us, encourage and empower and guide us, today and always. Amen!