The Shape of Us

Pentecost A
John 7:37-39

In the name of God who burns in us and flows through us.  Amen.

I go through these cycles of what interests me when I’m mindlessly wandering around the internet, falling down the various “rabbit holes” that abound.  Sometimes it’s YouTube videos of music that I like where one song leads to another, or short documentaries about subjects that interest me.  Sometimes it’s cooking videos, or “life hack” pages that claim to give suggestions for how to make everyday activities easier, but that almost never really work.  Lately, however, I’ve been drawn in by collections of surprising pictures.  One page was about “trolling” – basically the internet’s way of talking about pranks and practical jokes.  One of the posts on that page was about a man who lives near an airport landing path, and decided to paint, in giant letters, on the roof of his house, “Welcome to Cleveland!”  But the thing is, he lives in Milwaukee.

But some of my favorite pages of that sort involve pictures of animals, being cute.  Maybe it will show puppies freaking out over getting fed in the mornings, or pictures of pets looking guilty when they’ve clearly been up to no good.  A common trope on those kinds of pages is various pictures that claim to prove that cats are, in fact, liquids.  Most animals are solids, but these posts claim that cats are actually liquids, because they take the shape of their containers.  The picture will show a tiny box, entirely too small for a cat, but holding a cat, nonetheless – squeezed into every square inch, with not even enough room for a breath.

That image – the image of a cat taking the shape of its container – kept coming back to me this week as I read, again these readings about the nature of the Holy Spirit – about the ways by which it is given and described to the people of God.  The most common images of the Holy Spirit are things like wind and water and fire – things that defy static shapes, and more importantly, in the case of wind and water, things that take on the shape of their containers.  Fire can even overcome whatever contains it.

In the Gospel that we read today, Jesus quotes scripture in saying, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  And the gospel writer tells us that in that, he is referring to the Holy Spirit.

In the reading from Acts, however, the Holy Spirit’s arrival is described as a rush of a violent wind that filled the entire house where the disciples were gathered.

What’s integral in both of these accounts is that the people of God are the vessels of the Holy Spirit.  The rivers of living water flow from the hearts of those who believe.  The tongues of fire that accompanied the rush of a violent wind rested on the heads of the believers.  The wind, itself, filled the room – each disciple breathing in the very Spirit of God.

I love to quote St. Teresa of Avila, a monastic of the early Renaissance, who famously said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Pentecost teaches us that the same can be said of the Holy Spirit.  We are the vessels of the Holy Spirit.  She has no body now, but ours.  No hands, nor feet, nor eyes.  Only ours.  We are the containers that bring the Holy Spirit into the world on God’s behalf.  That Spirit takes our shape.

It’s a mighty responsibility to hold.  And it’s a humbling privilege.  As we go about our days – making coffee, eating lunch, falling down internet rabbit holes, binge watching television, and reading pointless novels.  As we work, and play, and answer emails, and reach out to our friends and loved ones – that’s when we can be vessels of the Holy Spirit.  Because the Spirit takes our shape.  It’s up to us to use this gift from God to keep the love of Christ flowing through the world.  It’s up to us to use this gift from God to keep creation praising God.  It’s up to us to use this gift from God to share the Good News of God in Christ.

The gift is here.  But it’s up to us to use it.

Throughout this week the news has been filled with images of fires – fires meant to consume the social evils and injustices that have plagued minority communities for too long in this country.  It’s a sad thing that the cries of the oppressed have been so ignored that there sometimes seems to be no other recourse.  But in the face of injustice, each of us has the ability to be instruments of the Holy Spirit in a world that desperately needs it.  Each of us has the chance to burn up the systems of oppression and dehumanization that we encounter with the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit takes on our shape to enter the world.  What shape will we give it?  How will we use this gift to seek and serve Christ in all persons?  How will we use it to love our neighbors as ourselves?

The images of the Spirit are always of things that can’t be easily contained.  Things that are wild and flowing and hard to pin down.  Because this gift was made for all of us.  For each of us.  For any of us.  This gift was made to fit us, in all of our various forms and needs and abilities and gifts.  This gift was made to take on whatever shape it needs to, to fit the needs of the world.  Even the shape of us.  And that’s always the shape that the world needs most.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.