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Holy Spirit, Batman!

Updated: Jan 29


a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

May 28, 2023

Acts 2:1-20 selected verses NRSV

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All 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 people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Fellow Jews[a] and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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.’

Do you remember the Batman series on television? Robin, his sidekick was famous for saying “Holy [something or other]” whenever somebody said or did something surprising. Things like, “holy hallelujah, Batman!” “Holy conflagration, Batman,” “Holy Las Vegas, where are we, Batman?” and even, “Holy fruit salad, Batman!” SO why not, “Holy Spirit, Batman?” I’m sure he must have said that at some point. So that’s the inspiration for my sermon title.

My sermon title inspired a bit of panic last week. Some people evidently read the title “brokenhearted” and seemed alarmed about it. I had to explain it was just a sermon title. Then someone asked why we couldn’t use whole sentences. I explained there were two reasons: 1] there wasn’t room in the bulletin for a whole sentence, and 2] I try to come up with titles that catch your interest, and I asked, “it worked didn’t it?” Smiley face emoji! Then I added, wait til you see this week’s title!

So all that backstory aside, I was imagining the Holy Spirit coming down on Robin, or more precisely, I imagined what if Robin were there? What if Robin had been there at that Sunday the followers of Christ gathered for worship and the Holy Spirit came down. The surprise of it surely would have elicited a solid, “Holy Spirit, Batman!” from Robin, wouldn’t it?

More to the point, the arrival of the Holy Spirit was clearly a surprising event for those first worshipers. The story tells us that it was a multinational event too. I left out all those different countries the writer of Acts lists for two reasons. One, most of those countries you and I would have no idea what they were – I mean “Cappadocia” or Phrygia?” – and two, I didn’t want the Sign Language interpreter to whack me right here in front of everyone for reading all those! Can you imagine having to fingerspell all those countries? So the initial surprise was that all these people of different nationalities, of different languages and cultures, who had come there to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, were hearing about “God’s deeds of power” in their own language and the result was they were excited to join with those believers in Jesus.

So what, you ask? Why does that matter to me, you wonder? Well, I suspect most of us would find all this noise and surprise unsettling if not downright upsetting! Many of us come from religious traditions that put the emphasis on order and control and anything but surprise. We used to have liturgies that were quite precise. Our hymns certainly weren’t rock and roll. Our sermons were delivered like college lectures. Noise and fire and shouting and – well it sounds like something crazy!

A writer I once read said that if we Christians really believed the Scriptures, really read and believe them, we would wear crash helmets to worship. We would be prepared for anything to happen, for the Holy Spirit to break loose in ways that would startle, surprise, shock, and leave us panting with racing hearts. Some of us don’t want that sort of faith experience! We like predictable, orderly things. We want to know what is going to happen, what to expect.

But the writer who said these things was right. The Scriptures are full of surprising, astonishing, shocking events. The lame walk, the dead rise to life, the outcast is welcomed in as a family member, the sick man is lowered through the roof to be touched and healed. Heck the Scriptures even tell us a donkey talks and a virgin has a baby! And we all just want to be sure the music isn’t too loud, right?

And another part of this whole Pentecost and Holy Spirit thing is we really don’t know what the Spirit does do we? Oh, we sometimes attribute things to “the Holy Spirit.” We say, “I’ll do it when the Spirit moves me,” about doing something we don’t really want to do. But let’s look a little closer at what this Holy Spirit does so maybe we can be better prepared for, well, things to surprise us!

In many ways, the Book of Acts is a book of the Holy Spirit. It tells all the miraculous and amazing things the first disciples did with the power of the Holy Spirit inspiring and empowering them. They faced down the religious leaders who tried to silence them and keep them from speaking about Jesus. It gave them courage to risk jail, the power of the leaders of their faith and even risk death. They kept telling their story – the story of Jesus as Messiah. And God kept adding to their number.

The story of Pentecost is the story of how a diverse group of people who were from many different lands, spoke many different languages and obviously were different in many ways came together to become a new creation, a thing we call “church.” Our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith says that we believe in the Holy Spirit whose power is -

“creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.”

And that that Spirit calls us “into [God’s] church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be [God’s] servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.”

All of this sounds exciting and energizing. So why are so many churches dying of apathy and conflict and even those who seem to be busy seem to be busy at a lot of stuff that not only doesn’t seem to embody what Jesus was all about, but seems intent on simply being mouthpieces for the status quo and the protection of prejudice, pride, and even personal wealth if you believe the prosperity gospel purveyors. They don’t seem to be pressing the point that the Spirit goes wherever it will, and moves in mysterious ways. And most of us don’t seem to want an unpredictable, blow -with -the -wind religious experience.

But I suspect God has a few surprises still waiting in the wings, perhaps even the wings of the Holy Spirit. I believe God needs a place where humans of diverse experiences, perspectives, attitudes, and attributes can come together, kind of like this church. I believe God needs a place where people can share their hopes and hurts, and a place where people can plan ways to do things to help others. I suspect God even needs a place to surprise people now and then with a Spirit that disrupts the status quo and the quiet boredom of church.

Every church says it wants to grow. But no church wants to change. And when new people come in they bring new ideas, new ways to do things, new visions and new gifts. If we want to grow – and if we believe in God and in Christ and in the Holy Spirit in some way or another, we better believe they want us to grow. And we better realize that to grow means to change and to become more and more what God intends us to be because, Holy Spirit, Robin, we aren’t yet what God fully intends us to be. Great as we are, we can still grow individually in Spirit and in faith and in love.

We do a lot of great things and there are people out there who want to join us in doing those things. We have to find ways to let the Spirit guide us in reaching, welcoming, and integrating the gifts and talents and faith that others can bring. If we want to be “created and renewed” as our Statement of Faith says we need to be ready to let that Spirit create and renew us. One of the great, wonderful things I believe about our kind of church is that we don’t think we need people to come here so we can “fix” them. We don’t look at people as lacking something we necessarily have. That is a great hurdle most of us don’t have to overcome. We truly do want people to bring their gifts, talents, and abilities – different as they may be from ours, here and use them for God’s purposes. Or perhaps I should say, put themselves at God’s service to use their gifts and talents for God’s purposes along with us.

Be warned though, sometimes those changes can seem like a fire that is destroying things. Even sacred things. Rev. Molly Baskette says sometimes God uses “controlled burns” to clear the unnecessary things [ dailydevotional,, May 26, 2023 ]. Sometimes those things need to be burned away so we can recognize the necessary things to be the church, to be people of faith. For her church it was what looked like a catastrophic fire that burned their entire building to the ground. Naturally the reaction to such a catastrophe varied. She says, “Some were weeping. Some were solemn. Some sought to comfort me,” she said.

One woman said, “We’ve been through this before.” Another said, “Our church is the people and not the building,” Someone else said, “Thank goodness no one was hurt. The rest is just stuff.” Moe and Dan got calmly to work, talking to the fire chief, making the right phone calls.

When the fire was finally out, she “stood in our gorgeous, ruined church. Gobs of ceiling [on the] pews. The drip, drip from heat-twisted steel struts making a gentle rain onto the floor.” She said, “I prayed that the congregation wouldn’t remember the sermon I preached six months earlier about how God longs to set the church on fire. Metaphorically.

She said, “I had preached that God sparks controlled burns in order to pare away that which does not serve Her purposes, to free up space and energy for new directions. And so She did. Since then, we have put up an energy-efficient, light-filled community center, and have decided to add affordable housing to our campus as well. We will never be fireproof, but we don’t need to be. We just need to be ready to burn.”

I don’t know how to describe the Holy Spirit to you or to Batman or to anyone else. All I can say is if we really want to be what God wants us to be get ready for noise, and change, and new excitement… and fire [ hopefully metaphorically ]. And when something happens we can’t explain, just shout, “Holy Spirit, Batman!” And we’ll all understand. AMEN.

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