Set Us On Fire, Holy Spirit,
Pentecost Sunday Homily, May 23, 2021
by Fr. John Dear, St. Timothy’s, Morro Bay, Cal.
Pentecost is such a great feast, it’s such a happy day to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in the early community, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says at the Last Supper that he’s going to give us his spirit, whom he calls the Spirit of truth, who will testify about him, and guide us to the truth and once we have his spirit, we too will testify to the truth. Wow.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how the Holy Spirit sets Mary and the disciples on fire with peace, love, and truth and sends them out into the city to proclaim the kingdom of God. Wow. Their lives are totally disrupted and changed. But they don’t care; they’re excited, filled with the spirit of Jesus. They can no longer stay inside, they get up and go out into the world and start speaking out boldly about God and the kingdom of God, about Jesus and love and peace and truth, which means as you read on they start denouncing the empire and they get in trouble like Jesus and are arrested and jailed and martyred. But it’s like my friend John Lewis said, its good trouble. It’s not so much that they’re political; it’s that they go public and get in good trouble to announce God’s reign of peace and love.
So I want to ask a question: do we really want the Holy Spirit? Do we want to live in the Holy Spirit of Jesus? Do we want to be set on fire with the Holy Spirit and sent out into the world to announce God’s reign of peace, love and truth?
Yes, of course. Deep down, we all want to live in the Holy Spirit of Jesus. We’ve tried all the other unholy spirits and let’s just say they don’t work. It’s no fun to be mean and grouchy and selfish and resentful and bitter and hateful and angry and violent or whatever. Those spirits don’t make us feel good; they don’t help others; they don’t serve God. They only make us unhappy and violent. So when we say we want the Holy Spirit of Jesus to come upon us, that means, of course, we no longer want to live in any unholy spirit. So today we’re saying, Come Holy Spirit, set us on fire, fill us with his love, peace, and truth and send us out to proclaim God’s reign of peace and love and justice.
Ok, so if we want the Holy Spirit upon us that means we no longer live, for example, in the unholy spirit of racism. We resist systemic racism, especially us white people, we renounce racism and white privilege and do not look upon anyone with different skin color as less than; we celebrate every human being as our very sister and brother in Christ, and so we can’t be silent in the face of white police killings of unarmed African American brothers and sisters like George Floyd, Breana Taylor, Ahmaud Avery, or turn away sisters and brothers at the border. So we speak out publicly against the unholy spirit of racism, like Dr. King and John Lewis and say Black lives matter. So come Holy Spirit, set us on fire and send us forth to do the work of racial justice, equality and reconciliation.
Ok, so if we want the Holy Spirit, that means that from now on we men resist the unholy spirit of sexism and patriarchy and violence against women which means we advocate not just racial equality but gender equality. We’re going to treat everyone as equals and be nonviolent to everyone and work for a world of equality and nonviolence.
Ok if we want the Holy Spirit, that means all of us as North Americans in the wealthy global north renounce the unholy spirit of greed, money, privilege and indifference. Like Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa and St. Francis, we side with the poor, not the rich; the marginalized and the powerless, not those in power; the starving, the homeless, those at the bottom. We live in the Holy Spirit of Jesus, so we know that what we do to the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, imprisoned, the immigrant, we do to him. So we pray, come Holy Spirit, set us on fire, send us forth to do your work of mercy and justice for the poor.
If we want the holy spirit of Jesus, we want to be sent like the Parkland students to work to stop gun violence; to be sent like my friend Sister Helen Prejean to work to stop the death penalty, to be sent like Stacy Abrams to get voting rights for everyone. I could go on and on.
But friends if we want the holy spirit of Jesus, that means we resist the unholy, demonic spirit of war. Unholy spirits are anything that bring death. The Holy Spirit brings life, peace, love & joy. So as people of the Holy Spirit, we are against the Israeli bombing and occupation of Palestine and Gaza all of which is funded by US military aid; we want the Jewish vision of Shalom and human rights for Palestinian children. As people of the Holy Spirit, we want to end our wars in Afghanistan and Yemen today; and stop selling billions of dollars of weapons to both sides in every war, and cut our insane military budget which is not making us safer but only bankrupting us and dismantle every one of our 10,000 nuclear weapons that can blow the planet up many times over; and instead spend those trillions of dollars for food, housing, jobs, healthcare, education and dignity for every human being on the planet, and fund nonviolent conflict resolution so we can all live in peace. As people who live in the Holy Spirit, from now on we do our part to stop the ongoing war against Mother Earth, and the creatures, and support the grassroots movements to stop fossil fuels and fund real alternatives to slow catastrophic climate change. So come holy Spirit, set us on fire, too, and send us forth like Gandhi and Daniel Berrigan and Jane Goodall and Greta Thunberg as your agents of disarmament, nonviolence, peace and environmental sustainability.
I love this line in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit—”love, gentleness, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, self-control, peace, and joy.” As people of the Holy Spirit, we have universal love for everyone; we are gentle and nonviolent toward everyone; we have patience with everyone; we show kindness toward everyone; we are generous, we give without expecting to get anything in return; we are faithful, we stay on the path of the nonviolent Jesus no matter what; we practice self control, we stay centered and mindful and sober; we are at peace with ourselves, we make peace with everyone, we live in Jesus’ peace; and deep down, we have an inner joy knowing that we are following Jesus and heading toward resurrection.
So dear friends, my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit may come upon each and every one of us and set us on fire and send us forth to love and serve everyone and proclaim God’s reign of peace and justice and truth here in California and everywhere from now on. Amen.