Romans 8:22-27; Acts 2:1-21
Murray Richmond, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Medford, tells a wonderful story from his own family history. Listen:
“My grandfather collected liquor bottles. Not just any bottles—he collected Jim Beam collectible bottles. His den had rows of shelves on every wall, and each shelf was full of bottles. After he died my uncle contacted a antique dealer and asked if he was interested in buying my grandfather’s collection. The dealer walked into the room where the bottles were stored. His eyes widened with delight as he looked at the treasure trove of bottles. He picked up a bottle and the delight faded from his face.
“This is empty,” he said.
My uncle told him they were all empty. My grandfather was a teetotaler, and the first thing he did when he bought a bottle was to empty it. “They aren’t worth that much,” the dealer said. “They only hold their value when they haven’t been opened.”
The bottles were pretty. But because they were empty they had lost most of their value. Beautiful, but the firewater was missing!” 
What a story for Pentecost! On that day, before nine o’clock in the morning, the disciples were empty. No fire water. They were of no earthly good to Jesus’ Kingdom. They were huddled in fear in their closed rooms.
But once the firewater came, it filled their bottles to overflowing and what poured out of them was – well – FIRE! On this day, when we celebrate fire, when we are surrounded with the colors of flame, I have to say: bring on the fire water! Let it pour over our souls and through our bodies and into the world!
Theologians as divergent as Karl Barth and Billy Graham proclaimed that the 20th century should be the age of the Spirit. Phyllis Tickle in her work as an observer of the trends of church and theology said the same thing. The 20th century should have been the Age of the Spirit. There were outpourings – the Azusa Street Revival, Aimee Semple McPherson and the miracles which became the Foursquare movement, the Charismatic renewal led by Dennis and Rita Bennett from the Episcopal Church, and more.
Despite the attention to the Pentecostal movement, the Holy Spirit continued to have an underwhelming impact on the church as a whole, at least, speaking from the mainline perspective and from the perspective of creeds and theological statements written.
Now we inhabit the 21st century. Is this the age of the Spirit? Is it now?
On the night before Jesus’ arrest and his experience of torture and death, Jesus prayed for the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples in his absence (John 17), he made sure to pass on the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Then, to comfort the disciples, he showed up after his death – resurrected – and taught them some more and sent them back to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1), the same Spirit John the Baptist proclaimed (John 1:33). Jesus was all about the Holy Spirit. Yet the age of the Holy Spirit which Barth and Graham expected, has yet to be realized, at least in the first world.
Liberation theologian, José Comblin (Gose Combleen), suggests that a possible reason for this invisibility is that the Spirit empowers people by creating egalitarian conditions often benefitting marginalized communities – the poor, illiterate, racial ethnics, women – which is usually an undesirable prospect for the hierarchical structures of institutions such as the church. According to Comblin, the Holy Spirit can pose a threat to the powers of society and church. The Spirit really shakes things up. 
The Spirit calls into service those who might not be sanctioned by church or society. Jesus told the Samaritan woman – a woman, a Samaritan, and a failure – to go out and preach the gospel, to tell her village about him. To worship God in spirit and in truth. This is just one of many examples in Jesus’ ministry when the ways of the past were replaced by the Spirit. The Spirit is not and cannot be controlled or limited by human systems.
Don’t you want something like that? A power which is not bound to the crazy systems we have today? We have had more Americans die in school shootings this year that in acts of war. We are closing homeless shelters and putting more people on the streets, and to my eye, I have seen more homeless camps being carted away in city dump trucks than ever before. There is no place to go! The opioid crisis continues as people try to find ways to deal with their pain, when medical services are inadequate, or not available. And let’s not start with government – there is so much talk, and so little help. It seems to be all pointing fingers and finding fault. Every day there is a new horror, injustice, outrage – the harsh relentlessness takes its toll on us – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
We yearn for a power outside the system of politics, corporations, the medical-military-industrial complex. And we know what that power is! This is the age of the Spirit, whether we know it or not. Sometimes we say, “Come Lord Jesus! Come back and set this straight.” But Jesus left us with that assignment, and he left us the power to do it.
Granted, Spirit power is kind of scary. The Spirit of God comes suddenly and disturbingly, as the sound of a violent wind and tongues of fire, and prompts the disciples to do an unbelievable thing. It draws a crowd that is both amazed and perplexed, and in some cases dismissive. This is not a soft, cuddly Holy Spirit; this is an uncontrollable and unpredictable Spirit.
But it is time. Time for the firewater, time for the age of the Spirit. We are living in an era which yearns for the Spirit in ways we may never have seen before in past ages or generations.
It is actually trendy to be thought of as “spiritual.” Could the SBNR movement (Spiritual But Not Religious) actually be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? A new Pentecost? The spiritual ones of our world are not pouring into the churches. But is there an outpouring? If the sign is a desire to bless and to be at peace and to bring peace, I would say I encounter it every day in the people who come into our building to do good. It feels a lot like an outpouring. But we need the teachings of Jesus, because this outpouring has not found its mission yet. Spirit will blow where she will, even outside of church. We acknowledge this in our own church mission statement: “the Spirit is at work in the world ahead of us.”
When Martin Luther revised – ever so slightly – the traditional “marks of the church” that he inherited, he added only one. In addition to the proclamation of the Gospel and the sharing of the sacraments, etc., that mark the presence of the true church, Luther added just one thing: struggle. If you are about the work of the Gospel, he reasoned, expect the resistance of the devil.
The church today is in turmoil. Our congregation does not struggle alone. Faithfulness does not inevitably bring success. Just as often it brings struggle and hardship. Look at the history of the church. Look at the monumental struggle of the Confessing Church against Nazi power. Look at the quiet strength of Quaker faithful railroading slaves to the north and freedom. Or look at the strong preaching of Oscar Romero defending the poor and serving them grace to the moment of his death.
Firewater, pour out!
The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems, but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing. Keep in mind that after the Spirit is given to Jesus at his baptism, she immediately drives him into the wilderness. The same Spirit!
Firewater, pour out!
The session is going on retreat in June. We will learn how to go out among our neighbors and neighboring generations to get to know them. To learn from them what they want when it comes to God, religion, church. Actually, what do they want from life? Our retreat will be a chance to try on some conversational skills. Then we will come back and teach you. It is time to go out and preach the gospel to every creature…. Actually, that word, “preach,” makes it sound like we know and they don’t, like we are in the position of power. But Holy Spirit has the power. The culture has the foot traffic. So it is time for us to put on our walking shoes, to pour out into the streets and to pour the love of God, the hugs of Jesus, and the firewater of the Holy Spirit all over the people and each other.
Firewater, pour out!
It will shake things up when the Spirit pours out. Perhaps that is why Murray Richmond’s grandfather was a teetotaler. That firewater will shake things up, loose our inhibitions and have us loving people we never thought we could. Firewater loosens our control. Perhaps this Pentecost, it’s time to shake things up!
Firewater, pour out! Holy Spirit, come!
 Omnibus, Viewpoints, Presbytery of the Cascades, March 2017, Murray Richmond, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Medford, OR.
 Comblin, José. The Holy Spirit and Liberation. Theology and Liberation Series. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989.