Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of thy love. Amen.

I ask you to picture the 12-year-old Dana Colley—that would be me. It’s a Saturday morning, 1975. She’s up early sitting cross-legged on brown shag carpet, in front of a large piece of paneled furniture with a Zenith television tucked inside. A bowl of Rice Krispies sits in her lap. It’s the crack of dawn so she’s watching her favorite Looney Tunes cartoons—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Elmer Fudd and the Road Runner—you know the cast. But her real favorites air mid-morning, Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. One hour bleeds into the next. If her mother isn’t leaning on her to do her Saturday chores, then Dana hangs on for American Bandstand and then the crème de la crème of Saturday mornings, Soul Train.

As conductor Don Cornelius calls it, “the hippest trip in America.” Have I stirred up childhood memories for anyone?

Of course, I can’t claim that I remember the specific episode it aired, but that same year, in November of 1975, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes premiered their hit, “Wake Up Everybody” with Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals. This old school jam of perfection imprinted on my heart and soul. These days I hear it on my Sirius XM radio station Groove. I asked Canon Hamlin if he knew the song. He almost went into a trance retelling how he would sit on his family’s stoop in Brooklyn watching cars cruise by, windows rolled down with “Wake Up Everybody” blaring from their radios.

The song begins begins slow and quiet:

Wake up everybody
No more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’
Time for thinkin’ ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred war an’ poverty

Apart from sacred music, a song is a masterpiece in my mind if it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written. The lyrics and melodies of Wake Up Everybody stir the soul. It was an anthem then and it should be today. Its message rings true—49 years later.

Wake up all the teachers
Time to teach a new way
Wake up all the doctors
Make the ol’ people well
Wake up all the builders
Time to build a new land

The tempo eventually builds to the climax:

The world won’t get no better
If we just let it be
The world won’t get no better
We gotta change it, yeah, just you and me

But here’s the thing—in all its perfection, the songwriters left out the third person of the Trinity. It’s not up to just you and me. It never has been and never will be. This is the entire point of our Gospel lesson this morning.

Jesus promised the disciples the gift of the Spirit during his Last Supper, and now, Jesus offers the paraclete—literally, one called alongside to help, advocate, and comfort. You see, the paraclete is the spiritual presence of Jesus when he no longer walks the earth. Jesus offers words of assurance that the disciples will be alright because his hand will always rest in the small of their backs guiding, cajoling, comforting. This is why the risen Christ breathes on them Easter evening saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22)”.

I realize the Holy Spirit is hard to grasp—both literally and figuratively. But as the Reverend Steven Eason has pointed out, “We do not have to understand the Holy Spirit; we just have to understand that we need the Holy Spirit.”1  There cannot be a world in which there is no breath of God moving and guiding us in the right direction. There cannot be a world in which human life is not infused with the very mind and will of God. There cannot be a world in which humans are not touched by the divine. The Jesus movement would not have made it if it were only propped up by ancient myths and stories. Without the Spirit there is no living connection from Jesus to any of us.

And there are no words to overstate how much we need to gather as people of faith right now and ask the Spirit of Truth to give us the moral courage to see and say what others cannot or will not. Now is the time to pray for the grace to live courageously and bear witness to true democratic ideals of justice, liberation, and peace for all people. Friends, this is what we must hold onto especially now with the capricious winds of our nation’s political forces blowing to and fro’. False prophets live among us.

It is time for the Holy Spirit to begin shaking things up. Theophanies such as Jesus’ baptism, his miracles, and the tearing of the temple curtain at his crucifixion demonstrate God’s intention to break open, tear down, and make new. We need fresh language of bridge-building. We need new words to rekindle love and create peace. As Jan preached last week, we need “Plates of hope to fill every belly.” We need the wind and fire of God to challenge our complacencies and apathies, to reimagine our priorities, to ease our anxieties, and to trust in God’s providence.

We’ve got to trust that she has it under control and will prevail. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

And did she ever! Within days of Jesus’ ascension, as the disciples and their cohorts gathered, something supernatural happened: The Book of Acts reports that a rush of gale-force wind almost knocked them off their feet. If that weren’t enough, tongues of wildfire perched on their shoulders. This cinematic scene was not a polite invitation, a gentle whisper of breath, or God flicking a Bic lighter over their heads. No this was all-out chaos, an unleashing of an indomitable force that could not be tamed, ignored or put back in its box.

This was the gift promised by Christ Jesus on Pentecost—the suffusion of all human flesh with the same spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation—and that hovers over us now.

This Spirit is God just as much as God is love. It is God’s voice; it imparts Wisdom; it gives life, it creates, it heals, it reconciles, it teaches, it electrifies, it cajoles, it baptizes. It is rest and protection; it intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. It is a swift kick to the pants when we need it. It is heaven bending down to earth.

And it wasn’t until this moment that Peter really became the Rock. The high drama of Pentecost anointed the disciples with the courage to lead the movement that would change the world. 3,000 would be baptized that day. It is no small thing that the Holy Spirit loosened tongues to break down barriers on the birthday of the church. In the face of seemingly impossible differences, Jews from all parts of the Middle East were able to understand what was happening in their own native languages. God enabled people to engage with one another regardless of nationality, age, gender, or class. From day one, through the outpouring of the Spirit, God has offered authentic human communion.

Before I close, I want to return to where I began. To a piece of songwriting that I believe casts light on the reality that is God. Another reason why I asked the contemporary ensemble to sing Wake Up Everybody is because we’re baptizing nine children this morning into the household of God. It’s on us to create a world in which they have autonomy, security, and every opportunity to thrive. “Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way.” Jesus, the Rabbi, was a teacher. May the light of Christ’s love impart wisdom, kindness, and imagination for creating a prosperous future. Amen. “Wake up all the doctors make the ol’ people well.” Jesus the Rabbi was also a healer and miracle worker. May the wisdom of our elders not be lost or forgotten; may they be protected from the pandemic of loneliness and invisibility. Through their wisdom may we gain understanding. Amen.

And now for our part: “Wake up all the builders, time to build a new land; I know we can do it if we all lend a hand.” My friends, we’re the ones called to build the Kingdom of God. We must keep at it and not give in to the twin curses of despair and cynicism. We’ve been anointed by God with the wind of the Spirit of Truth at our backs. Let’s keep advocating for the future Christ intends for us. When life seems hopeless, let’s help one another find hope. No more hatred, war and poverty. If not for our sake, then at least for theirs. Wake up, everybody! AMEN!

1 Steven P. Eason, Commentary on John 7: 37-30, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3 (David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors), pg. 24.


The Rev. Canon Dana Colley Corsello

Canon Vicar