One of the things people love about a cathedral is the way it embodies permanence, order, and stability. Drive up toward this Cathedral and it looks as if it has been here forever. Walk through the west end doors and you’re overwhelmed by the sheer, glorious order of one arch after another, laid out perfectly, reminding you of the harmony of God’s order.

And when you worship here, especially if you’re an Episcopalian, you seem to like the stately, dignified order of things. Everything in its rightful place. Everything tasteful. Nothing too sentimental, emotional, or extravagant.

There is an inscription on the eighteenth-century tomb of the Countess of Huntington just outside Winchester, England, that captures what has often been the Anglican approach to worship. It says, “She was a just, godly, righteous and sober lady, a firm believer in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and devoid of the taint of enthusiasm.”

You may have heard the story of a Sunday morning in a proper New England downtown church, when a woman who clearly had come from a different part of town slipped into one of the pews and stayed restrained and quiet, until the sermon. But then as the preacher launched into his sermon she called out, “Amen! Yes, Lord, preach it!” And then a few minutes later she yelled, “Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus!”

Well, by this point an usher had made his way over to her pew and leaned down and said to her, “Madam, is there something wrong?” “No,” she said, “I’ve just got the Spirit!” To which the usher sternly replied, “Well, Madam, you certainly didn’t get it here!”

I couldn’t help but think about that lady’s rowdiness as I heard the story of the first Pentecost. Do you remember the scene? A cluster of disciples were gathered in an upper room some 50 days after their Lord’s death and resurrection, when suddenly they heard a sound like a mighty wind, and they saw tongues of fire, and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. They were shaken by an experience that had touched every part of them, body and soul. And when they went out into the streets speaking in many different languages, people thought they were drunk.

Now does that experience sound like Sunday morning at Washington National Cathedral or your home church? You know, Pentecostal churches, with their energy and excitement and hands-in-the-air abandon are the fastest growing churches in the U.S. and across the globe. When was the last time you felt shaken in church from the top of your head to your toes? When was the last time you knew for sure that you were in touch with a Power from on high that had come upon you?

Now I’ll bet that has happened for a lot of you, though maybe not quite that way. My guess is that something here or at some other church has touched you—a glimpse, a stirring, an insight—and that is what brings you back week after week. But it is easy for the word God, especially in traditional churches, to be only an idea word for us, a set of principles, of oughts and obligations. When a religion starts getting old and creaky, it becomes a set of dry, formal words people recite, and a set of rules and obligations to obey. But in every vital religion, though, the word God is a power word. To talk about God is to talk about a Power at the heart of life that moves and shakes and draws and acts and leads.

The word the Scriptures use for talking about a God of power is Spirit. The Spirit of God is the power of God at work in the world. At the beginning of creation, Genesis says, the Spirit of God brooded over the waters of chaos and stirred it into life. When the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, it was the Spirit of God who led them through the desert to the Promised Land. When Israel and its leaders lost their way and turned away from God, it was the prophets, filled with the Spirit of God, who called Israel back to lives of justice and faithfulness to God.

And Jesus was himself the completely Spirit-filled person. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he said quoting Isaiah, “because he has called me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind.” He became the channel of the Spirit for all the world.

We call the Feast of Pentecost the birthday of the church because in this event the Spirit filled one group of people with an overwhelming sense of the power and new life of Christ. His power became their power. Now they were to be channels of the Spirit of God in the world, vanguards of the new world God is building.

But what is this Holy Spirit? I once asked a youth group to draw their own pictures of the Spirit, and many of their sketches looked vaguely like the cartoon character Casper the friendly ghost or a big, amorphous blob.

But the Holy Spirit is this reality we have been experiencing all our lives. It is as real as the air we breathe. Like the air, we can’t see it, but like the air our life depends on it. You aren’t aware of the air until it starts moving, and when it really starts blowing, it’s hard to miss. Just for today let’s try a new word for the Spirit, a word I learned from the Czech psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Experiencing the Spirit is like experiencing Flow.

Do you know what it is like to experience moments when you have really come alive, when whatever you are doing is clicking, when everything seems to be working just the way it should? When that happens, you’re in the flow.

You know those days, when the tennis balls are landing inside the lines for a change. Or when you’re out in a sailboat, dead in the water, and all of a sudden a strong, steady breeze picks up, and you’re off. In the flow. Or in families and other close relationships that are filled with day-to-day dealings and tensions and worries, every once in a while an easy intimacy just happens, and for awhile nothing needs to be explained. Flow. It can happen at work too—when you’re firing on all cylinders, giving your best, and your best seems to be just what is needed.

Flow isn’t something you make happen. You don’t do it. It does you. You don’t find it. It finds you and carries you.

And when you find yourself in the flow it feels as if it has always been there, always available to you, but now it is finally happening. Now you are in it. And you know then and there that this is the way things were meant to be, though there are a thousand and one reasons why it often doesn’t happen that way.

In the same way there is a flow to the universe. We are part of a great, emerging life, the vast movement of the universe as it flows on, developing new forms of life, and moving our spirits, drawing us toward love and connection.

The Spirit, the inner power of the whole creation, is at work everywhere, drawing us into communion with God, the world, and each other. That’s what happened at the time of the first Pentecost. All of a sudden people from every corner of the world of that time found an unimaginable sense of connectedness. They experienced a oneness with each other across every barrier of race and nation. That Spirit is always at work, creating connection, communion, belonging.

Ours is a time that urgently needs the work of the Spirit. We are caught between powerful forces driving us closer together such as the internet and globalization, and at the very same time, equally powerful forces driving us farther apart into tribalisms of every kind. Gazing now into the twenty-first century, we see great questions facing us: Can we humans learn to deal with our conflicts and differences without resorting to violence and destruction? Can we change the way we relate to our fragile Earth before we destroy the nest that bears our life? Can the Christian churches of Europe and North America be renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit to again be powerful agents of hope and health?

We need a movement of the Spirit in our time. Listen to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s picture of the work of the Spirit:

There is a movement, not easily discernible, at the heart of things, to reverse the awful centrifugal force of alienation, brokenness, division, hostility, and disharmony. God has set in motion centripetal process, a moving toward the center, toward unity, harmony, goodness, peace, and justice, a process that removes barriers. At the heart of that movement is Christ, hanging from a cross with out-flung arms, thrown out to clasp all, everyone, everything belongs. No one is an outsider, all are insiders, all belong…in the one family, God’s family, the human family.

A great flow from the heart of the universe is seeking to bring us together. And church is meant to be a place of wind and fire, where we experience a Spirit of oneness when we gather here and are sent out from here to be healers, binders, reconcilers.

You can sense the Spirit everywhere. Whenever we have been stunned by the beauty of a late spring day in Washington, so that we can’t believe how good it is to be alive, we have been caught up in the flow of the Spirit. Whenever we are grasped by the suffering, on television, on the street, in a news magazine, we are being moved by the flow of the Spirit. Whenever a nation finds itself swept up in long-delayed social change, as happened in the civil rights movement or the movement to care for our endangered planet, it is being caught up in the flow of the universe toward care for the whole creation, and that is the work of the Spirit of God.

And the church is meant to be the Spirit’s cutting edge, its vanguard, moving with the flow of the Spirit, helping to advance its work.

You see, it’s power we come here for—a strangely self-emptying power for healing, for living, for being at one with the world. This power comes as we allow ourselves to be caught up in the flow of God’s Spirit and find ourselves becoming more alive, more free, more loving.

The catch is that we have to be willing to surrender control. We can’t go with the flow while we’re holding on tight. That is what the Pentecostal churches seem to know. You won’t tap into the loving, giving, self-emptying power of the universe if you’re still trying to generate all the power and control yourself.

I don’t know whether any of you will find yourselves clapping or speaking in tongues or falling out in the aisle this morning. But who knows? You might! That’s God’s business. But I do know that it was the Spirit of God that drew you here today.

Pentecost says that the Spirit of life is loose among us. So pay attention. You might even feel a breeze blowing through here, blowing within you. Get ready—to get caught up in the flow of the Spirit of God.

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