One of my favorite guilty pleasures is superhero movies. I have never been one for comic books (pardon me, graphic novels, as they are called now). But I am a sucker for a good comic book superhero movie. Wonder Woman. Captain America. Iron Man. Superman. Ever since the days of the Justice League cartoon series, I was in love with the idea of the powerful protecting the weak in the world. I don’t always love the violence in these movies, but I appreciate the calling that these heroes feel to care for those in need.
And one of the superheroes that fascinates me the most is Batman. I assume most of you know the story of Batman. He is the Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. Whenever someone is in danger, he swoops in and saves the victim, and disappears without sticking around for any of the glory. I have loved the Batman story, with all of its reboots. There is something powerful about the idea of when we are in trouble, someone is hiding in the shadows, ready to come in and take us out of the mess that we are in.
Except that it doesn’t happen that way.
I am still waiting for Batman.
When I hear stories of children and spouses who are stuck in abuse that repeats and cycles and entraps them. When I listen to the weeping of congregation members when their friends die. When I see those who have been left lonely and alone by divorce or death of a family member, or simply by life’s circumstances. When I see real, hard-working people chewed up by the systems in which only those at the top get rewarded and those in the middle and the bottom struggle to survive.
Where is Batman to come in and protect the hurting and innocent? When will the Caped Crusader show up? Who will save the day?
I think that this yearning is something akin to what those at Pentecost felt, as well. Pentecost was a harvest festival, and the streets were filled with pilgrims who were all looking for something. The festival was a chance to gather together and celebrate God’s goodness. But it came at a time of political and societal unrest. They gathered under questions of what would come of the Roman occupation, whether they should resist or flee or go along to get along. Each pilgrim had their own unrest in their hearts…they had come to Jerusalem looking for something. Seeking answers in the midst of their own questions.
It is not unlike the fear and angst that the disciples might have felt in the upper room, looking out over those crowds. Their friend and savior and guide – Jesus – had been taken from them and it must have left a mixture of uneasiness and grief and fear for the future. There was a vacuum of healthy leadership, and the disciples rushed to fill Judas’ spot, feeling the need to have everything tied up and tidy. There were more questions than answers, and no one was sure what to do next.
Perhaps as they gathered, in the upper room and city streets, each of them waited for their own Batman. Their own superhero to sweep in and save the day. Their own caped crusader who would fight against the injustice and terror that surrounded their lives and their hearts.
But Batman didn’t come.
All of this superhero talk got me to thinking. Thinking about another superhero, one that doesn’t get quite as many press. How many of you know the character Professor X?
Professor Charles Xavier, or Professor X, is the leader of the X-Men. He runs a school for those whose genes have mutated in strange ways, giving them abnormal powers. Scott can shoot lasers out of his eyes. Ororo can fly and control the weather. Jean can move objects with her mind. Professor X spends his life locating these mutants, helping them to see that they are not freaks, but that they have a gift. He helps them to harness and control and use that gift. For each of these individuals, his message is the same:
You are noticed. He uses this big machine called Cerebro to locate these mutants and goes to talk to them. In a world that thinks that they are freaks and threats, Professor X says “I see you. You are noticed.”
You are not broken. So many of these mutants believe that there is something wrong with them, that these mutations make them broken or defective. But Professor X helps them to see that they are not broken, but gifted. He is always on a quest to find those who are hurting and embarrassed and afraid and give them the strength to know that they are not broken, but in fact extraordinary. His goal is to train them, to help them augment and control and use these gifts. “You are not broken.”
You are needed. He doesn’t just show up and give them a few pointers and leave town again. He takes them to his school and brings them into community with others like them. And then, like any good super hero story, they fight crime together! Professor X teaches these students that they are needed in order to work together to fight the forces of evil and injustice around the world! He forms this team that works to accomplish these goals together, and relies on each person on the team to do their part. Each one is needed.
And so, somewhere along the way, reading Acts 2 and watching superhero movies I realized: Professor X is the Holy Spirit! Is this not exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing here on Pentecost? Is this not the message that the Holy Spirit brings?
You are noticed! For the pilgrims who had gathered in a foreign place, where everyone speaks a different language, struggling with the unrest in the culture and in their hearts, the Holy Spirit comes and delivers this message via the disciples in their own language! They heard what they needed to hear, and what they came to hear. They were noticed by the Spirit of God and told that they were not alone!
You are not broken, but gifted! When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, those who were afraid and alone and unsure what to do next, it came with this message: “you have a story to tell about Jesus and the wonders of God!” And so, the Spirit taught them to use that gift, to augment that gift to witness to the pilgrims in the streets. Whenever we read about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, it is helping Christians to understand and cultivate their raw gifts!
The Spirit did not come into the room and rescue the disciples from their pain or their fear. The Spirit did not come into the streets and make all of the Romans vanish. That is not what the Spirit is about. In the John passage this morning, David Lose points out that the word that John uses to describe the Spirit is parakletos (which would, by the way, make for an awesome super hero name!). Literally, the word parakletos means one who “comes alongside” of us. Not one who comes to take us away the pain. Not one who comes to rescue us. Not one who sweeps in on a wing and carries us off to safety. One who comes alongside of us.
Which brings us to the final message of the Spirit: you are needed. The Spirit doesn’t just come to give us pointers and send us on the way. The work of the Spirit is to unite us, gather us, form a team! At Pentecost, fishermen, slaves, women, Galileans, Asians, Arabs, Europeans, all of them are gathered up in this moment of the Spirit. By the end of the chapter, those who believed began to gather together in unity. They worshipped together, served together, prayed together. Again, one of the recurring themes throughout the New Testament about the Holy Spirit is Paul’s metaphor of the Body. As the Body of Christ, unified with Christ as the head, each of the believers represents a different part of the body, and it is that diversity coming together in unity that makes the Church whole. And the Holy Spirit has empowered and unified us to create community and fight injustice in the world together!
And what about you?
Are you ready to hear the message of the Spirit in your life?
You are noticed. God knows who you are and created you and pays attention to you when it feels like no one else does. The Spirit of God speaks to us, like a familiar language, our native tongue in which we hear the voice of one who notices and loves us deeply.
You are not broken, but gifted. How often do we doubt ourselves and our abilities? We are ready to live a life that is confident because the spirit comes alongside of us, comes with us, and reminds us that we are gifted.
Lose says the Spirit is “one who equips, encourages, and stays with us, helping us perceive the needs of our neighbors and community, and then rise to the occasion to meet those needs with equal measures of tenacity, competence, and courage….the operative preposition with the Spirit seems to be with rather than from – as in being with us during challenges rather than taking those challenges away from us.” The Spirit comes with a promise that we are not broken or alone. We are accompanied by the very Spirit of God in order to do the work of God on earth.
And finally, you are needed! Do you know that the Church needs voices like yours. The Church needs those with gifts like yours. The Church today needs those of us who have been identified and encouraged by the spirit to be unified, not divided or separated. The giftedness that the New Testament talks about usually is not as dramatic as the Pentecost. It is a quickening or enlivening of the gifts with which we were created. Those who are generous find themselves able to give sacrificially to the ministries of the Church. Those we are reflective find themselves able to pray effectively for all of God’s children. Those who have a voice and story to share find themselves able to stand in the pulpit and preach.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, you are noticed. You are not broken. You are needed. Stop waiting for Batman. We are holy X-Men! Women and men of gift and purpose! Let us live into that purpose today!