I have mixed feelings about the events of the first Pentecost. It’s one of those things that I wish I had directly witnessed. What must it have been like to experience that much power in one place. On the other hand, I am also extremely grateful that I have not ever seen such things! Whatever my feelings, it’s clear that something pretty amazing happened to those early followers of Jesus on the first Pentecost after the resurrection. A mighty wind rushed through, flames danced on their heads, and unexpected language poured from their lips. It was another step in transforming an offshoot of Judaism into a religion in its own right. Now we refer to this day as recorded in Acts as the “birthday of the Church.” It’s important to pay attention to this day for many, many reasons.
The primary reason to celebrate Pentecost is that it can remind us of who and what the Holy Spirit is. Over the centuries, many Christians have forgotten the power of the Holy Spirit. We have lulled ourselves into believing we have tamed her. We mythologize the rushing, violent wind, the flames, and languages so that we can tell a simple story rather than believe that the Spirit can (and might) literally blow through a place. Our liturgy is often filled with phrases such as, “Come Holy, Spirit, come.” And we think the Spirit will come gently like a soft spring breeze or playfully like a sweet kitten. We have no reason to think these things; there was a violent, rushing wind in the Acts story along with tongues of fire and foreign languages. This Spirit has more in common with a lion roaming the Serengeti than the cat curled up in your lap.
The Spirit is not something we can tame. We seem to have fooled ourselves into thinking that we have and maybe that’s why worship can often be perceived as boring. What would happen if we started to leave room for the mighty winds, burning-but-not-consuming fires, and fresh, unexpected words? The Holy Spirit transformed a group of disciples into church. Maybe that same Spirit will transform us into something new and surprising if we start believing that she can. We could then stop talking about the Church dying and start talking more about what the Church might be being transformed into.
Another reason to celebrate Pentecost is that we are reminded that the Church is not ours; it’s God’s. The more we try to make it human, the more flawed it becomes. No other human institution has existed for 2000 years. Clearly, then, there is something special about Church as an institution. The Church at its core is holy. This means that we are holy and maybe even more so when we gather in community for worship. However, the holiness of Church does not mean that everything we say and do and require as part of Church is holy. If we take time to breathe and look at what Christ truly taught, the holiness of Church becomes more evident. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you wish done unto you.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” To love, to be loving, and to be loved are holy acts. Perhaps the Spirit will rekindle the fire of holiness within each church this Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is untamable and unpredictable and we would do well to remind ourselves of this. That being said, I am making a commitment this Pentecost. In the moments when I feel despair, frustration or exhaustion, I will look carefully for the fiery flames of passion in the people around me. Before I reach the end of my tolerance with the world around me I will take time to feel the rushing winds that open new possibilities. Maybe most importantly, when I feel certain that my way is the right way I will take time to listen for words that may unexpectedly transform my life.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
RCL – Year B – Pentecost – May 24, 2015
Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.