Pentecost – May 24, 2015
Violent wind, fire….if we didn’t know it before, we surely know it now, as the second chapter of Acts unfolds: this is no tame God who comes to us, no safe and predictable deity. This is the God whose loving sometimes takes the form of scorching. Before he left, Jesus told his friends he would send them the Advocate, the Comforter. Now we see this Comforter coming as wind, as flame, reminding us that comfort is not always comfortable, for it makes itself known in community, where we find the most searing challenges—and the deepest blessings—we will ever know.
Nearly thirteen weeks have passed since the day we stood on the threshold of Lent, our foreheads streaked with ashes. We have traveled through a wilderness season of reflection and preparation as we journeyed toward the cross. We have entered into a season of resurrection in these weeks since the wonders of Easter Day. We have watched Jesus take his leave, blessing those whom he has called to continue his work and become his body in this world. Now, on the Day of Pentecost, we find ourselves at the other end of the arc that began on the weeks-ago Ash Wednesday. “Know that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” many of us heard on that day. A crucial reminder, to be sure: to know what we are made of, where we are from, to where we shall return. Yet all these weeks later, at the end of wilderness and death and resurrection, the day of Pentecost comes to show us that there is still more to know, and a purpose for knowing that lies beyond our individual lives. Throughout this Easter season, the gospel readings have placed a persistent emphasis on knowing. Although knowing our earthy origins is crucial in our life with Christ, the past weeks have proven there are other things he needs for us to know as well about who he is, what he has done, and what he is calling us to do. Yet simply knowing, of course, is not enough. On the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit descends upon the gathered assembly, we see with dramatic clarity how the knowing that Christ gives us is not for ourselves alone: it is for the life of the community and the life of the world. As on Pentecost, when those who spoke in the Spirit did not recognize what they were saying but could be understood by others in the crowd, our knowing and understanding are always incomplete without the presence of community. The incompleteness of our knowing comes as its own reminder of what dusty disciples we are. Made of common earth, fashioned of ordinary matter, we are called to a humus-born humility that cautions us against acting like we have all the answers and know all of God’s designs for creation. Yet the story of Pentecost bids us to remember what the Spirit can do with dust. Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit draws us together and gives us to one another so that we may hear and see and know with greater clarity. This day challenges us to open ourselves beyond the limits of our individual lives to the Spirit who sets us ablaze for the healing of the world. In this Pentecost week, are you seeking the presence of others who will deepen your understanding? Where do you go to hear and see what you cannot hear and see on your own? When knowledge and wisdom come to you, how do you share them beyond yourself to help others flourish? Where are you turning your ears, your eyes, your heart, your mind to perceive the presence of the Spirit and the path to which it is drawing you? (Jan Richardson)
The celebration of Pentecost beckons us to keep breathing. It challenges us to keep ourselves open to the Spirit who seeks us. The Spirit that, in the beginning, brooded over the chaos and brought forth creation; the Spirit that drenched the community with fire and breath on the day of Pentecost: this same Spirit desires to dwell within us and among us. Amidst the brokenness and chaos and pain that sometimes come with being in community, the Spirit searches for places to breathe in us, to transform us, to knit us together more deeply and wholly as the body of Christ, and to send us forth into the world.
Once upon a time there was a spring of cool, clear and refreshing water found on an open hillside. People would come from miles around to drink from the water and they would go away satisfied. The water was so good that they would tell their friends and neighbors to come and drink. More and more people came and soon there was always a crowd around the fountain. Some people began to complain that they would get sunstroke waiting on hot days or soaked on rainy ones. So a canopy was erected over the fountain. Then some people found it inconvenient to bend over to lift up the water to drink so the fountain spring was encased in stone and drinking faucets provided. More and more people came and the canopy no longer allowed them all in so a permanent building was erected with enough room for as many people as would come and more besides. People began putting pictures on the walls. Others spent much money beautifying the stone building and drinking fountain with gold and jewels. Those who had given much started to demand special rights and privileges to the water and decided to charge others to drink from the fountain. Special guardians and keepers of the fountain with special garments and insignia were called to keep the people orderly and obedient…and soon the focus shifted from the water to the gathering place. People began to forget that there was a fountain at all in the hustle and bustle of the assembly. Then the fountain went dry.
On this Pentecost, let us not forget that Christ is at the center of our lives. God has found us in Jesus Christ. We do not need to go seeking what is freely given. God has come to us with forgiveness of sins and life everlasting because of Jesus’ death on a cross and resurrection. Christ comes to us through means, not our own thoughts or understanding, not through will-power or obedience to structures, but through the words of the Gospel. God comes to us through God’s Word, proclaimed and studied and read. God comes to us through baptism often before you even knew about God, God found you and made you God’s child. It was God’s grace that came to you in baptism. God’s grace comes to us in the Lord’s Supper, received by believing the words “for you.” God comes in Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, for you. The Spirit is given to us.
I close with a blessing written by Jan Richardson: (This Grace That Scorches Us A Blessing for Pentecost Day) Here’s one thing you must understand about this blessing: it is not for you alone. It is stubborn about this; do not even try to lay hold of it if you are by yourself, thinking you can carry it on your own. To bear this blessing, you must first take yourself to a place where everyone does not look like you or think like you, a place where they do not believe precisely as you believe, where their thoughts and ideas and gestures are not exact echoes of your own. Bring your sorrow. Bring your grief. Bring your fear. Bring your weariness, your pain, your disgust at how broken the world is, how fractured, how fragmented by its fighting, its wars, its hungers, its penchant for power, its ceaseless repetition of the history it refuses to rise above. I will not tell you this blessing will fix all that. But in the place where you have gathered, wait. Watch. Listen. Lay aside your inability to be surprised, your resistance to what you do not understand. See then whether this blessing turns to flame on your tongue, sets you to speaking what you cannot fathom or opens your ear to a language beyond your imagining that comes as a knowing in your bones, a clarity in your heart that tells you this is the reason we were made, for this ache that finally opens us, for this struggle, this grace that scorches us toward one another and into the blazing day. Amen.