Reflections on Pentecost Sunday
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
John 15:26-27; 16:4-15
Pentecost Sunday celebrates the many and varied expressions of God’s love and wisdom. The divine dancer moves through all creation bringing forth life and love and inspiration. Fire and wind are everywhere. Inspiration and revelation are just a moment away and can come either by surprise or as a result of the interplay of God’s wisdom and our intentional spiritual practices. The spirit blows where it wills, in all directions, and embracing all peoples.
Divine omnipresence is an all or nothing doctrine. You can’t be a little omnipresent! Either God is present everywhere and in everyone or the doctrine makes no theological sense. Nor is the God of scripture – and process theology – present in a homogenous and passive manner in human life and the evolutionary process. God is an active, personal, intimate, and vision-oriented presence moving always and everywhere in the direction of Shalom. God’s spirit touches every life, aiming us toward communion, inspiration, and creation. Moreover, if God’s aim is, as Jesus proclaims, “abundant life,” then every expression of God’s presence lures us toward the personal and corporate wholeness appropriate to our context and the greater good of humans and non-humans alike. The Spirit may challenge and rebuke, but its intention is always the creation of wise, compassionate, and healthy people and communities.
The passage from Romans 8 proclaims the ubiquity of divine revelation. The groans of the spirit move through all creation – including the non-human world – and also human life. As the bumper sticker proclaims, “God loves the whole world… no exceptions!” The sighs too deep for words, moving through the unconscious, “intercede” on our behalf, that is, give us guidance in every moment of life. God aims all things toward good within us and around us, joining our evolution with the evolution of the world. These aims are not all-determining but rather all-orienting in the context of the many factors that influence each moment of experience. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not occasional nor is it parochial but all encompassing, luring forth all life with visions appropriate to complexity and context. Anything touched by God, human and non-human, is of value and can be a vehicle of revelation. Awaken to divine intercession, to God’s dream for you, so shouts Romans 8:22-27.
Annie Dillard speaks of strapping on safety helmets and lashing ourselves to the pews whenever we attend worship. After all, worship is, as Alfred North Whitehead asserts, an adventure of the spirit. We claim great things in worship and should be prepared for surprise and adventure whenever we gather as a community of faith. A living God calls us to expect great things – of ourselves and the creative movements of God.
This adventurous Spirit is surely at work among the Pentecost Christians. They are surprised by wind, flame, and word. Pentecost joins mysticism with mission. The ecstatic experiences of Jesus’ first followers – including the women following Jesus’ pathway – drive them into the streets, sharing words of graceful transformation with people of all nations. What is more exciting is that God is moving through listener and speaker alike, creating a synergy of revelation and salvation. Lives are joined and transformed, despite the differences of race and class.
Peter’s sermon, grounded in the prophetic words of Joel, describes God’s embrace all the peoples of the earth and enjoins us to cross every boundary to fulfill our role as God’s partners in healing the world. The Pentecostal church goes beyond homogeneity to embrace diversity in all its many forms. God’s providence encourages diversity in congregational and spiritual growth and mission. This is what it means to be church, for Pentecost – to be a unity in diversity, moving outward in ever-expanding circles of grace. There are many names and gives reflecting the “one God, known in different ways, hallowing our days.” (Al Carmines, “Many Gifts, One Spirit)
Psalm 124 complements the global experience of the Pentecost people. God’s works are many and varied. God’s wise spirit breath moves through every creature giving life and energy. All we can do, in the words of Al Carmines, is “praise, praise, praise” when we take time to pause and notice God’s wise creativity.
The words of John’s Gospel describe the coming of an Advocate, God’s Spirit whose presence will guide and sustain us. God never leaves us without wisdom. There is a voice of truth in every situation. God is constantly giving us the wisdom we need, possibilities to lure us forward, and the energy to manifest these in our daily life.
Pentecost is visionary but it also invites us to embrace practices for receiving the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom. The Spirit is free, but often we are oblivious to it. We listen to the Spirit, as did those first Pentecost people, by personal and communal prayer and meditation. God’s wisdom touches groups and persons together and we can create an environment of receptivity when we pray fervently, opening to whatever surprises and calls God might place in our community’s life. We must be prepared to move with the Spirit and that means mission. When we operate from a place of mission, new and more exciting missions emerge, bringing wholeness to us and to those we serve. Further, practicing Pentecost involves having an eye for diversity. We need to be open to the many reflections of God in the world and humankind. If we think God is omnipresent, then every moment can bring inspiration and invitation. Everyone, deep down, is hearing God and can be a companion on the Pentecost journey, despite – and especially as a result of – their differences. We are one and many in God’s ever-surprising Spirit. Let us breathe in God’s spirit, making every moment a prayer and a mission.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.