Lectionary Reflections on Pentecost Sunday
June 8, 2014
The back to back celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost surely give us something to think about. Incomprehensible to “moderns,” there is a chance that postmodern pluralists might get the wild message of clouds, wind, and fire. But, it won’t be easy, especially if we demand to have worship and church as usual. First, we are confronted by the vision of a three story universe and Jesus ascending into the heavens, with the promise of eventually coming down from the clouds. Now, on Pentecost, we have a mass mystical experience, motivated by a mighty wind and tongues of fire! What’s next – having a mystical experience yourself or being lifted up into the heavens, like Dorothy and Toto!
We don’t need to reject the Ascension because of its outmoded world view. We can still affirm the transforming power of the Spirit, and commit ourselves to be heavenly minded and earthly good. Looking toward the skies for our salvation can only get in the way of encountering God right where we are. God is here and the power of the Spirit can transform everything.
But, what will we do about the Day of Pentecost? Most of our churches are just as quiet on Pentecost as on any other Sunday of the year. Few of us expect a dramatic visitation of the Spirit, and our congregants might even jump under our pews if a mighty fiery wind blew through the sanctuary. But, we need to remember that the great religions of the world began with mystical experiences and that a truly authentic vision of reality accepts the evidence of mystics as well as scientists.
The mystics remind us that reality is larger than we can imagine and that we live in a sea of energy and possibility in which wild things can happen when we least expect it, rearranging our spiritual landscape and sending us on unexpected holy adventures. Despite our reticence, we could turn the corner and encounter the Risen Jesus or pray for the descent of the Spirit and then experience the Spirit shaking the foundations and opening us to deeper dimensions of reality. A world of 125 billion, and counting, galaxies leaves plenty of room for spiritual adventures. Perhaps, the Christian community gathered on Pentecost was as astounded as we would be, but they took a risk, and let the Spirit lift and carry them to horizons beyond their wildest imaginations.
The New Testament readings present two visions of Pentecostal transformation: one gentle and as natural as breathing; the other, dramatic and life-shattering. But, in both cases, God’s spirit takes us beyond the familiar and challenges the limits we place on reality and hospitality.
In John’s Pentecost, Jesus breathes on his disciples and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” God’s Spirit is as near as your next breath. It is the whisper in sighs too deep for words, the still small voice of inspiration and guidance, the second wind when your energy is ebbing. It is the power to put one step in front of the other when you are worn out and the open door that makes a way when the path to the future appears blocked.
Jesus gives his followers spiritual CPR and they come back to life! Jesus breathes in and through us – Spirit ascending, descending, and emerging – and we are revived!
The Acts reading is truly mystical and miraculous. The wind and fire come out of nowhere, and enliven everyone who they touch. But, this need not exclude our low temperature congregations, or lead us to see Pentecost as supernatural and law-defying. In fact, it may be a law abiding, a reflection of deeper laws of nature than we usually experience. Today’s Pentecostal churches no more reveal the Spirit than quiet worship services that lead to personal and community transformation. Being slain by the Spirit and falling down or babbling in tongues no more demonstrates the presence of the Spirit than hammering for Habitat Humanity, caring for a frightened child or a vulnerable elder, or reaching out to affirm the loving relationship a new couple, whether they are hetero or homosexual. The Spirit is known by her fruits and the primary fruits are unity, reconciliation, new life, and healing of persons and communities.
Inspired by the Spirit, Peter preaches a sermon whose vision is far beyond his current theological limitations. He proclaims a democracy of the Spirit in which everyone – male, female, wealthy, poor, Jew and Gentile, or any other group – can receive God’s Spirit and experience God’s saving-healing touch.
Today’s Pentecost word is “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Breathe it in, let it fill the church, and call you to praise and transformation. You can be transformed and so can your church, even if the temperature remains low and no one dances ecstatically. God’s Spirit is here; let her revive you and let her winds take you toward God’s new horizons that beckon you and your congregation.