By Beth Kennett
On Pentecost Sunday we gathered the day after another day of tragedy in our world. Another day of tragedy where some felt a need to reign violence on others. We don’t know why, we cannot make sense of these acts of violence; and we do not know where the next act of senseless violence will be carried out. As we celebrate the birthday of the Church, we must pause and wonder, how can God use us — the Church — to overcome hatred and violence and infuse our world with God’s love and peace?
Pentecost happened during the Festival of Weeks, 50 days after Passover. It was an agricultural festival; a time to celebrate and give thanks for the first harvesting of the fruits and vegetables. I imagine that first Pentecost experience must have been somewhat like a street festival or party. People had gathered from many places to celebrate the harvest of fruits and vegetables; I can see the street performers with their fire batons and flaming rings. There is joy, exuberance and celebration.
Our scripture text describes for us that the disciples come out to the gathering — a place of chaos and energy, they have been tucked away looking for their purpose, trying to figure it all out; when they come out into the festival, they hear so many different languages and suddenly they are given the privilege of being able to translate or communicate with those who are speaking the various languages. In the midst of the moment, they realize they have the opportunity to share with many, many people and cultures about the love and the freedom that Jesus had given to them. Once they began to share God’s love with others, the story began to multiply — God’s spirit at work touching each person and igniting a new light, new energy and new possibilities through God’s love as it is shared.
Many are saying that the Church today is dying. Many churches are in decline. I don’t believe that the Church is going to die; I do believe that the Church must change. Our world has changed and our lives have changed. Maybe we need to be like the disciples and try to figure out—what is our purpose, in the midst of this change; in the midst of this violence? What is the purpose of the Church, now? Our world is teeming with hate and anger and violence. How are we, the Church, needing to respond? What does God need for us to do? How does God need for us to be?
How do we — people of faith — experience the presence of God in our lives? Those disciples experienced the presence of God through sharing with others in the streets. Those disciples, after seeking what was their purpose, went out into the streets and saw and felt the presence of God and embraced who God was calling them to be, in that moment.
Do we allow ourselves to be so free as to feel God’s spirit urging us to a purpose that might go against what we are constantly hearing?
Do we allow ourselves to be free enough to see new possibilities and opportunities in our relationship with God and with others?
Do we allow God’s spirit to give us new energy, courage and excitement for who and where we are and for what God might be calling us to do?
Do we trust God to use us to overcome what isn’t working in our world?
Do we allow God’s spirit to move in and through us like raging wind and tongues of fire?
Pentecost is a celebration of newness, of re-creation, of renewal of purpose, mission, and calling as God’s people. It is a celebration of God’s ongoing work in the world. It is a celebration of freedom and energy that comes from being in relationship with God and experiencing an urging to engage new opportunities. Just as the disciples engaged the opportunities that were given to them in that large gathering of people from many places. That first Pentecost was a celebration of trusting God, of seeing and experiencing God at work and trusting and allowing God to ignite something in the people.
The energy and excitement that the disciples felt at Pentecost is a reminder for us, just as the symbols of flame and wind are a reminder that God is at work in and with us even today. We can be certain that if we allow God to lead us and we allow God to work in us, God show us where we can make a difference. God will give us the energy that we need to respond to the opportunities that open up for us. When we respond to the igniting of the Holy Spirit, powerful and amazing things will and do happen. Imagine spreading God’s love, like a raging wind or out of control wildfire.
Beth Kennett serves as the Network Coordinator for the Center of Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.