The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost Sunday – June 8, 2014
Bruce G. Epperly
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
I Corinthians 12:3b-13
The back to back celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost surely give mainline and progressive Christians something to think about. They stretch out imaginations beyond the breaking point, and then center us in God’s revelations right where we are. They emerge from an “enchanted” world view in which miracles occur and divinity acts decisively in human life. 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, these passages confront us with 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! To follow these texts, we need to embrace a “re-enchanted” world that joins science and spirituality and awakens us to experience divinity in orderly naturalistic explanations. In the process, we need to be “re-enchanted” ourselves, open to “signs and wonders” in the world, in church, and in our lives. We need to be willing to let go of control, and be radically amazed, Abraham Joshua Heschel asserts.
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. Daily life is enchanted and chockful of divine inspiration for those who have senses to perceive it.
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. God can touch us unexpectedly and we can become mystics, too!
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. A re-enchanted world opens us to new and adventurous ways of understanding scripture and our own mystical experiences.
On Pentecost, think big, imagine great things, and let new possibilities emerge without censorship. Don’t stifle your imagination. Expect great things from God and from yourself and your congregation!
The New Testament readings present three 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.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians proclaims the ubiquity of spiritual gifts. All are gifted for the common good. No one need think small or see their lives as God-forsaken. God is here in the humblest as well as the greatest giving gifts and graces for the well-being of the community and the planet. The church is challenged to be a laboratory of spiritual formation and vocation finding. In discovering our gifts and passions, we respond, as Frederick Buechner counsels, to our world’s great needs.
The two options from John’s Gospel speak of the coming of God’s spirit as life-changing but emerging from everyday, albeit amazing, experiences. In the passage from John 20, Jesus breathes on his first followers and they receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives them spiritual CPR, awakening them to new life and filling them with the evangelical message that was to transform the world. Divine inspiration is as near as your next breath. In the passage from John 7, God’s Spirit is a flowing water that refreshes and revives. God’s Spirit emerges from within our lives and contributes to the nurture of all creation. Breath and water are necessities, and these necessary and universal realities reveal divine wisdom in everyday, often undramatic, encounters.
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, transformation, and enchantment with creation. 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.