The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost Sunday – June 9, 2019
Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
John 14:8-17 (25-27)
Pentecost is a day of celebration. A day that transcends division and binary thinking. A day that affirms E Pluribus Unum, from many one, and challenges us to embrace the Spirit’s unity in a world of diversity, honoring both unity and plurality, and oneness without uniformity. A mighty wind has blown, fires descend, voices cry out, and ears hear the gospel for the first time. Barriers broken down, all creation embraced, and social, gender, and economic divisions overcome. In these days of political divisiveness and gun lust leading to mass shootings, affirming and then acting on the spirit of Pentecost is both a mandate and challenge, especially since many of our Christian kin are purveyors of incivility, racism, and gun lust.
In many ways, Pentecost resembles Easter and Christmas as challenge for homiletical creativity. The Pentecost preacher is presented with a scripture and theme – on this birthday of the church – that is so familiar that he or she wonders if anything new can be said. Repetition is good provided our words and rituals are relevant and life-giving. The life-giving must be both challenging and comforting, inspiring and instigating.
Despite the call of united diversity, the actual day of Pentecost is an anachronistic festival in many mainstream and progressive congregations. While we may dress in red, our attire is the only innovation we anticipate. Pentecost worshippers don’t expect a mighty wind to blow through our congregations – unless we live in tornado alley – nor do we anticipate tongues of fire and speaking in tongues. Most progressive and moderate Christians expect a low-key Pentecost, often shared with the congregation’s high school and college graduates.
Pentecost is for Pentecostals, after all, not for us with our more restrained programmed liturgies, so say many of our congregants. Yet, there is a deep spiritual yearning among mainline and progressive Christians that is often not being addressed in worship and adult faith formation. Pastors often act as if their congregants are not interested in mysticism, healing, near death experiences, angels, and self-transcendent experiences when these phenomena often energize their spiritual lives or raise profound theological questions. If the church does not address the mystic, congregants will settle for the wisdom of tabloid journalist, superficial testimonies, and supernatural explanations.
Pentecost tells us that there is a mystic within each of us. God addresses all of us in sighs too deep for words. Even if we don’t need to wear crash helmets and strap ourselves to the pews as Annie Dillard opines, God’s Spirit is always beckoning us toward more than we can ask or imagine. The omnipresence of God insures a Godward movement in all of our lives, even when we are unaware of it. (For more on mysticism, see Bruce Epperly, “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” “Mystics in Action: Twelve Saints for Today,” “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” “Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles: A Progressive Vision,” and “Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel.”)
Pentecost is a day for mystics and spiritual adventurers as a mighty wind blows through our spirits and communities. The Day of Pentecost announces God’s mighty and transformative presence in the emerging Christian movement and in our lives. God’s Spirit can move quietly in moments of contemplation and reflection; it can also be bold and awesome. Regardless of the spiritual temperature, it is the same Spirit at work. God’s Spirit comes to us, it breaks down barriers, welcomes outsiders, reconciles the separated, and energizes our own spirits. God offers inspiration and salvation to all, and always in the way we can understand. The Spirit is global and universal; it is equally intimate and personal.
The Spirit motivates us to action: Jesus’ Pentecostal followers head to the streets to share good news. Peter’s speech reflects the reality that God can speak within and through any of us.
Psalm 104 portrays a global Pentecost and invites us to a singing faith. Like Psalm 148, this Psalm celebrates a world of praise. All creatures great and small praise God. God’s Spirit is sent to all creation. All creation matters to God and is precious in God’s eyes. Divine creative wisdom guides and blesses all creation. The Spirit that speaks within us inspires all creation and calls us to reverence. Pentecost opens us to revelation and value in “otherness,” whether the “other” is an osprey, pangolin, or right whale, or a pilgrim coming Central America or a Muslim praying on a street corner.
The few verses from Romans 8 encourage a spirit-filled creativity and courage. God’s Spirit speaks within us as a Parent and liberates us from fear. We don’t need to be afraid of otherness or change. We don’t need to worship firearms to be safe. God’s Spirit invites us to be creators in the larger story of divine-human-cosmic creativity. God is imaginative and we are to embody divine imagination in our daily lives. Don’t be afraid. Be bold. You are God’s beloved and God is at work in your lives.
This same bold Pentecostal spirit is articulated in Jesus’ words, recorded in John’s Gospel. The Spirit in Jesus, the Divinity that Jesus shares with the Divine Parent, enlivens us as well. God wants us to be creative and active, to be agents of transformation, able to do greater works than Jesus himself. From now on, the Spirit is our companion and guide, constantly giving us insights and speaking within us in “sighs too deep for words.” The Spirit challenges our half-hearted faith: “Don’t think small. Be bold. Pray for great things.” Ask God prayerfully for your deepest desires (not the word “deepest,” that is, desires that undergird our wants and needs), and open to what God is giving you. Awakened to divine possibility and companionship, we can flourish, achieve our dreams and support the dreams of others. We can be God’s companions in bringing beauty, healing, and justice to the world.
This and every year, the non-binary, open and inclusive Pentecost has practical and political implications. Following a Pentecostal spirituality will change your life. It will awaken you to God’s presence in the marginalized, forgotten, abused, and in the non-human world. Such awareness calls us to compassion responsiveness as individuals and societies. In contrast to the dualism of Augustine’s City of God and City of Humanity or Luther’s Two Kingdom, Pentecost portrays only One Realm, God’s visionary hope for Shalom on earth as it is in heaven. (See Epperly, “One World: The Lord’s Prayer from a Process Perspective.”) The Spirit in us and with us inspires us to go out into the world, work for justice, warm weary spirits, care for the non-human world, and embrace otherness.
Pentecost is the longest season of the year, even if we break up the Pentecost season with “Kingdomtide” or “the season of Creation,” this elongated season reminds us that God’s Spirit unfolds on day to day and long-term basis. God’s Spirit enlivens and enlightens on Pentecost Sunday, but this illumination is part of God’s ongoing presence in creation and history, congregational life and personal spirituality. Pentecost is for the persistent whose commitments to nurture contemplative practices and healing actions gives us strength for the journey.
Bruce Epperly is a “retired” professor, pastor, and author of over sixty books including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGIES AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: 12 SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; and 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR PEACEMAKERS AND JUSTICE SEEKERS.