The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Pentecost – “What does this mean?” they ask – a good question. It is a dramatically strange story – winds, fire, languages, prophesy being fulfilled. Belief rests on the evidence of Pentecost we see and experience in our lives, not understanding what actually happened back then. Either something holy is changing the world, or the scoffers – “they’ve been overserved,” are right.
Many of you are familiar with the Pentecost story. We inherit the name for this day from our Jewish ancestors. In the Jewish liturgical calendar Pentecost comes 50 days after Passover. Jerusalem’s streets fill with Jews from other nations, and Jewish- friendly Gentiles. Pentecost celebrates God’s gift of the Ten Commandments to Israel. Pentecost also marks the end of the spring harvest, a time to give God praise and thanksgiving. Did you hear this? Can you believe that? Somewhere there’s a spring harvest? Given Wisconsin weather, praise and thank God that we even survive spring here.
On Pentecost, Christians celebrate the church’s birth. Jesus promises the Spirit will come, and boom. It arrives as a holy vortex and fiery tongues. Drama best reveals truth we can’t otherwise explain. The disciples spill into the streets and speak. People hear and understand in their native tongues what God is doing in Jesus. They respond appropriately – three thousand hearing Peter’s sermon that day get baptized. All heaven is breaking loose. The water breaks, and the church is born. These diverse people go home throughout the Greco-Roman world. Seeds, like Jesus’ parable of the sower, are scattered for the Spirit to harvest one day.
“What does this mean?” We giggle about wearing red, sit in a different seat this morning, hear different tongues, to express the unusual nature of this day. We celebrate, yet do you understand Pentecost’s meaning? To me it is about God’s love and grace coming to us, reaching for us, getting ahold of us, and empowering us to speak and listen differently.
I experience the Spirit as both comforter and disturber, a Spirit that helps, encourages, strengthens me to see, speak and act in ways I wouldn’t if left to my own devices. I think of two people. One sees what is wrong and holds tightly to their past hurts, ghosts, anger and fear as if a badge of honor. The other has pain, wounds, too. They also realize their life events shape them. Yet they look for lessons they can learn. They find an unseen spirit comes alongside to help them learn from both good and bad. They learn to breathe in love and breathe out joy and gratitude. Pentecost is dying to ego to make room for the Spirit of Life to move in and help us re-arrange and release hurts, anger and fears. That’s Pentecost now.
Jesus also refers to the Spirit as Paraclete and Advocate. The Spirit sometimes disrupts and disturbs us, and comforts us when we become disrupted and disturbed. The Paraclete is an aspect of the Spirit that renders service, comes alongside, clarifies, and teaches. An Advocate sounds like someone who puts in a good word to God on our behalf. Goodness knows, I can use all the help I can get. But what does that make God like – a Judge, ready to condemn and punish? I don’t buy that. Let’s turn this role a bit. I believe the Spirit’s role as Advocate, is to teach and represent God’s position before us – revealing God as unconditional love, forgiveness, grace, who restores and heals us, and brings us out of death into new life – now; and wants us to do the same for the world. That was the Spirit touching Peter’s congregation, “Yes, brothers, we want such a God. What must we do?” When we ask and pray that question ourselves – It’s Pentecost.
I experience the Spirit in worship, in scripture, prayers and hymns. Into that gap between the divine and me I sometimes feel drawn up into a larger world. It’s Pentecost again. People ask me about sermon preparation. It’s a dance with the Spirit. I get stuck, frustrated – no idea where this thing is headed. And then words flow from nowhere, “How did I think that? That’s not my doing.” Sometimes you tell me of what connects for you in a sermon. The Spirit God sends at Pentecost is here again. Other times, people share something they hear from a sermon, and I think, “I wish I’d said it that way.” God’s Spirit comes and takes what we say, and we hear what we need. It’s Pentecost.
Pentecost is like what Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The Spirit blows where it chooses.” We are not in control. Sometimes the Spirit surprises us. A man wanted me to go into his momma’s hospice room where she was already in a coma-like state preceding death, and get her to accept Jesus. I asked him, “Has she told you everything she’s ever thought, said or prayed? “Well, no.” I said, “Okay, maybe she and Jesus are fine and you don’t know it. I think the big question is, ‘Has Jesus accepted her?’ And he has, dying on a cross, raised from death to show us how much we are God’s beloved. Besides, do you think your momma has power enough to defeat a God who defeats death?” He said, “No, I guess not.” “Good. Then go in there, sit by her side, hold her hand and tell her know you love her. Tell her the light she sees is the light of God’s love coming for her, and she’s fine. Momma, just let go into that love.” And he did. It was Pentecost again.
The Spirit that surprised disciples, Jews and Gentiles long ago, keep surprising us. The Spirit becomes present through us, when we get out of the way – and it blows where God needs her to go. The Spirit falls on us, teaching and empowering us to live and proclaim God’s love and forgiveness to all.
May that Spirit ignite and send us beyond these walls to people who are hurting, searching for meaning and purpose, needing to hear life is stronger than death, hope overcomes despair, love drives fear away; and regardless what happens to you, you are God’s. If they believe and faith catches fire in them, what does this mean? It’s Pentecost all over again.