Pentecost is a celebration of God’s messiness! Now that may be a bit of a head-scratcher. So often we turn to God for a sense of order, and purpose, and peace in the midst of life’s chaos. Who wants more disorder, disruption, or even untidiness? And yet, all of the imagery of the Holy Spirit and of Pentecost are images of potential disruption and upending: wind, water, fire. Think of how powerfully disruptive, and under certain circumstances destructive, those things can be. Yet they are also refreshing, necessary, and life-giving: the water of rain, rivers, springs, and oceans; cooling breezes in the summer that help birds to migrate and seeds to spread, winds that have powered human transportation and technology for centuries; fire that warms us and cheers us on a winter’s evening or at a campfire, as well as driving engines, cooking our food, heating our houses. These are all images of God’s power and creativity that are very much in play at Pentecost…and far beyond our control.
The reading from Acts is the clearest expression of this messiness and unpredictability. The sound of a rushing mighty wind, the flames of fire on the disciples’ heads, the spontaneous praise and proclamation of God in new and different ways. This is certainly not a tasteful and well-orchestrated worship service, nor a planned-out evangelism campaign. The Spirit has been poured out on and through the disciples in ways that could not have asked or imagined, but they recognized as being in line with God’s purposes all along.
In the Psalm we speak about God’s purpose in Creation – for humans and for creatures, including Leviathan the sea-monster that God made just for the sport of it, for the delight God takes in creativity. The Holy Spirit’s presence in and through Creation is cause for joy and praise. The psalmist says: “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being.” It takes deep and extra breath to sing, and if breath and wind are descriptions of the Spirit, in a very real way when we breathe in – especially to speak or sing – we are breathing in the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians offers us a picture of what God is up to in and through the Church: giving gifts to individuals in many different ways that are for the benefit of the whole – the whole Body of Christ, the whole Church, the world at large, the common good. But these are the gifts of the Spirit, not given according to our plan or preference or control; no bishop or rector or diocesan Commission on Ministry is doling out these gifts. Instead, God the Holy Spirit gives gifts of healing, teaching, wisdom, knowledge, discernment, miracles, prayer languages all as the Spirit sees fit, when and where they will flourish and be useful to empower Jesus’ followers to be his people and to do his work in all of the diverse places and situations we find ourselves in. And if we are honest, if we are paying attention, if we allow ourselves to be blown about by the Spirit we know we will end up in some pretty surprising places sometimes.
Finally, we get to the Gospel. Ah, we might say to ourselves, finally we get to some peace and calm, as we hear about Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the evening of the day of Resurrection – Easter Day – for that is where this passage falls in John’s Gospel. But think again. The disciples are fearful and hiding, not knowing what is going to happen next. And Jesus comes to them in spite of locked doors. He bids them peace, but immediately tells them that he is sending them, just as the Father sent him. And what happened to Jesus? Life on the road for God’s mission; speaking truth to power; encountering joy and heartbreak and healing; teaching and betrayal; pointing to the reality of the Kingdom of God; crucifixion, resurrection, and transformation. That is how Jesus was sent; that is how he was sending the disciples. No wonder they needed to know the deep inner peace of God, if they were going to be able to stay grounded and connected while they were being blown about by the Spirit.
So Pentecost is a celebration of God’s fire and wind and water in all of life, especially in our life of faith. The Holy Spirit’s power in us and among us will never be contained by our planning, our expectations, or our comfort level. It will always be messy and unpredictable. And yet, God invites us to a partnership with him that is life-giving for us, for our communities, and for the whole creation – the partnership of Pentecost. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Amen. Alleluia!
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
The Day of Pentecost
June 4, 2017