The readings for Sunday, May 23, 2010:
First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
First Reading (Alt.): Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35, 37 (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b NRSV)
Second Reading: Romans 8:14-17
Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 2:1-21
Gospel: John 14:8-17 [25-27]
It's interesting to think how different churches celebrate Pentecost. Some churches will be stressing the rushing wind and the coming of the Spirit; perhaps parishioners will be exhorted to become more Spirit-filled. Some churches will be focused upon the mission of the early church, and I predict parishioners will be asked to think about the mission of the contemporary Church, both global and local.
This is one of those years when I'm relieved to turn my attention away from Acts, to think about the Gospel of John. I want something a bit more comforting, like John, not readings that make me feel inadequate, like Acts. I know it's called the Book of Acts, not the Book of Relaxation, not the Book of Taking a Nap. Still, some years I find all the energy in that book to be a bit draining. Some years, it all seems a bit loud, a bit energetic, a bit amplified.
This is one of those years that I find myself thinking of becoming a Quaker, or joining some other contemplative tradition. That's why I find the Gospel passage so wonderful.
Throughout the whole fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus promises that we're not going to be left alone. Jesus must know how hard it will be for his disciples; it's been somewhat easy for them as they sojourn with their Savior. But once he's gone, how will they carry on?
Once again, we have Jesus saying he will pray for the disciples. He tells the disciples that they will have everything they need as they go out into the world. He suggests that the new incarnation of himself/God/Spirit will dwell inside us.
I feel like this Gospel lesson peers straight into my soul, my tired, overstretched soul. Jesus reminds us that we are not alone. The verse after the Gospel ends has Jesus promise, "I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you" (John 14: 18). That's the Good News of this Gospel: we are not alone. We do not have to go about our Pentecostal mission alone. Jesus reminds us that it's a team effort: "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14: 13-14). Jesus reminds us of all that we can accomplish, if we would but call on God.
I love the way the Gospel ends, with these images of all these incarnations of the Divine, swirling in the world around us, gathering within us. This Gospel gives me hope that I will be enough. It's unlike some of those other readings that make me feel so inadequate. Speak in tongues? I can hardly get my laundry done in any given week. Help in the Kingdom mission of redeeming the world? Who will do the grocery shopping?
In our Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that we are enough because we're not all alone. It's a message that's so unlike the messages beamed to us from the larger culture in which so many of us live our daily lives. Our larger culture does not treasure teamwork. Our popular culture likes the larger-than-life leader, the one who goes it alone (don't believe me? watch T.V. for a week, watch politics, go to the movies--it's rare to see a team working together for the greater good). It's a poisonous message, one that's very useful in selling us stuff, because most of us don't feel very adequate all by ourselves.
Jesus reminds us again and again that we are more than adequate. We see disciples that are gloriously human in many of the ways that we are too, and Jesus takes a small band of these flawed humans and changes the world as he sends them out to work in small groups. Jesus can take our overscheduled selves and transform us, so that we love each other, his ultimate dream for us.