Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost Promises

A year ago, the following essay that I wrote appeared in The Lutheran.  I'm hoping they won't mind if I reprint it here today.

Pentecost Promises

Have you decided what you’re going to wear for Pentecost? Made your guest list and created the menu? Have you decorated the house for Pentecost? Bought the Pentecost presents?

No, Pentecost is the church holiday that gets short shrift. It should be one of the three high, holiest days, but it’s nowhere near as popular as Easter, a holiday which in turn is nowhere near as popular as Christmas. Why has this holiday been overlooked?

Maybe it’s the wind. Many of us grew up in tornado or hurricane country, and the sound of a great, rushing wind isn’t one we find appealing. Or maybe it’s the tongues of fire. Most of us find fire threatening too.

Maybe it’s the plotline of the story: those early believers, filled with a force they didn’t understand, speaking languages that they couldn’t know. Those of us who are control freaks by nature likely feel deeply uncomfortable at the prospect.

Pentecost is the holiday designed for discomfort, a celebration that should stir us to get up off the couch to go out and do great things. We learn about Pentecost in the book of Acts, after all, not the book of Sleeping Late. Perhaps that’s why so many of us approach Pentecost with a bit of apprehension. Throughout church history, we’ve seen what the presence of the Holy Spirit can do, even in the most improbable settings.

If we let the Holy Spirit loose in our home churches, what might happen? If we trusted in the transforming power of God, what changes might we see, both in our individual lives and in the lives of our church bodies? How might our local society and the larger world be different? The answers to those questions might scare us.

Maybe Pentecost leaves us feeling worried that we’ll be found wanting, incapable of doing what must be done. We often forget that the original Christians began life as a cowering group of people who had seen their Savior crucified. Jesus returned to them, and then they lost him again. When we see them in Acts, they’re adrift, perhaps like many of us. Sure, they chose a man to replace Judas Iscariot, but their daily lives revolved around waiting.

And then came the day of Pentecost. The early Christians had been hollowed out by grief and loss—and the Spirit filled those hollowed spaces, making it possible for them to speak and for everyone to understand. And then the Spirit sent them out to change the world.

We live in a time of rapid change, from revolutions abroad to church schism at home. Various scholarly disciplines continue to give us new discoveries that completely reorder the way we see the world. We may not know what our next steps should be. We are people who want a plan: a daily plan, a five year plan, a ten year plan—yet the circumstances of our lives, both on the individual and the global scale, may make planning impossible.

But Pentecost reassures us with the mystical promise of the Spirit. We do not have to know what we are doing; we just need to be open to the movement of the Spirit. Pentecost promises daring visions; we don’t have to know how we’re going to accomplish them. God will take care of that.

God became incarnate to prepare humans to carry on the work of Kingdom creation. And Pentecost reminds us of our job description, to let the Holy Spirit blow into our hollowed out spaces and to fill us with the fire to dream and the resources to bring our visions to life.

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