Lectionary Reflection for the Day of Pentecost, Year B
May 24, 2015
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13
“Come, Holy Spirit!” We use these words often in worship. Sometimes we say them with vigor and enthusiasm. On other days we may mouth the syllables from the depths of distraction. Either way, I wonder whether we really know what we’re asking for, what we’re praying for, when we invoke the Spirit’s name.
Some might say we’re playing with fire when we’re talking about the Spirit, and that we’re messing with a wind mighty enough to huff and puff and blow the whole house down. Yep, we may feel all snug and secure in our houses of worship, cozy in our rituals and traditions and history, but the Spirit of God refuses to be confined or conformed. The Holy Spirit comes not only to comfort and guide us, but also to liberate and goad us.
And so it is Pentecost once again. People of God get ready: The Holy Spirit is at work doing a new thing, re-forming us as church, reigniting our passion and fire for the gospel, and giving us a new language that speaks to this age, our time, and our contexts. All we have to do is let go of the dry bones that hold us back and confine us to dusty glory of some former decade. All we have to do is be willing to risk everything and dream dreams, see visions, and speak prophetic words of hope, grace, and love that fly in the face of the status quo.
Paul writes that we, along with all of creation, have been pregnant with possibility, with this hope-full promise of Spirit life so amazing that even our prayers are spoken by the Advocate when we cannot find the words to name our deepest needs and pain. This is powerful stuff. We have been blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift that keeps on giving and living and speaking truth. And yes, sometimes the truth is hard to hear, harder to tell, and harder still to live. But this is our calling as God’s beloved and as followers of Jesus.
Yes, it is Pentecost once again, and this time we stand on the brink of what scholar and author Phyllis Tickle calls “the Great Emergence.” It seems that every 500 years or so, the Holy Spirit comes in and cleans house, dismantling structures that have become tired and crumbling, upsetting the church’s patterns and expectations, and digging out entrenched configurations and institutions. We can rest assured that God is always up to something new and fresh, and when we feel these Holy Spirit movements, we had better get on board for the ride because God’s work and reconciliation of creation will happen with or in spite of us.
I imagine those first disciples were wholly unsettled by the events of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. I’m sure they puzzled over his teachings, his prayer for them, and his seemingly cryptic instructions about this Advocate who was coming. Perhaps they felt ill-prepared for the task at hand. Maybe they feared that their security in the law and their temple/synagogue practice and tradition would unravel. Being on the margins must have been terrifying, but still they kept on hoping and trusting imperfectly. And then it was Pentecost with tongues of fire, rushing winds, words aplenty, and the power of all that had been prophesied unfolding around them. How truly amazing that must have been! What energy must have sparked their faith and practice! We know what happened next, and it was truly amazing.
This week perhaps it’s time to explore the possibility that we’re standing on the verge of our own Pentecost experience, that truly God is doing a new thing in our world. In another decade the mainline church as we know it will probably look significantly different. That’s frightening, especially for those of us who don’t do change well. What we must remember is that we are not alone. Jesus has sent the Advocate, and this Holy Spirit will guide us into truth. This is our promise. This is our Easter reality. This is our abundant hope. So, indeed, come Holy Spirit, come! Yes, really! Amen.
The Spirit came to the Church in extraordinarily ordinary and elemental ways–in wind, fire, and word. It wasn’t at all what people expected, yet it took a struggling movement and gave it the breath of life. This life continues even when we try to tame it, contain it, or even extinguish it. What images and objects, sight and sound might you use today to help people enter the story and find their connection to it?
Consider talking about the domesticating of the Church in the way we have taken candles and made battery operated facsimiles. You can get a package of battery operated tea lights at your local dollar store. They are a poor substitute for the real thing. How can we reclaim the elemental fire of the Spirit with all of its wild, unpredictable, and holy ways?
Usually on Pentecost, we focus on the events of the day itself, events that jump-started a group of believers to become what we know today as the Christian church in all its wonders and weirdness. We wear red, we remark on wind, fire, and the work of the Spirit. But what if we focused on the Psalm (104:24-34, 35b) with our youth today? What if we looked at creation, climate change, and the power of the Creator and the work of the Spirit in terms of all of creation and not simply a celebration of the church? We are called to care for God’s good creation, and to praise God’s holy name. How are we doing? What can each one of us do differently or better?
The Spirit prays for us! How cool is that? When we don’t have the words, the Holy Spirit steps in and helps out. When we’re so sad, we can’t find the words, or when we’re so hurt and upset, and can’t speak at all–God’s Spirit is right there with us to help us connect with God in prayer. Yes, that invisible gift we received in our baptism, does invisible but very important work all throughout our lives. Take children to the font, and encourage them to dip their fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross. Doing this helps to remind us that God is with us, that Jesus loves us, and the Spirit is always there working with us. Finish with a simple prayer.
(Photos: Waiting on the Word, laurastpauls, and Bill McChesney, Creative Commons. Thanks!)