Day of Pentecost Lectionary Reflection
May 19, 2013
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. Acts 2:1-3
There’s an art to kindling a fire. Ask almost anyone who has been charged with lighting an Easter Vigil or Easter Sunrise fire. You can’t just wish a fire into existence. A proper fire takes planning, resourcefulness, and a pinch of luck. Oh, and it also takes a spark.
When she was a teenager, my oldest daughter learned how to light a fire in the backcountry using a bow-drill. It was a fascinating thing to watch her use simple tools made from wood, cord, and stone to ignite a fire. It took some doing, but it wasn’t too long before she became quite accomplished at sparking fresh fire with an ancient method.
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost. We hear the story of the early disciples gathered in Jerusalem, and God’s kindling of Spirit fire in their lives. What we are left with in scripture is a concise yet powerful description of an experience that defied all logic and rational explanation. It was controversial, it was miraculous; it was the spark of what Jesus had promised and tried to communicate in this week’s gospel reading. No wonder they didn’t get it; this was so much more and so very different than business as usual in synagogue or marketplace. This was not what they had in mind for their struggling, fledgling movement.
Folks simply did not know what to make of it. Everyone came running and heard the story told in their own language. Imagine yourself in a large international terminal where the sounds of many tongues rise and fall in discordant waves yet with clear understanding. Now add to that this whole “divided tongues, as of fire” image and the rush of a violent wind. What a way to usher in the advent of the Advocate!
Of course, the naysayers chalk up the action to drunkenness. Peter counters that this event is the fulfillment of prophecy of Joel’s prophecy:
In the last days it will be, God declares,/that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,/and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,/and your young men shall see visions,/and your old men shall dream dreams./Even upon my slaves, both men and women,/in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).
Whatever it was, and however God made it happen, Pentecost was the continuation of something big. It was old and new, ancient and contemporary, timeless and true. And we are part of the same movement, the continuing narrative, heirs of the same family of God. The question, dear friends, is how are we to be that same spirited, innovative, bold Pentecost church for this day, our time, and in whatever particular context we find ourselves planted? Will our people dream dreams of mission? Will our men and women see a new vision for what our life together can be? Will our children prophesy in the face of empire and sing a new song?
Yes, there is an art to kindling a fire. Thankfully for us, the Spirit’s in charge of the art part of the equation, of blowing the nurturing and saving wind that fans the flames. You and I need only to show up, pick up the ancient tools, assemble fresh materials and resources available to us, and trust the Spirit to spark holy fire today and every day. The results may not look like what you so carefully plan and envision, but that’s part of the beauty of church. We are the living, breathing, walking-around expressions of the One who promises us peace and abundant life.
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?
In today’s gospel lesson (John 14:8-17 [25-27]), Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus responds to Philip by saying, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
What can we learn about God through Jesus? Ask youth to find examples in the gospels that show the nature of the God through Jesus. How does Jesus use story to help us learn about God? Are we any more satisfied today than Philip was when he first asked this question? Do we still have questions about God? What promises does Jesus give us in this lesson? Do these promises tell us anything important about God?
Finally, explore how we can show others what God is like by following Christ and living as his disciples in the world.
Consider a short message based on Paul’s words from Romans 8:14-17. Have the children gather around the font if possible. Remind them that in baptism they were named, claimed, and sealed with the cross of Christ as children of God and heirs of the promise. God adopts us, wants us, loves us, and will never leave us alone. We don’t have to be afraid of losing our place in the family because God has made a permanent place for us. If you have a family that has adopted a child, ask them if they would be willing to talk about what it meant to them to be able to adopt their child, to bring her home, and to love that child forever and always. They may have overcome tremendous obstacles to adopt, and they may have loved and wanted that child long before they ever laid eyes on him. Finally, tell children that just as they depend upon and trust their parents, they can also trust, depend on, and call upon God. (Note: Do be sensitive to any family issues within the congregation that may make this message difficult for some children or members of the congregation to hear.)