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 2:2-3)
Before there was a glimmer of light in the sky or a whisper of wind in the air, the disciples were huddled up in one place—waiting. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told them to wait for the Advocate, the Counselor, the Encourager.
Imagine being in the room that day—just waiting and not knowing what we were waiting for, when it would happen, or where it would take place. If we looked around at those who were gathered, would we have discerned that we were formless, clueless, and powerless?
As the disciples were sitting in the quiet and the darkness, a violent wind suddenly filled the house, and tongues of fire danced on their heads, igniting the tongues in their mouths to speak in new languages with great power.
We call this day Pentecost. We call it the birthday of the church. The wind of the Holy Spirit blew them out of that closed room into the streets, and the fire of the Holy Spirit burned away their fears, worries, and anxieties and then inspired their hearts to change the world.
Without the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit, we would never have heard from them, there would never have been a church, and we wouldn’t know the hope and grace of Jesus.
As stupendous as this day once was, we aren’t meant to look back at Pentecost like a distant memory. For today, we are meant to wait for it, hope for it, and trust in it.
Simply put, we need Pentecost in our lives, in our churches, and in our country. Without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, those first recipients had no hope of living into what God wanted and needed them to do. I don’t see that things are any different today.
Individually and personally: Where and how do we need the wind of the Holy Spirit to blow into our lives? We can all live in small, tight, airless, and lifeless rooms of fear and anger, defensiveness and hopelessness, worry and anxiety. We need the Holy Spirit to blow us into a life that will have more hope, courage, and peace.
Just imagine: If the fire of the Holy Spirit burned away all that separates us from God, from each other, and from the glorious human beings God created us to be, what we could do and how this world would be changed, transformed, and dare I say, saved?
For our churches: Yesterday, I met with my college chaplain. During our conversation, he talked about how his own denomination has been in free-fall for decades, and this is indeed true for all the mainline churches. Recently a priest said to me, “I don’t really know how to carry on. I feel like I am running a hospice.” Another colleague recently expressed worry that there wouldn’t be a church—an Episcopal Church—left in a generation.
Formless, lifeless, powerless—those words well describe the disciples on that first Pentecost, and those words may describe how many people currently feel about the condition and health of their faith communities.
But what happened on the first Pentecost? The wind of the Holy Spirit blew them forward, and the power of the Holy Spirit ignited them for mission and ministry. By the end of that day, people were so caught up in that wind and fire that 3,000 of them were baptized.
I don’t believe that Jesus came to this earth, offered up His life, and was raised from the dead so that we would lose hope. I don’t believe He gave us His love, grace, and peace so that we would wring our hands in despair. Because we are the Body of Christ, we need—we must—proclaim that God will prevail, and we must believe that miracles can still happen.
For our country: Yesterday, during that lunch with my former chaplain, he asked, “Jim, do you have any hope that we can work through all that is politically dividing us?” I answered, “Richard, on our own, I don’t have much hope, but as Christians, we must never lose hope.”
Sometimes we must be brought to our knees in utter frustration and confusion so that we can give enough room for God to work in and even transform our hearts. I believe that is where we are right now, or at least should be. Although we are hearing that our political leaders may be finding some ways to move forward on gun control, for instance, don’t we all see that these small ways are simply the beginning of how our nation needs renewal and restoration? In short, we need Pentecost to happen to us and for us as a land and as a people. On our own, we will be tinkering, and lives will still be lost, but with the Holy Spirit, we can pray that deep repentance and serious changes can be made.
If indeed we as a country felt the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing us forward and the fire of the Holy Spirit inspiring us to do things we may have never done before, what could we do, and who would we become?
I believe we would be led to take better care of our citizens, with special care for the “least of these,” which are the people Jesus identified himself with. I believe that people would be more likely to listen than to battle, to compromise rather than to win at all costs, to be more compassionate and less selfish, more honest with less political posturing, more hopeful and less pessimistic, and more courageous and less fearful.
On the first Pentecost, the disciples were given new languages so that they could proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people. I pray and hope you join me. The Holy Spirit can give us some new languages, for clearly, the words we are throwing around and hurling at each other are not moving us forward.
As we think about the Good News going to all nations, doesn’t that suggest that we have room in this country for all people? And lest we forget, all people are God’s children—red, yellow, black, white, and brown and everything in-between, all made in God’s image. Aren’t we all, except for the Native Americans, immigrants? My ancestors came here in the 1640s, but so what? I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit can open our doors, our opportunities, and our hearts to all those who want to be here, all those who are escaping sure death from wherever they are from, and all those who want to serve, give, lead, and contribute.
Not possible, you say? No way, you assert? Just the Pollyanna pipedreams from someone who is out of touch with the real world, you judge?
Before Pentecost, no one would have believed that the small group of huddled together disciples, who were indeed formless, clueless, and powerless, could have started a wind, a fire, a movement that changed the whole ancient world. We are still feeling the impact of what happened when the Holy Spirit landed on them two thousand years ago.
As we think about our common life right now, which is so fractured and at odds and embattled, what makes more sense? Shall we just continue to let things go the way they are going and become even more cut off from each other and unwilling to compromise and listen to each other? Or shall we get on our knees—all of us—and plead for the Holy Spirit to show us, guide us, and lead us into a better and more holy way forward? What we choose at this point will make a difference in who we become. Shall we be a country under siege with our children being slaughtered and our congress at nearly a standstill? Shall we be a country and fear everywhere we turn, or shall we live into the ancient hope that together we will be the “land of the free and the home of the brave?”