June 5: Pentecost – Deep, Bold, Daring

Scripture Reading (CEB) Acts 2

Anthem Spirit of Comfort, Spirit of Hope (D. Angerman, D. Nolan)

On the morning of May 22, 2011, the choir of Peace Lutheran Church, Joplin Missouri, sang an anthem composed by David Angerman.  Later that day an EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin destroying Peace Lutheran Church along with a third of the city.  On the Day of Pentecost, May 19, 2013, the second anniversary weekend of the tornado, Peace held its first worship service in its new church building.  This anthem was composed for the Peace choir to sing for the joyous dedication of the new building on June 23, 2013.

Lord, You are God, in the tempest and the gale.
Lord, You alone are God and your mercies never fail.
For your love is everlasting and your peace can calm our fears
Lord, Your grace is like an ark sailing  through a sea of tears.
Spirit, Holy, come and fill this house with grace,
Spirit, Worthy, we are one in Your embrace.
Spirit, come inhabit all our praise.
As we worship and we pray, help us Lord, to find our way.
Spirit, come renew our hearts today.
Spirit, Holy You are faithful, You are true.
Jesus, Worthy, all our joy begins with You.
Spirit, come empower all we do.
Make this church a welcome place
 filled with mercy, love and grace
Spirit, come refresh our faith today.
Come, Spirit, shower us with promise and with love.
Restore our lives, refresh our faith.
Stretch out Your rainbow of assurance before us.
Descend with power on this place.
Spirit, Holy, come and fill this house with grace,
Spirit, Worthy, we are one in Your embrace.
Spirit, come inhabit all our praise.
Breathe in us a mighty wind, help this church to live again,
Spirit, come restore our hope today.
Spirit, come refresh our faith.  
Spirit, come renew our hearts today.

Deep, Bold, Daring

updated version

Giving a sermon one Sunday, the preacher noticed a bit of a commotion as two young women were giggling in the back of the sanctuary, disturbing those around them. Eventually the preacher couldn’t take it any longer, and announced sternly, “There are two of you here who have not heard a word I’ve said.” That quieted them down.

When the service was over, on their way out the door, three adults apologized for going to sleep in church, promising it would never happen again.

In a way, Pentecost is Jesus saying, you’ve not heard a word I’ve said, as we remember the many scriptures that Jesus warned his disciples that he would leave them, but their work wasn’t over: the faith was theirs to share.  That moment began with Pentecost on the rush of the wind, and the blessing of tongues of flame.  In this disruptive, challenging moment of God’s grace, the disciples experience something different of God.   Like the preacher angrily announcing from the pulpit – the Holy Spirt was meant to awaken us.  

So then, why do we seek to soften the image of the Holy Spirit?  Why do we sing, Spirit of Gentleness, Breathe on me Breath of God, or Like the Murmur of the Dove’s song, detailing these nice, quiet, passive interactions with the divine? This is not how the early church experienced the Holy Spirit. It’s not how we experience the Holy Spirit either.  The Holy Spirit is the divine force needed to push us out of our assumptions, pushing us toward others, and out of our comfort zones.  It’s more reminiscent of a prayer written by Alan Paterson.

Threatening, gusting, turbulent Spirit, no one has described us as ‘on fire’ recently,
and it’s hard to remember when last we were ‘blown away’.
We are better practised at doing ‘sober and respectable’
and these days even letting our hair down can be staid and contrived.

Have we successfully excluded you from our Christianity?
Are we so far beyond prophesying, dreaming dreams and seeing visions,
 that we present a mild and managed Church to the world,
 to our children, to ourselves and in the service of the Kingdom?

It is hard for a 2000-year-old church to be spontaneous –
for an institution to become a movement again in a very different world.
So we need you all the more.
Blow through our petty habits and cosy rituals.
Inflame in us dreams of a new heaven and a new earth.

Your Church has called you Comforter, Sustainer, Advocate and Champion.
Be known to us again; be the source of our courage; stir our appetite for justice; make compassion our disturbing companion. Come, Life giving Spirit!

When the feast day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place.  They were hiding in one spot.  They were afraid to go out.  They didn’t trust the world around them.  There was safety in numbers, and they believed if they just lay low for awhile it might all blow over.  They could return to their lives, their fishing boats, their families and pretend nothing of this had ever happened. 

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

Instead of the nice, quiet, passive interaction they wanted, the disciples experienced the chaos of Pentecost.  It’s been a long and difficult journey since Easter; fifty days of a strange mixture of mourning and celebration.  They’re exhausted even before the rush of the wind.  They’re unsure of what to believe.  And when they think they’ve seen it all, after seeing Jesus come back from the dead, the disciples heard on the rush of the wind, ok, now it’s your turn. This Pente-chaos[1] experience of the Holy Spirit is more challenge then comfort.  But the Holy Spirit has always had a hand in pushing the faithful into places they could not anticipate. 

Over 100 years ago (since the United Church celebrates its 97th birthday this week), Methodist, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and later on Evangelical United Brethren, were all pushed to see past their differences, past their comforts of hiding away in their buildings, challenging us into a new vision for church.  And while 97 years seems like a long time, there are members of our churches far old than this – we’re even older than the Queen who has her own celebrations this week! And so we could say that in one lifetime – we’ve tried not to be asleep to the pain of the world, and it’s too bad that we couldn’t say the same of the Queen – because in all honesty, I had no idea what a platinum jubilee is – but I know what a Biblical jubilee is (Leviticus 25:8–13).  The Biblical jubilee is not just a time of rest – but of release – a rest, a Sabbath for person and land, debts are forgiven, slavery cancelled, it’s a restoration of what should have been.  And over the lifetime of our church, we’ve tried to live into that justice and that freedom: creating a space where an intercultural church could be born, where preachers regardless of gender or sexual identity might be celebrated, where with every generation we find the languages of the Spirit that might enable us to speak. 

Along the way, we’ve been confronted  with the pain that our faithful living has caused, as often we didn’t get it right: as we sought to dominate Indigenous communities, tying helping others to belief, and seeking to convert them rather than just help them, and I’m sure much more.  But thank God we’re still here, because even now the fierce wind of the Holy Spirit is pushing us to new expressions of church and faith. 

For being the church has never been easy.  It’s never been a nice, quiet, passive life.  Loving isn’t easy.  Forgiveness is incredibly challenging if you’ve ever been hurt – plenty Christians rarely learn to forgive.  And then there’s that whole Easter come-back-from-the-dead stuff.  Throw that into the mix with our current culture’s cancel politics that seeks to shut down anything with a troubled past, and no wonder all we want to do is huddle together as a fearful group worried of what lay before us, of what awaits us out of these walls. 

Hearing ok, now it’s your turn, doesn’t instill confidence in us.
Hearing the fierce wind is not as much awe-inspiring as it is terrifying.
And individual flames alighting…well, if you were here last week, I nearly burnt the carpet.

And yet…God says, “There are some of you here who have not heard a word I’ve said.”  You are beloved.  You are called.  In spite of all the messiness and chaos and contradictions of your life, you reveal the beauty and blessing of God, and you are the best person to reveal it to others.

Imagine a quilt, or a piece of embroidery (this reflection has been shared before by many others, I even shared it at a service just recently so if you’re heard it before, that’s ok – God’s pretty repetitive too!).  On the surface we notice first the beautiful – the clearly planned pattern, the finished product, but beneath it all is messy, and knotted and cut and frayed.  We’re taught, we believe, that we must put on a brave face and pretend everything is beautiful when it’s not. But life is messy.  It’s complicated and challenging.  In our hearts there’s a mixture of fear and faith, despair and dependence, and it knots up our hearts and convinces us that mess is all that ever is.  But that’s not all there is – the interconnectedness beneath the surface of the quilt, beneath the surface of the embroidery, reminds us that our lives, whether we like it or not, whether we choose it or not, are connected to others.  We are entwined and entangled with our life in God.  For it’s from the mess, that reveals the beautiful.  It’s from the chaos of Pentecost that reveal the Christians. 

And so we hear: Go to the hurt and the hurting. Go in spite of the fears you have, and speak words that others need to hear.  Go, knowing your fears of being different, fears of trying new things, fears of past and future failure for all those fears will forever keep you locked up.  Go and be the love that you wish existed in the world.  Go and make real the feeling in your heart, so that others may feel it too.  For the Holy Spirit sees what is needed in the world, and sees you – gifted, blessed, and beauty in spite of the messiness only you can see.

For Pente-chaos pushes us into this messy world in order that we might discover the beauty and blessing of sharing our faith, living our love, and embodying transformative justice for all people.  And we are not alone in this work.  Thanks be to God. 

[1] A word coined by preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *