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Posts Tagged ‘pentecost’

We have tendencies to compartmentalize, tendencies to keep things in places where they are easy to control or keep track of. We do this with the things of heaven and the things of earth. We are practiced at keeping heavenly things out of the details of earth.

Acts chapter two disagrees with this theory as heaven spills out over the earth. It comes down like fire.  Fire is dangerous, still we are willing to use it. We are quite ok with fire as long as we can use it to our advantage. It’s not much different talking about God. God is dangerous, still we are willing to use God. We are quite ok with God as long as we can use Him to our advantage. 

If we are able to keep fire where it belongs, like in a fireplace, we can safely deal with it. If we can keep God inside some religious theory, we can convince ourselves He is safe to deal with. But on Pentecost Sunday, the fire got loose and did not stay where it could be controlled. It’s as if the fire left the fireplace and starts to light up the rest of the house. 

We keep trying to turn God into something safe to work with. Maybe that’s why we don’t talk much about Pentecost. We keep trying to put the fire back into the fireplace. We keep trying to put God someplace we can control Him. We keep trying to act as if heaven didn’t spill out on the earth. 

We sometimes try to tell ourselves that Pentecost is a wake-up call, a mini-revival where sluggish believers become full of the Spirit. The thing is, that doesn’t really fit the story the New Testament seems to be telling. In that story, Pentecost is more like the evidence that the kingdom of God is in play and it is in play “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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Along the west shore of the Susquehanna River, tucked between the Juniata and Sherman’s Creek, almost hidden in the shadow of Cove Mountain, lays the borough of Duncannon. This is where you will find me on the first day of the week. There I gather with others of a similar mind about what has taken place on this day.

Genesis starts off from the beginning telling us how eventful the first day was. We go from “darkness was over the surface of the waters” to “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Needless to say, this move from darkness to light is a significant one.

Perhaps no day has ever been more eventful than one described by the Gospel. John takes us from “they saw that He was already dead” to “the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” to “on that day, the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst.” At the risk of understatement, it is quite a move from death to life.

We are reminded again of the unpredictability of the first day when Acts reports that people “from every nation” began to “hear in our own language.” Again, just to highlight the obvious. It is quite a move from isolation and division to community.

So we gather on this day and in this place with expectation. We realize that surprise is always a possibility. We believe the miraculous can occur on any day, we are simply acknowledging a serious precedent for unpredictability on this day, the first day of the week. A day the Trinity has already been extremely active. When I think of what has already taken place on this day all I can say is “wow.”

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I have often heard well-meaning persons say something like this, “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. This is a safe place for you.” I think I know what the speaker intends when using such language. I think that the one saying these words actually desires the presence of the Spirit. Still, these words sound strange to me.

Anyone who has read the New Testament, the source where we learn most about the Spirit, may wonder where anyone gets the idea that the Spirit is waiting for us to extend an invitation. However, we do find that Jesus tells his followers to wait on the Spirit. And there is no suggestion that the Spirit requests a safe place, though we might find that the Spirit can be somewhat dangerous. (Check with Ananias and Saphira about this). As Jesus told Nicodemus, you “do not know where it comes from and where it is going.” Predictability is not something we find with the Holy Spirit.

While we cannot define the Spirit in ways that sound like we have figured out all the Spirit is up to and where the Spirit will show up next, we can read the book of Acts and observe the Spirit showing up unexpectedly and recklessly and on its own terms. We will not be able to make the Spirit into something it is not, but when praying for the Spirit we can agree with the wise words of Todd Hunter who said “Whatever God meant by sending the Spirit – give us that.”

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“I can’t help but notice a distinct pattern in this relationship between Creator and creation. The Creator keeps showing up, again and again, unwilling to let creation go. So we celebrate His arrival as a Middle Eastern baby. We celebrate His return from the dead. We celebrate His arrival as Spirit. This Creator seems willing to show up anywhere at any time. This is a persistent God. It is clear He is unwilling to give up on us.”

From Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 99

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It is safe to say that no one expected what happened on Pentecost Sunday. This reminds me of something I recently read. God’s name is often Reliability. Yet, according to Walter Brueggemann, “God’s other name is Surprise.” Perhaps on Pentecost Sunday we could say that God’s name is Holy Surprise.

The name Pentecost suggests “fifty” and makes certain that we are aware this day is connected to other parts of the story. This is not a stand-alone day in history, it occurs precisely fifty days after the previous holy day. Pentecost pulls us into an unpredictable, yet ongoing adventure that is guaranteed to be full of surprise.

It is of interest that the first thing that happens is a sermon. Peter preaches from a text that claims children will prophesy, the old will dream, and the young will see visions. The Spirit, according to the text, will be poured on anyone and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. It is safe to say that no one expected this interpretation of the words of the prophet in this place and on this day. The one thing that does not surprise us is that so many times we explore things that matter and we find that a prophet has already been there.

The very nature of Pentecost reminds us that we cannot forecast God’s next move. We know we are waiting for something; perhaps instruction, courage or closure. And then we get violent winds, tongues of fire, and a language miracle. We cannot think we now have God figured out, we do not know what He may do next. I am somewhat surprised we do not fortify our worship structures or wear hard hats or safety goggles or have the fire department on standby. After all, it is Pentecost Sunday and we may be in for Surprise.

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The conclusion to Acts includes a lively voyage to Rome.  It is interesting that this prompts discussion on whether Luke was influenced by Homer’s Odyssey.  I find this discussion fascinating and am not surprised that Luke may have enjoyed stories of the adventure genre.  If Luke loved reading adventures like these, how excited would he have been to participate in such a story?  This seems to be the case as here we find him writing about this voyage as the “first person peripheral narrator.”

In the Gospel and early in Acts, Luke the historian tells us that he relied on investigation and eyewitnesses.  But later in Acts, most fully in chapters 27-28, he implies that he is a participant in the spread of the good news.  Many episodes in Acts may be summaries of information received from others, but here with Luke on deck we get details that he may have witnessed with his own eyes.

Perhaps his own experience told him that an audience would enjoy such a story.  I think Ben Witherington is right when he suggests that we should not ignore Luke’s desire that the reader gain information but also experience enjoyment while hearing this story.  Perhaps this section of Acts is intended “to keep his listener on the edge of his seat.”  Again, with Witherington, I admire Luke’s ability to integrate an interesting voyage into his story while staying on course with his purpose of “chronicling the spread of the unstoppable good news.”

It is important to remember that the same Spirit that saturated us early in Acts may be less visible on this voyage, but is no less present.  The Spirit evident by wind and fire is present during shipwreck and snakebite.  The same Spirit who added three thousand to their number in chapter two is there in chapter twenty-eight when some were persuaded but others would not believe.  The same story that overcame a language barrier during a Galilean sermon is still being told openly and unhindered by a prisoner of the empire while under house arrest.

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It is interesting that we do not respond to the Spirit’s arrival the same as we do to the arrival of the Son.  Or, to His return from the dead.  In comparison, it appears that we downplay it, as if it were not as miraculous or as important.  Luke on the other hand, gives a chapter to how the birth went down, another to how the resurrection went down, and yet another to the arrival of the Spirit and how it went down.  Yet, our response to Christmas and Easter is vastly different from our response to Pentecost.

This is interesting because as Christmas (God arrived on earth as a baby) and Easter (crucified Jesus raised from the dead), Pentecost has an interesting plot.  Perhaps we can summarize the interaction like this; Jesus says He must go to the Father.  Followers express that they do not wish to be left alone.  Jesus promises that they will not be alone.  Followers ask what they should do, where should they go?  Jesus says to stay in Jerusalem and wait.  Followers wonder what they are waiting on and why.  Jesus replies “you’ll know.”

Luke the historian leaves no doubt.  “Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind… and there appeared to them tongues of fire… and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues… and when this sound occurred, the crowd came together and were bewildered.”

I can’t help but notice a distinct pattern in the relationship between Creator and creation.  The Creator keeps showing up, again and again, unwilling to let creation go.  So we celebrate His arrival as a Middle Eastern baby.  We celebrate His return from the dead. We celebrate His arrival as Spirit.  This Creator seems willing to show up anywhere at any time.  This is a persistent God.  It is clear that He is unwilling to give up on us.

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