Pentecost 2023

Todays’s Scripture Stories are of two occasions where Jesus and the Spirit came to the disciples. Besides telling us of what happened in the past, the Stories offer insight to what is happening in our life now. The Spirit we celebrate on Pentecost is still coming into our lives today. Pentecost is an ongoing event still happening.

In both Stories Jesus’ disciples had locked themselves off for fear of what might happen to them. Jesus and the Spirit came through the locked doors and and changed their lives. He had promised to send the Spirit to teach his followers, and us too, what it means to be his disciples in our particular circumstances, and this begins at Pentecost. This may or may not involve a religious tradition, as our lives are “illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder whose source is beyond all logic or reason” (Dag Hammarskjöld). God is not bound by our distinctions and categories, but we are. What we call theology is not so much how we think, which we can really get very wrapped up in, but how we experience God, how we relate to something that is beyond us, and that somehow we feel a part of. Vagueness is ok. 

In the Story from Acts, the Spirit appeared in tongues as of fire. The disciples knew they were changed, gathered up their courage, and went out to talk with the people. The Spirit was also in the people who heard the disciples in their own language. In the Gospel Story, on Easter evening Jesus comes through the locked doors to be with his disciples. He offers them peace, and sends the Spirit on them. The commonalities are Jesus and the Spirit coming through locked doors, and the disciples being changed and acting in a new way.

I’m talking to myself here, but I suspect I’m not alone. Many of us from time to time lock ourselves up because we are afraid of something. Perhaps we feel we have God all figured out and in a neat and convenient little box, and we don’t want to know anything new. We are comfortable and don’t want to be disturbed. We can’t believe that God would take an active part in our life, or that God is actually that real. Maybe we just don’t want to be surprised. It could be that we are frustrated with folks in our life and just want to keep away from them. Maybe we just don’t believe in the God of religious traditions. We can have any number of reasons, or none that we know.

When we let ourselves be open to the Spirit (it really is a choice we make) we have to be ready to be surprised. Sometimes the Spirit does something dramatic to get our attention, most of the time not so much. We may simply notice a new way of seeing things and people, of doing the same things in a different way for no apparent reason. Our way of knowing and recognizing God begins to change. We might even come to the point of realizing the important thing in our life is how we live our relationship with God, whether or not it is a God we believe in, and which may or may not involve a particular religious tradition. God is beyond all that.

It’s worth noting that the Spirit is not only in us, but also in the people and situations we fear and wall ourselves off from. This often has nothing to do with a religious tradition, and everything to do simply with God being God and leading us. Sometimes we recognize God in our darkest days, and sometimes in our brightest, sometimes in people, sometimes in other ways. The Spirit is very creative. In my experience it has often involved my kicking and screaming, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way, although it wasn’t always enjoyable as it was happening. This does not mean that everything is going to be nice and pastel colored, or that we are always going to agree, or that people are going to start conducting themselves in ways that we like. We are all in this together, and the Spirit helps us recognize this. We are decent folks, lovable and flawed, trying to make the best of life that we know from our own experience isn’t easy or fair. Some folks have so much pain that the only way they can cope is to inflict pain on others. Every one of us in our own way is carrying a load that others know nothing about. The Spirit leads us to have a sense of this, and adjust ourselves accordingly. She helps us break down the walls we build to protect ourselves as gradually we realize we don’t need them anymore. She helps us recognize we are not alone, and that everyone in our life has both the right and the need to be in our life. We need each others gifts. We may even come to respect and appreciate others’ traditions.

Pentecost is not something nice and holy, and “spiritual”. The Spirit is real, and is with us in the nitty gritty down and dirty of our ordinary everyday life, which really is not divided into holy and worldly. Our life is one, and we are always living it. God is in the totality of our life. Whatever we are doing in our life God is there – not as a judge or threat, but as a loving caring Presence Who wants our best. Salvation happens now, not just later. As Jesus often said to his disciples he says to us, “Do not be afraid”.   Just sayin .  .  .