Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reflections on Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21

Read the text here: Acts 2:1-11

Unpredictable & Dangerous
For the last few weeks we have been considering the Holy Spirit.  In the Gospel of John the Spirit of God is referred to as the Paraclete.  The literal meaning of Paraclete is “one that comes up beside someone.”  The image I offered was of a small child in a swimming pool learning to swim, with the parent holding on to the child.  There are other English words that are used to describe the Holy Spirit – “Advocate” is the word that is most often used to translate Paraclete.   John also uses a word that is translated as “comforter.” In the Gospels the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his Baptism in the form of a dove.  And this is the image that has perhaps caught on the most.  Look at the cover of this bulletin for example – there you will see a typical drawing depicting the Holy Spirit: a sweet dove.
But in the original languages the word “Spirit” is a little more nuanced.  The Hebrew word is RUACH  (roo-ack) and the Greek word is Pneuma (nooma), and these words can mean “Spirit” or “Breath” or “Wind.”  In Genesis 1:1 we read that the “Spirit of God moved over the waters.”  This could also be translated as “the Breath of God moved over the waters,” or “the wind of God moved over the waters.”  And while in our mind we might imagine the “wind of God” as a gentle breeze, let’s face it the winds sometimes are much less than gentle.  In fact, the wind can be downright violent, dangerous and unpredictable. 
One more image: in Mark 1:12 we read that following Jesus’ Baptism and the descent upon him of the Holy Spirit as a dove this dove/Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness.  Mathew and Luke changed the word “drove” to “led” but in Mark the word is “drove” which is a violent word.  It gives us the image of the Holy Spirit as a wild bird that is swooping down with its talons extended chasing Jesus into the wilderness.  Maybe our image of the Holy Spirit as the sweet benign dove, or the gentle breeze is not a complete picture and maybe there is more to this Holy Spirit than we want to admit!
In the Acts text – the 11 disciples (and others) had watched Jesus ascend to the Father.  Before he left them he gave them a very specific calling – you are to be my witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Time to get to work Jesus is telling them.  Then the angels come as they stand gazing into the sky – time to get to work, they say!  So the disciples go back to their room and they do – nothing!  They hang out there together afraid and confused.  If they are concerned about anything it is self-preservation.  They have the door locked, which means not only do they have themselves locked in, but others are locked out.  They are safe in that place (they think).  I suppose they think that they can just continue like this forever.  Is this what Jesus had in mind when he gave them his last pre-Ascension instructions?
But then the room is invaded.  The gentle breeze of the Spirit is no longer a gentle breeze!  It is a “rushing wind” which means it is like a tornado!  It is not stopped by the locked doors, which it rips open and then the text tells us that these disciples find themselves in the streets.  How did they get there?  They were driven there by the Spirit! Just like Jesus being driven into the wilderness, the disciples are driven into the streets and there they begin to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, crucified and risen.  And not only that but the “tongues of fire” which appear simply means that this wild, crazy, unpredictable and dangerous Spirit has lit a fire in their hearts that cannot be contained. 
So maybe this Spirit that we receive at our Baptisms and for which we will again pray for each of these confirmands is not such a gentle Spirit.  Our prayers for the Spirit will expose all of these young people to the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit is unpredictable and dangerous!  It can and will drive and lead us into places we might not want to go; it can and will call into question all of our comfortable assumptions and priorities!  This Spirit pushes us into being confronted with the truth of the Gospel that all of those people who we are afraid of and who are different from us and who we want to lock out of our lives are actually our brothers and sisters for whom we have responsibility!  This wild bird of a Spirit is pushing us to engage with all kinds of other people, take responsibility for the needs and problems of the world; to reach out in care, and love and kindness to those who need to hear a word of kindness and need to experience care and love!  For when the Holy Spirit gets loose there is no telling what will happen next!  This was certainly true with the disciples – and it is true for us as well!

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