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Posts tagged ‘Pentecost’

Growing up with Tornadoes

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.”  (Acts 2:2 NRSV)

Whenever I read this verse, I’m reminded that it doesn’t say “gentle wind” but “violent wind.”  That makes me think about growing up in Northwest Iowa where we were always vigilant about watching the sky on a hot and humid day (which was many of those summer days).  Tornadoes were always a threat, and they could come up unexpectedly without much warning.

Everyone knew where their cellar was or where the safety plan was if they heard tornado sirens.  The interesting thing about tornadoes is that they whip up violent winds to the point of mass destruction.  A tornado can touch down and destroy one house, jump over the next house and hit the following one.  No one can predict the path, but everyone knows to get to safety (except maybe the storm chasers).

I would guess that the “rush of a violent wind” would have surprised the disciples who were assembled together waiting to hear from God.  Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit, and they were praying, praising, and waiting as he instructed them.  They probably didn’t have a clue about how this would be accomplished, and it’s doubtful that they expected a violent wind and tongue of fire along with all the other things that happened on that Pentecost day.

But maybe that’s how God gets our attention some times:  doing the unexpected in BIG ways.  Usually, I focus on how touches our lives in small ways through others and through events that help us to grow in faith gradually.  However, Pentecost is a different story.

Not only did the violent wind get the disciples’ attention; they were emboldened, given a courage they previously had been lacking.  Suddenly, they were no longer afraid but excited, empowered, and able to share the message of God’s love in Christ regardless of criticism, threat of arrest, or whatever the case may be.

In one of the church’s I served, there was a couple who saw all the cars in our parking lot and lining the streets on Sundays, so they were intrigued.  One morning they stopped to see me, and their comment was, “Something big must be happening here.  We always see so many cars!”  The witness of the cars made a statement that something BIG was happening!

However, a truer witness would be when people want to become part of the church because they see the church at work in the world.  The people come to church to be renewed, remember the story, and then to be sent into the world to BE the church in the world.

They witness through words and actions whether it’s at home, work, with friends, at an organization to which they belong, in the market place, or wherever they encounter someone else.  People CAN tell when someone follows the ways of Christ, even though they may not be able to name it.

Tornadoes are rather unpredictable, but the wind of the Spirit is steady and sure.  The idea of the violent wind is more about living in the power of the Spirit and allowing the Spirit to work through us as the Church.

How do you see the Spirit at work through your church?

In what ways have you all made a statement that something BIG has happened?

How will you open even more to the Spirit’s work in you?

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What If . . .

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 on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:2-4 (NRSV)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost when we remember the bold entrance of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  They had no idea what to expect, and I’m sure they were far from prepared for the scene that unfolded, but then, the Spirit of God doesn’t care about proper entrances or meeting our expectations – thank goodness!

For years I missed the word “violent” when referring to the sound of wind.  I remember being on Cape Cod when Hurricane Bob “whirled” through.  We had boarded up the house and sat with the radio on (since there was no electricity).  My friend’s dogs were quite anxious and agitated and panted through the whole event.  In the end, the hurricane force, violent winds, hadn’t damaged our neighborhood as much as it had other places.

The church I was serving had not been damaged, but the effects of “Bob” were much more visible since the hurricane had traveled up the Cape Cod Canal.  I remember the sound.  The wind was so strong that it shook the house, brought down trees – actually uprooting some – and it left some destruction in its wake.  Fortunately, no lives were lost because, for the most part, people paid attention to the weather people who kept informing us about how to deal with a hurricane and to be sure we were prepared.

At one point, when the eye of the hurricane was overhead, we stepped outside.  The sky was an eerie yellow color, and it was so calm that we could have heard a pin drop.  When the back end of the hurricane came through, the winds were even stronger.  We were thankful that we only lost power for a short amount of time, and it gave me the opportunity to travel to the church to see how things were there.

Because we didn’t have electricity in the entire area, we ended up getting the word out that people could come to the church where we would pool our food and grill whatever people wanted to bring.  The church’s kitchen had a gas stove, and several people brought their gas grills.  One woman brought everything she had from her freezer because it had thawed, so we gathered as church and community to share a meal by candlelight in the basement of the church.  Community was built, and laughter filled the room.

I wonder.  What if the hurricane had not come through.  Would we have found the same connection somewhere along the way?  Or did the “negative” of the hurricane open doors for people to share and laugh and eat and enjoy together?  It seems to me that the latter is what happened.

What if the disciples hadn’t trusted what Jesus asked them to do?  The church wouldn’t exist today.  In spite of all the negatives in the news and from folks who see organized religion as an outdated institution that has little to offer, “Church” really boils down to the people.  The Spirit is at work in our churches – at least a fair number of them.  The Spirit TRIES to be at work in others.

What if – what if we really embraced this Sunday’s message that the Church – that means all of us – can really share the powerful message in the world.  What if the rush of a violent wind were to sweep through our churches this Sunday and send us spilling into the streets, anxious to go home, to work, to our families, to our friends, to our other organizations and really live out our faith in the world?  What if we really believed that the Spirit would open doors for us to connect together and with others as we seek to be faithful in our walk with Jesus, the Christ?

What if we trusted Jesus’ instructions and teachings so that we can truly BE the church in the world?  What if we stopped being afraid of sharing our faith?  What if we allowed ourselves to be “blown away” by the Spirit?

What if?

Come, Holy Spirit

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”  Acts 2:4 (CEB)

There are times when I wish we could have the same experience as the disciples did.  Well, in many ways some of DO have experiences of the Holy Spirit that fill us and empower us to speak with wisdom and insight.  Yet, it seems to me that there are also times when we could use a good infusion of a powerful wind and tongue as of fire to wake us up and get our attention. 

One of my colleagues told about preaching on Pentecost Sunday, and he said something about the Holy Spirit coming in with a bang.  At that moment, a door banged shut very loudly as a gust of wind blew into the sanctuary.  It certainly got everyone’s attention!  He didn’t say whether or not he stuck to his planned sermon or really let the Spirit lead him a new direction, but what an opportunity!

Maybe my longing for the Spirit to come in with a bang is to wake folks up to God’s presence with us in this world.  It’s way too easy to sit week after week in the sanctuary and nod politely to what the pastor is preaching, but then not take it in so that it begins to change your life.  I’m not saying that the pastor even has that kind of power, but hopefully, the one who is preaching has invoked the Holy Spirit and prayed for God to speak through them.  Of course, we who preach have to trust that God IS working through us in spite of ourselves.

As I think about it, though, the Spirit really is at work in our churches in ways we don’t always recognize.  Opening our eyes and minds, and ears and hearts to the work of the Spirit is an important step to beginning to see the Spirit at work.  Maybe this Sunday as we celebrate Pentecost, we can have an attitude of being open to what the Spirit is trying to tell us and where the Spirit is leading us.  May it be so.

The “Cost” of Pentecost

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Acts 2:21 NRSV

The Holy Day of Pentecost has been often overlooked or ignored as not that important, but it is important in that it recognized and signifies the birth of the church and issues a challenge to the church in all time.

We most often associate the powerful wind that roared into town and tongues resembling fire resting on the heads of the apostles.  In our churches we wear red, maybe bring in geraniums (for the red), have fans blowing to remind us of the wind, and retell the story with an emphasis on the first 13 verses of Acts 2.

Interestingly, the scripture readers for the day (sometimes including clergy) are terrified about all the names that are listed in those first 13 verses, so they miss emphasizing the remainder of the passage which contains Peter’s sermon and invitation to the assembly.

Just to back up a little, the apostles were given the ability to speak in different languages so that the ethnically diverse group of people in Jerusalem could understand the good news of the gospel in their own tongue.  This wasn’t a moment of what is known as glossolalia where people are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in an entirely unknown language that has to be interpreted.  This is a gift of speaking in another language so that those who didn’t speak Aramaic would be able to hear the message in their own language.

Peter’s sermon reminded the listeners that the prophet Joel had envisioned this day when everyone – EVERYONE – would be able to praise and glorify God in Jesus Christ.  Peter’s boldness was nothing but a gift of the Spirit since he had denied Jesus after Jesus was arrested.  Peter’s newfound send of courage came from God and the church was born.

In our celebrations of Pentecost, we often concentrate on the church and the gift of the church.  Somehow it becomes all about us again, but the purpose of Pentecost and the birth of the church has to do with how the church points to God.  In the last verse of this section of Acts 2, which is written above, we are reminded that we are called to move outwardly – toward others, to invite others to know Jesus, to welcome him into their hearts and believe in him.

The United Methodist Church states that our work is to “go make disciples.”  So the church is not only called to nurture, teach, and grow together, but also to send each other forth in the name of Jesus, the Christ, in order to make disciples.  We open doors and plant seeds so that others can come to know Christ.  That is the purpose of the church.

Pentecost is a continuing event in the life of the church and in the world.  The Spirit is at work, and we are invited to partners with God through the Spirit’s work in the world.  May it be so!

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