Pentecost is sometimes described as the “birthday” of the Church, and in some ways that is true, but for the most part that is too sentimental a view to take because Pentecost isn’t supposed to be a sentimental, comforting story, it’s meant to be a dangerous one. The story opens with that small group of believers isolating themselves from the rest of the world, gathered in fear. But looking back, had they actually known what the Spirit had planned for the group, they might have fled to the four corners of the world! It turned out they were in no danger from outsiders, the danger came because they were all together in one place and God was about to crash the party of their limited view of the world and compel them to bring in everyone they had spent their lives trying to avoid.
Things got a little cray-cray then with the wind and the fire and the different languages. It was very different from our experience of Church in the 21st century: there were no musicians or board meetings or religious education. There weren’t even any ushers to hand out bulletins to the crowds waiting outside, and there weren’t bake sales or rummage sales either. It all looks so different, unless we look closer at the people, in which case there isn’t much difference at all.
We still have fear and isolation in some branches of the Church, a fierce sectarianism that divides us…so nothing new there. And those people who did the whole speaking in tongues thing …well, they must have been Pentecostals. And that long list of how many different nationalities showed up must have been added by the first member of the UCC boasting about multiculturalism. Nothing’s changed there either. Then there were those who witnessed this powerful act of God…this Pente-chaos and, in an attempt at intellectualizing it, all they said was “What does this mean in the larger economy of God’s grace?
These were the Catholics, of course.
And the ones who said, “Those people are drunk” were perhaps some Evangelicals focused on the personal morality of others. Nothing new there. Then finally there’s the nice but completely naive Methodist guy who says “O my gosh, there’s no way they can be drunk…it’s only 9 o clock in the morning.”
Nothing’s changed much. People are people. There are the emotional ones, the judgemental one, the naïve ones, and of course the ones like myself who insist on categorizing and naming everyone as though people can be reduced to a label. Honestly.
So there we all are even from the beginning. Flawed, smug, confused, embarrassed and embarrassing…in other words the very perfect people to whom God sends the spirit.
Because, it turns out, God hasn’t changed either. Just like that first Pentecost, God still crashes our parties and invites in the people we would rather avoid. God still says “yes” to all our polite “no thank yous”. This is what is so crazy dangerous about the whole thing. This isn’t a sentimental birthday celebration, it’s a revolution. When speaking of the Holy Spirit we have to revert to metaphors: Paraclete, Comforter, wind, dove—but the thing to remember is that the Holy Spirit is NOT a metaphor. She will mess you up in ways a metaphor cannot.
Even though we call the Holy Spirit the comforter, that doesn’t mean she brings warm cookies and nice bedtime story to help us sleep. The Spirit brings the comfort of the truth – and if you’ve had any experience of the truth whatsoever you can testify that it’s not exactly cozy. The truth has often set me free from comforting illusions, but I’m here to tell you, I can’t think of a single instance when that felt like a warm cookie or a bedtime story!
So here we are: flawed, smug, confused, embarrassed and embarrassing…in other words the very people to whom God sends the spirit to mess everything up.The very people God loves enough to send that crazy bird with bared talons and a predatory beak to come and snatch out our stony hearts and replace them with the expansive vision of God’s heart.
Because God hasn’t changed. Just like that first Pentecost God still says yes to all our polite no thank yous. God still crashes our parties and invites in the people we are trying to avoid. That’s the thing about the Pentecost Spirit of truth: it feels like the truth might crush us. And that is right. The truth will crush us, but the instant it crushes us it put us back together into something real—maybe for the very first time.
The fundamental radical and dangerous thing the Spirit does is always the same: she forms us into the Body of Christ. Sometimes despite us, sometimes contrary to the way we prefer, but always for us. It’s the only way we can remember that we are not individual human beings having a spiritual experience: we are spiritual beings having the fullness of human experience.