Text: Acts 2:1-21
For Pentecost Sunday, Nancy Petty, Brian Crisp, and Bryan Lee all shared brief Pentecost reflections. Bryan Lee was first and shared about the silence before the arrival of the spirit. Brian Crisp followed with a reflection on wind and Nancy Petty finished with the fire that ignited a movement.
The Silence of Grief
Today’s text begins with the detail that the disciples are all huddled together in the same place. Presumably, they would have been chatting, praying, eating, or maybe taking an afternoon nap. Regardless of their actions, there comes the stark contrast of the sound of a violent wind. Like everything before that moment was mere silence. A silence known all to well by the Jewish people. A silence of grief while waiting. Over and over again these people had been conquered, cast out, and oppressed. It seems they were always waiting and praying for God to show up and free them from bondage,
Or give them back their land,
Or send a conqueror to bring about restoration.
All the while, they grieve their loved ones lost to war, the loss of their native lands, they grieve the hardship of an oppressive military superpower twisting its boot on their neck. They knew all about a silent wait. Waiting for their redemption.
Twice in my short 34 years, I have experienced grief beyond what I knew was even possible. The first, about 5 years ago, is a story I tell often. I was awoken in the middle of the night by a phone call from my parents that my 7 week old niece was being transported to King’s Daughters hospital in Virginia for an emergency surgery. Her intestines were twisted. I lay in bed for a while doing what I call panic praying. Not knowing what to do. What to say. What to think. At some point I dozed back off and awoke to another call that there was nothing the surgeon could do because too much of her intestines were already dead. At whatever ungodly hour it was, I got dressed and drove from little ashington to Norfolk Virginia, arriving about 30 minutes before she passed away in my sisters-in-law’s arms. The crowded hospital room in a silent wait. Praying, not knowing what would happen moment by moment. Searching for some sort of redemption.
The weeks and then months that followed, for me, remained a silent wait. Looking for the redemption, the aha, the “it’s all gonna be ok”….something. It was in the silence of grief that I finally gave up. I stopped looking for the easy answers, the trite sayings, I stopped looking fo the God who lived inside my tiny box. And I became open to hearing the rush of the wind and the dancing fire. New life breathed deep into my own spirit and I became more…me. More in tune with the divine breath swirling inside me.
So when I read this text, and look backwards just a bit, I see a group of people who had just asked a resurrected Jesus if he was about to restore Israel. They were so stuck on the temporal surface and sitting in a silent wait, yet again.
And suddenly, they encounter a God who is still outside their box.
Brian D. Crisp
Fresh as the Wind
First you hear the words
and they seem like all other words,
ordinary, breath out of the lips,
blowing toward you in a straight line
Ruth Stone’s poetic lines have pursued me for the past few months as I have found myself returning frequently to her collection, Simplicity. In the mornings, I have been reading it with the devotion of a novice anxiously awaiting her vows; I pull it up on my phone during meetings giving the impression I am mining for critical information pertinent to a discussion of which I am oblivious; and at night, I wake at odd hours to steal a glimpse and repeat its mantra, “The body bends to accommodate it.”
Stone, herself, knows about the reluctant hounding of words. In her 90s, Stone recounted her writing process while living in rural Virginia. Working in the fields, Stone could feel a poem begin to whisper, growing in momentum until it unleashed for her barreling through the blue hills. At this point, she proclaimed the sound was like a thunderous train of air, and she felt it because it would shake the earth and cause a quaking in her body. These words, forceful in motion, would blow across her face fresh with new ideas and meanings, and in that moment, she said she had only one thing to do: “Run like hell.” Stone would dart to her house as if being chased down by the poem until she could grab pen and paper so that when the words finally thundered through her, she could collect them and place them on the page. Yet, she mourned because there were times when she couldn’t run fast enough or she couldn’t get to her house and the poem would breeze through her and she would miss it as the words would continue on across the mountains, looking, as she put it “for another willing advocate.”
That is the wind, drenched in the beatific vision, that rushes for your flesh and bones your daughters and sons; the young and the old; the citizen and the stranger; the free and the captive; the certain and the skeptic; the close-at-hand and the far away; for you and for me. When it takes hold, you detect that small tingle in your fingers and your toes and that surge dashing down your spine and the lengthening of your neck stretching you taller and wider, and before you have time to really think, you have grabbed a few more hands; spoken words that feel like they have never yet been spoken, embraced those who thought they were unembraceable; invited yourself into high places that would never invite you in; taken a seat at a table that has had no empty chairs; you have sung and danced, as Stone writes, “something else hidden in the muscles, something the throat wanted to say.” You have pushed. You have pulled. You have torn apart and put back together. You have birthed. Then, in these moments of tumult and thrill, you notice that wind again, fresh on your face from just over the mountain and it quietly whispers a clear vision of who you are and what must be done. Can you feel it?
Pentecost: A Movement, Not A Moment
On the Day You Were Born is a children’s book by Debra Frasier. It begins:
On the eve of your birth
word of your coming
passed from animal to animal.
The reindeer told the Arctic terns,
who told the humpback whales,
who told the Pacific salmon,
who told the monarch butterflies,
who told the green turtles,
who told the European eel,
who told the busy garden warbles,
And the marvelous news migrated worldwide.
When my children were little we would read this book to them on their birthday. It tells the story of how all of creation welcomes us on the day of our birth: “how the earth turned toward the morning sky…spinning the night into light; how the burning Sun sent up towering flames, lighting the sky from dawn until dusk; how the moon pulled on the ocean below…and while far out at sea clouds swelled with water drops, sailed to shore on a wind, and rained a welcome across the Earth’s green land.” The story reminds us that we are born into a universe teeming with activity always birthing something new, something special, something ready to change – to transform – the world.
Unless one possesses a magical, supernatural power none of us remember the day we were born. Our parents or family members (or maybe even a pastor) will tell us the story of that day. Like for you Simon, I remember the day you were born. It was very, very cold North Carolina winter day. The roads were icy. Your mom and dad had prepared and had gone to the hospital early in Chapel Hill, ahead of the icy weather. The news spread of your arrival via email. It was a day of celebration. Someone telling us the story of our birth is the only way we can know about it.
That is why, in the liturgical calendar, today is such an important day. It is the story of the day the church was born. And it is a dramatic story with lots of powerful imagery: loud sounds, strong winds, divided tongues as of fire that rested on the people, a Spirit that filled the room, and people speaking in all different kinds of language. If I didn’t know better I would think that the writer is describing a rock concert, not the birth of a church. And if it were to be included in a children’s book it would need one of those labels that reads: Caution: Contains disturbing imagery.
But I am glad this is the story of the church’s birth. I am glad that it is a bit scary with those strong winds and divided tongues of fire. I am glad that God interrupts our quiet gatherings with powerful sounds and experiences that are not tame or sanitized. I am glad that it names this “Spirit” component that embodies us and calls us out to do strange things. It makes me smile that being filled with the “Spirit” causes folks to act a bit foolish at times, appearing drunk to others. I like that it’s a bit scary and questionable and mysterious. Because it seems to me that is how the church is still being birthed, today. It was never intended for the birth of the church to be a moment in history. It was always conceived as an ongoing movement.
The church today is being birthed as our quiet, mostly peaceful lives are interrupted with images of children being separated from their parents and held in cages along our borders; and we, as God’s people, respond. The church is being birthed as God interrupts our sacred sanitized holy gatherings with the cries of the homeless and the lonely and the sick; and we, as God’s people, respond. It seems to me the church is being birthed again and again through protests and marches, sometimes scary protests and marches, that call for things like Medicaid expansion and voting rights and justice for our environment. The church, it seems to me, is being birthed by a generation of young people who speak a different language about what it means to hold power and privilege, and what gives meaning and purpose to our lives; and we, God’s people, listen to their wisdom.
I can see the church still being birthed as I watch young families come to church not for indoctrination into right belief but rather to find a sense of belonging and community in which to nurture themselves and their children. I can see the church still being birthed as communities choose inclusion over denominational loyalty. I can see the church still being birthed as I watch a faith community – this faith community – rally around a woman having her gender reassignment surgery, sitting with her family at the hospital and making sure she has what she needs in her recovery. I can see the church still being birthed as I watch a community support a homeless couple, one of whom is dying of cancer – sitting with them at the hospital, offering their home as a place of hospice, making sure they receive the medical care needed. I can see the church still being birthed as it steps outside its technological comfort zone to livestream its worship service so that those who are home-based might feel connected. I can see the church still being birthed today as it lovingly prepares a safe space for someone needing sanctuary.
Although the stories of the church still being birth don’t make the headlines or lead the nightly news, I can see that the church is still being birthed. Here in this place and beyond I see so many signs that the church is being born again in the world today. Everywhere I look I see people loving people, people showing compassion to people, people speaking up for people and all of creation, the young seeing visions and the old dreaming dreams.
Amidst the pain and suffering of this world, I can still see trees of green, skies of blue, the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night, the colors of the rainbow on the faces of people going by, friends shaking hands saying how do you do. I can still see the church being birthed in this messy, often scary, questionable and mysterious world we live in. I can see the places where God is interrupting our quiet gatherings and embodying willing and courageous people with the winds of change and the fire of compassion and the Spirit of an all-inclusive love.
It strikes me that the birth of the church was never intended to be a moment in time but rather a movement that would last throughout all generations as God would remain faithful in pouring out God’s Spirit on those willing to still see visions and dream dreams of a commonwealth were all are welcome and radical love is the only way.
May your life be blessed always with the Spirit of Pentecost! And may we, the church, remain steadfast in doing our part to make sure the marvelous news of God’s radical and inclusive justice-love migrates worldwide.