The Festival of Pentecost (20 May 2018)
JoAnn A. Post
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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 among them, and a tongue rested 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
When the school day opened, they were all together in one place. Students and teachers. Lunch ladies and custodians. Suddenly there was a sound of a violent bang, and then another, and then a voice shouting, “Run! Run! Run!” And they did. Students and teachers. Lunch ladies and custodians. They ran for their lives, as they had been taught in drill after drill after drill. And when the shooting stopped and the screaming subsided, they were no longer all together in one place. Ten were dead. Ten were wounded. All of their lives shattered.
You may recognize this as a true story that unfolded in Santa Fe, TX Friday morning. The 22nd such story this year about a place of learning and inquiry turned into a shooting gallery.
Is there a way to prevent another chapter of this story being written in Des Moines or Peoria or Green Bay or Northfield? We like to think so. But what is the answer, or more accurately, what are the many answers? Maybe it’s too-accessible guns. Or untreated mental illness. Or inattentive parenting. Or unchecked bullying. Or violent social media. Or lax school security. Or any of a thousand reasons we assemble before trailing off into distressed silence.
Friday’s tragedy involved a firearm. But the weapon that harms doesn’t have to be a gun. Heart ache comes in a hundred flavors. Evil can enter any door, any home, any heart. And when it does, everything in us says, “Run! Run away!”
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Jesus’ disciples were waiting for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit. But they didn’t know what they were looking for. A FedEx delivery? A letter in the mail? A knock on the door? But, like most things we wait for, when it arrives it does not look as we had imagined. What did the promised Holy Spirit look like that day in Jerusalem? Like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz. The doors were torn from their hinges by a mighty gust of wind. Flames appeared on each head, dancing but not burning. And words erupted out of the disciples’ mouths—words in languages they could not have known.
The gift of the Holy Spirit was noisy and chaotic, frightening and unexpected.
And at the sound of it, people ran. Not like school children and lunch ladies taught to run from danger. But more like fire fighters and parents who instinctively run toward trouble. We are told that the whole city of Jerusalem ran toward the noise, toward the chaos, toward the (maybe?) danger. They ran together to see what God was doing.
Confirmation Day is always both joyful and sad for me. For two years, I’ve been privileged to spend Wednesday evenings with these remarkable young people. We come together week after week to study, to talk, to wonder, to play “Heads Up 7-Up” with the last few minutes of class. Sometimes I bribe them with DQ. (To be honest, I think I imagined our time together more than they did.) They are always in my thoughts and prayers, as are all of you.
But thoughts and prayers don’t teach them the faith. Thoughts and prayers don’t equip them for life. Thoughts and prayers don’t protect them from danger. Thoughts and prayers are for Hallmark cards. Not for people of faith who live in a real world of danger and confusion. So, like the schools they attend every day, we drill them. We flood their hearts and minds with lessons to protect them when fear falls and their own faith fails.
What do we drill into their heads and hearts?
- There is nothing you can do to make God stop loving you.
- There is no sin that cannot be forgiven.
- You are loved beyond measure simply because you are.
- You have everything you need.
- You always have a home among God’s people.
I was baptized on June 28, 1959, in a Lutheran church perched on a hill among waving Iowa corn fields. I was confirmed there on April 28, 1974. I was also ordained in that church—on Pentecost, 33 years ago. My parents were also baptized, confirmed and married there, and my father’s body now rests in the church cemetery beside his brothers, sisters and parents. I am what we call a “Cradle Lutheran,” born and raised and never left.
My story used to be common, but not anymore. Even among those who join us this morning as new members, there are wide varieties of church experience—they are some lifelong Christians but there are also adult converts to the faith; some have sampled many ways of believing (and not believing) and have found in this place, among us, a welcome and a word that sustains them. On this Pentecost, the Spirit has spoken and we have run (or limped or crawled or sidled) from all corners of the world to hear it, as they did on that first Pentecost.
But nobody stays here, nobody lives in this building. When the day of Pentecost had come and they were all together in one place in Jerusalem, it was only for a time. The building wasn’t big enough to house them, but more important, their work wasn’t in that building. Disciples are always being called and sent, called and sent—brought together to be strengthened and then sent back into a world far more dangerous than any of us can truly fathom.
I was getting my hair cut on Friday when news of the Texas shooting broke. We watched the television in silence, scissors snipping nothing but air, as school children ran from the school—racing toward fields and out-buildings for protection from the danger inside. But I later read about others who ran—parents and teachers, neighbors and passersby who ran to find those students wherever they were hiding and return them to safety.
That is the Spirit’s work. To create shelter for the lost and frightened and then to send them—us—back into the world.
It is the Day of Pentecost. We are all together in one place. Soon we will run. But not just yet.