Sunday Note: The Whirlwind and Fire

We got a little behind posting these to the blog. This Sunday Note is from May 20th.

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Text for Today : Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

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The Whirlwind & Fire

Today the Church around the world will celebrate the day of Pentecost. In our text from the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus waited in Jerusalem, gathered like thousands of other Jews from the diaspora for the festival of Shavuot, called Pentecost in Greek. It is the festival of the wheat harvest and a commemoration of the Hebrews receiving the Law (the Torah) from God.

For the Church, Pentecost now commemorates and celebrates this story in Acts-- the day the Holy Spirit rested upon the followers of Jesus. It is the day that God again encountered the people, but this time with Spirit rather than Law.

So this day is a celebration of God's Spirit resting upon and dwell within ordinary people. It is a day that remembers the way that God's Spirit translates the way of salvation and the promises of God across language and culture. It is a day that recognizes the presence and power of God's Spirit still at work in the world and in us.

Yet, this day in 2018 is a day of where we are mourning for young lives cut short this week during a school shooting in Texas. This is a day of remembering lives lost in Gaza this past week. For many, it is a day in the midst of family strife, of struggling to make ends meet, of fighting sickness, of walking alongside family, friends, and neighbors who are suffering. It is a day that we may wonder if the presence and power of God's Spirit is still at work in the world and in us.

The Holy Spirit often has the reputation of being gentle, flying under the radar, and working out circumstances in particular ways. And there is some truth there-- the Spirit manifests in the Scriptures as wind, as breath, as a dove. The Spirit seems to set up circumstances to inhibit Paul from going certain places. The Spirit hardens and softens hearts.

But here, in this Pentecost story, we are gifted with the Spirit as whirlwind and fire. Spirit that is poured out powerfully. Spirit that causes a commotion, that propels the people to proclaim loudly the work of God-- so much so that some mistake the Spirit's work for drunkenness. Spirit that speaks truth across divides.

This Spirit of whirlwind and fire is the same Spirit that hovered over the darkened chaos at the emergence of creation. It is the same Spirit that Jesus spoke of as wind-- no one knowing where it comes from or where it will go. It is the same Spirit whose movement bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It is the Spirit that causes sons and daughters to prophesy, youth to see visions, and elders to dream. It is the Spirit that created and creates-- around and in and through all people.

In our celebration, in our mourning, in our remembering, in our suffering, and in our joy, the Spirit's presence and power continue to create, making way for her fruit to be born in the world and in us.

I see today the Spirit's work in sons and daughters speaking prophetically to those in power, creating new possibilities. I see today the Spirit's work in young people seeing visions of what can and must be. I see today the Spirit's work in elders dreaming and scheming alongside those who are young. I see today the Spirit at work in translating across difference, in burning down the walls we have built up to separate us from each other, in saving us for the sake of one another.

The work of God's Spirit is not always quiet and gentle. And if you find yourself in a season of movement toward speaking hard truth, challenging power, envisioning new futures, tearing down walls, it may feel like going through the fire and whirlwind. 

Take heart-- God's Spirit is with you. God's Spirit is in the fire. God's Spirit is in the wind. And God's Spirit is always in the business of creating fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-- that is where this fire and whirlwind will take us.

So today, may we get caught up in the movement of the Spirit-- prophesying truth, envisioning new ways of loving our neighbors, and dreaming how the Kingdom of God may come on earth.