Reflection May 20, 2018

"Pentecost Ponderings" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

    “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) There is a wild side to God and to the Holy Spirit of God!

     Yes, we use wonderfully consoling images of God as a parent who loves us and cares for us. And certainly such is the case. But God has never been tamed. God has never been domesticated, even though there have been many attempts to tame and domesticate God. The church has been trying to tame and domesticate God and the Holy Spirit of God ever since the first Pentecost.

     But that first Pentecost should have alerted every disciple to the reality of an untamed and untamable God. The Holy Spirit of the Living God comes upon the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room. And how many disciples were gathered together on that Pentecost? Luke places the number at 120 – so the Upper Room had to be fairly large. The 11 apostles were there – along with various disciples – including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and other women.

     It is a serious mistake to imagine the Pentecost experience only happened to the apostles. Pentecost happened to 120 disciples, men and women together. This is what Luke writes clearly in the first and second chapters of Acts. All 120 are anointed, all 120 are consecrated, all 120 are ordained by the Holy Spirit to form the church and do the ministry of that church.

     But this anointing, this consecration, this ordination was not necessarily a pleasant experience. The 120 disciples wind up being burned by fire – spiritually if not also physically. Do we imagine the disciples just calmly observed how everyone in that upper room was on fire?

     “Say, Peter, you seem to be on fire!” “Well, so do you, Thomas, and so do you, Miriam, and so do you, Rebecca!” Did any of them try to douse the flames? Did someone run for a bucket of water? Have we become so accustomed to the story of Pentecost that we don’t think about the reactions of those first Christians as they were set on fire?

     If Pentecost teaches us anything, it teaches us that our God is a divinely dangerous God. God apparently likes to set people on fire. Maybe God is some sort of celestial pyromaniac? Now understand I’m using strong imagery here, to make a serious point. God’s Spirit sets people on fire. That’s the main message of Pentecost.

     But I fear that initial fire has been dampened over the centuries. Is this not so? Where is the fire now? Do we see it in our churches? Do we see it in our congregations? Do we see it anywhere? The answer is yes and no. The Pentecost fire is still burning – but its ferocity has been tempered – its intensity has been cooled – its heat has been muted.

     The violent wind of Pentecost has been tamed, has it not? Listen to the United Church of Christ minister and renowned Scripture professor Walter Brueggemann in a prayer for Pentecost: “We hear the story of the wind at Pentecost, holy wind that dismantles what was, holy wind that evokes what is to be, holy wind that overrides barriers and causes communication.

     “We are dazzled, but then, reverting to type – we wonder how to harness the wind, how to manage the wind by our technology, how to turn the wind to our usefulness, how to make ourselves managers of the wind.

     “Partly we do not believe such an odd tale because we are not religious freaks; partially we resist such a story, because it surges beyond our categories; partly we had imagined (God) to be more ordered and reliable than that.

     “So we listen, depart, and return to our ordered existence: we depart with only a little curiosity but not yielding; we return to how it was before, unconvinced but wistful, praying for wind, craving for newness, wishing to have it all available to us. We pray toward the wind and wait, unconvinced but wistful.”

     Is this not how it often is? But yet - do we not yearn to be set afire? Do we not wish to be blown by a violent wind – by the very breath - of God into a place that will free us from old thinking and worn-out faith?

     Do we not crave newness regardless of the number of our years? Do we not hope for more even as we settle for less? Is not our inherent restlessness, our dissatisfaction with what is, a gift from the God who comes in wind and fire? We are born restless and we live restless all our days.

     But mostly we don’t like the restlessness given to us by God. We don’t like the divine dissatisfaction unsettling us deep within our hearts and souls and deep into numerous nights. So what do we do? We often try every which way to banish our restlessness. We attempt to dilute our divine dissatisfaction with drugs and alcohol. We dilute our divine dissatisfaction with power, privilege, prestige. We dilute our divine dissatisfaction with what passes for entertainment on our televisions and in our movie theaters. We dilute our dissatisfaction with multiple distractions.

     Do we not keep putting out any fire the Spirit wants to light inside of us with our indifference and the anesthesia of our ever-present media? Is not face-book more important for many of us than the fire of faith? I fear it would seem so!

     Yet the divine restlessness will not release us. We can still warm our hands with the embers of that distant fire. We can still hear a whisper of that mighty wind whistling through the deep valleys of our souls - because our God is a wild, untamed, God, who likes starting fires and blowing things around with a violent wind. May Pentecost always have its way with us!


Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643