For Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016
Being thoroughly Mennonite, and of a logical and practical bent, this story of the coming of the Holy Spirit has never been a favourite of mine. In fact, I struggle to "get it." It makes me uncomfortable because the wind and fire and speaking in tongues comes across to me as weird, the property of charismatic, arm-waving, fainting-type churches that I don't understand. Personality wise, I'm a type that values self-control, and this Holy Spirit stuff is out of control-at least out of human control. It makes me want to quickly flip back through the pages of the New Testament till I get to the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Good practical stuff I can understand.
I can't, however, avoid this Pentecost scripture. It's a classic baptism scripture and is all about being empowered to be God's people and do God's work.
So I read it again this morning, as I prepare to lead a baptism service on Sunday. Surprisingly, I discovered more resonance with my logical and practical sides than I ever have.
First, I resonate with the fact that the believers are together. As believers, we need each other, especially when strange things are happening. We need more sets of eyes, a variety of viewpoints, the idealism of youth, and the experience that comes with long life. I mistrust the "lone prophet" type proclamations and visions-we need the gathered body to sort through our ideas and experiences, to keep us accountable to the whole instead of what might be selfish or deluded.
Secondly, even though nothing in my experience equates with the wind, fire, and speaking in tongues, I have experienced the equipping presence of God. There have simply been too many times when I have been provided with exactly what I need to minister into a situation-or someone else shows up who has what I do not, for me to doubt that God's spirit is with us. I can understand this story of God equipping the people because I have been equipped.
Thirdly, and the most exciting bit for me right now, is the description in verses 5-12 of the kind of people to whom God's Spirit is available. It is for a great crowd from everywhere and composed of everyone. (Even Romans and Arabs are mentioned in this Jerusalem crowd.) The crowd comes, not because of what the disciples do, but because of God. There is nothing secret or weird here, it's public, it's in the open, and people can chose how they respond. No one is being controlled or coerced or given preferential treatment.
Fourthly, I love the way Peter responds. He stands up and articulates what he knows. This helps people to understand and perhaps removes some "weirdness" from the situation. He strongly speaks an inclusive message. Just everyone hears the message, everyone (Jew, Greek, male, female, young, old, slave, free...) is enabled and equipped to do something. That is great for us practically minded folks!
Today when I read this scripture, it isn't so weird. I hear affirmation that we need each other. I realize that God equips us in ways we understand, God impartially draws people in and offers the Spirit. Everyone is given gifts to share with each other.
It's actually rather simple and practical. God will provide what we need. We are all invited to respond.