June 2018

The Spirit of Pentecost

 

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. 

(Acts 2:1-4. Please read also the rest of Acts 2.)

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit goes into over-drive – manifesting as a rushing violently-stormy-wind – and as flaming-tongues-of-fire dancing on gathered disciples – who now catch fire with the Spirit, and speak in foreign languages they didn’t know they knew, praising God – and people from all over understand what they’re saying in their own native languages.

Many come to listen, drawn by the Spirit to learn what God’s doing. But others are skeptical, suggesting believers have been drinking (Acts 2:13). The day before Pentecost Sunday, as it happens, I’d watched a video posted by the NY Times of Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry passionately preaching biblical love at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Bishop Curry quoted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said ‘when we learn to love as God loves this will be like humankind discovering fire again – as if for the first time.’ The royal bride and groom could be seen wiping joy tears from their eyes. In spite of the very formal setting, many seemed to be feeling the Spirit. However, as the camera panned across the audience (and as reporters and commentators noticed), some other guests appeared bored or cynical, much like those in Jerusalem who accused disciples of being drunk.

Even when the church is obviously caught up in the Spirit, some will doubt. But by the end of the day of Pentecost three thousand have come to Jesus, been baptized, and now are giving their lives to serving Jesus as disciples. The Holy Spirit gets the last word.

We have very few reports of the Spirit appearing again as visible fire and stormy wind – and few examples of the Spirit gifting people to speak or understand foreign languages they don’t already know in all the years since. But Spirit-led communication across all kinds of cultural and linguistic barriers continues. Usually in quieter, less obvious ways, but – perhaps anytime we live together in love and harmony bearing witness to God’s grace, this is certifiably miraculous.

Scripture tells us all who believe in Jesus have the Holy Spirit living in us. The Spirit-led transformation that flows from Pentecost is our living legacy. So as author Oswald Chambers says: “When it is a question of God’s almighty power, never say, ‘I can’t.’”

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On Pentecost Sunday three of our Parish’s Certified Lay Servants – members who have taken at least two United Methodist Lay Leadership classes  – graciously shared reflections on Pentecost themes. Many thanks to Susan Goux, Anne Marie Seitzinger, and Dottie Cotter. This month we’re featuring Susan’s meditation, which follows.

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Reflections on Pentecost

Pentecost is often considered the birthday of the church.  Before the events of the first Pentecost,

which came a few weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.”  To be able to speak to you today I had to consider what I knew about Pentecost—I know we are supposed to wear red, we hear the story about the flame coming down, the big wind and speaking in tongues.  Like other major occasions in the church calendar, we listen to the scripture, we sing, we hear a sermon, and we think we understand about the significance of Pentecost.  Then someone says I want you to talk about it.  Whoa – that’s an entirely different thing!

Do you remember when you first believed – when you first knew God?  We all heard the stories from our parents and our Sunday School teachers, but when did you realize you believed in Jesus and when did the Holy Spirit come into your life?  Do you remember the day – the time – where you were?  Think about that for a minute.  Was there a moment when your heart was “strangely warmed” as John Wesley said?  Was there a time when you were filled with the Holy Spirit?

I hope you have had such an opportunity, but if you can’t recall such a time, I would strongly recommend spending some quiet time communing with God and seeking that moment – inviting Him in.

I remember two things:  One was what a minister at my Methodist church in upstate NY said to me in my confirmation class when I was 13.  He said that your conscience is the voice of God speaking to you in your heart.  I’d always wondered whose voice that was – this explanation turned on a light.  That was the first time I thought about God speaking to me every day, and it felt comforting.  And the second time was when I was 17.  I can remember where I was sitting in my Methodist church in Santa Barbara and I was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I could feel it, I just knew, the light that was turned on at 13 was much brighter in me.  I knew from that day on, I would never be alone, and that He would be with me.  I also knew at that time, that God expected things from me – that I was walking with God – he had expectations of me but I just didn’t know what.  I still often don’t know exactly what – so I have to keep up that conversation in my heart every day.

Pentecost is a story about the disciples a couple thousand years ago.  I can picture it as a live action movie with special effects and a large stereo sound orchestral score.  It would be a spectacular movie – especially in one of those new lounge chair theaters with popcorn.  In order to truly understand and experience this story, I have to put myself into the moment – what if I had been there.   A movie could make it feel like I am a spectator to an historical event.  The emotions of being a spectator can make us feel like we know God and when the event is over, we go on with our lives.   But I think you already know that we can never rest on living a good life in an easy chair watching a movie – we must always be searching to find out what we can be doing in this life to spread God’s love. We are told in the scriptures that we are all disciples of Jesus; we are not THE disciples, the 12 who were with him, but we are the disciples of today – each and every one of us.   We are not spectators; we are disciples.  We must support each other and help others find the way to God and know he is walking with us, all of us, every day.

I hear people talk nostalgically about how the church used to be – what went on in the church in years past.  When we think fondly and longingly of the past we really aren’t even thinking too far back – 20, 30, 50 years.  But if we look at the church historically, not just in the nostalgic past, the church goes back thousands of years and it has changed/evolved many times.  What we need to be thinking about is today and the future.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit in our hearts and be guided….  We need to be talking with God in our hearts.  Just as the Holy Spirit guided and gave strength to how Peter and John approached what they did after Jesus left them, the Spirit can guide us, also.  When we feel weak or afraid or tired, the Holy Spirit gives us strength, if we listen.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Jesus’s first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.  We too can be empowered.

We are not all asked to do big things like form a church and change the world dramatically, but we are empowered to do the every day things that spread God’s love in the world.   Pentecost is the church’s birthday – and we the church are the disciples – you (and I) are the church – Happy Birthday to you!

-Susan Goux

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May we welcome the Holy Spirit’s presence as Jesus has taught us – in prayer and study of God’s word, in fellowship and sharing – waiting expectantly for the Spirit’s leading – ready to be amazed and blessed anew – as we pray and sing again (and yet again) the words of the hymn –

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us –

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us –

Melt us, mold us – Fill us, use us –

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us.

And with hearts united in God’s all-gracious love, may we join again (and yet again) in the Spirit’s glad Amen!

 –Pastor Tim