Rev Elaine Julian ‘Pentecost: Wind, Fire and Spirit’ Sunday May 21st

Pentecost: Wind, Fire and Spirit

Officially, Pentecost isn’t until next week. It is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church, the day when the Holy Spirit arrived in wind and fire and galvanized the frightened followers of Jesus, sending them out into the world with the good news.

ACTS 2:1-18  Adapted from the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament

They had all gathered together in one place, when suddenly the sound of a great windstorm came from the spirit-world above and could be heard throughout the house where they were sitting. They saw flames of fire coming down from above, separating and resting on each of their heads. The Holy Spirit had come down upon them and began to fill them with life and power. New languages began to flow out from their mouths, languages they had never learned, given from the Holy Spirit. 

The Sacred Village of Peace (Jerusalem) was filled with devoted members of the tribes of Wrestled with Creator (Israel) who had come for the festival from every nation under the sun. A crowd began to gather when they heard the loud noise. 

In wonder and amazement the crowd began to ask, “How is it that these people from Circle of Nations (Galilee) are speaking in our many languages? For we all can understand them in the languages of the places we have come from! There are people here for the festival from nations and places close by and far away who are members of the tribes of Wrestles with Creator, and those from Outside Nations who have been taken into the tribes…We can hear them, in the languages of these nations, telling about the great and powerful things done by the Great Spirit!” Many were amazed and confused and began to ask each other, “What can this mean?” But others in the crowd just laughed and said, “They are drunk on new wine!”

Stands on the Rock (Peter), along with the other eleven message bearers, stood up to the crowd, and with a loud voice said, “Tribal members from far away and all who live in Village of Peace, listen closely to me. I will tell you what this means!”

“No one among us is drunk on wine, for it is still the middle of the morning. This is not what you think it is. This is what the prophet Creator is the Great Spirit (Joel) spoke of long ago when he said, “In the last days,” says Creator, “I will rain down my Spirit upon all human beings from every nation. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Young warriors will see visions and elders will have dreams. When that time comes, my Spirit will rain down on all who serve me, both men and women, and they will boldly speak my words.”

Reflection:  Church Gone Wild

The story of Pentecost at the beginning of the second chapter of Acts doesn’t start with power and mystery, rushing winds and tongues of flame.  We don’t get much of a sense of mission or excitement at this point. “They were all together in one place”.  Who is “all”?  Where are they?  We aren’t told.   The disciples are once again huddled together somewhere in Jerusalem.  Perhaps in the house where they shared their last meal with Jesus, perhaps in the house where Jesus appeared to them after his death and showed Thomas his wounds, perhaps in the upper room where they gathered after Jesus ascended into heaven in the first chapter of Acts.  Maybe we aren’t told who and where because the main character in this story is definitely the Holy Spirit and the physical setting and the other characters are merely the backdrop for what happens next.

And what happens next changes everything!  A violent wind fills the house, tongues of fire rest on those gathered, they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in a multitude of languages.  

Suddenly, the scene expands from cloistered room to crazy carnival.  We are in the city streets with the crowds, people from every nation on earth, drawn to the sound of these uneducated peasant fishermen speaking so many languages that everyone in the crowd can hear and understand them in their own tongue.  Some of us hear their stories of God’s powerful works and want to know more, some of us, the cynical ones, assume that they are drunk.  What we all share is a feeling of curiosity and, probably confusion.

And into that chaos, Peter speaks.  Peter reminds us of the words of the prophet Joel, God’s declaration that the gifts of the Spirit will be poured out on everyone, “all flesh”, sons and daughters, old men and young, even the slaves.

The Spirit arrives among the disciples in Jerusalem in a rush of wind and tongues of flame, elements of air and fire, shaking things up, spilling them out into the streets proclaiming the power of God.  Church birthed, church gone wild. 

Throughout the passage from Acts, the Holy Spirit works in the language of words:  divided tongues, speaking in other languages, recalling prophecies.  Our connection with the Holy Spirit also goes deeper than words.  The apostle Paul tells us that when we have no words for prayer, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

This is a companion for the long haul, a companion for the hard work of living.  This Spirit transforms us, and drives us out into the world to heal the world. This Spirit speaks for us today when words desert us, and speaks for all of wordless creation – for the birds and beasts, the earth and rocks, the trees and crops and flowers, the air and the water.  

There is a growing movement in the church to listen to and honour the elemental voices of nature. Spirit beckons us out of our buildings to learn from earth, water, air and fire, to hear Creator’s voice in non-human voices, to be students not destroyers. Spirit is wild and unpredictable, Spirit calls us into the world not away from it, Spirit calls us into wholeness.

We humans are part of creation, and our healing cannot be separated from the healing of the whole created universe.  As children of God, we have a special responsibility to serve and protect the world that is the product of God’s creative and creating love. 

Let us give thanks for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit – the unsettling birthday gift of wind and tongues of fire, and the sustaining Spirit who is always present in our unspoken longings for a better home for generations to come.

Pentecost was the earliest Christian church gone wild. Let’s be today’s church gone wild, a community called out into the world, beyond buildings and beyond words, to celebrate and grieve and listen and learn. 

I invite you to take about 10 minutes of silence outside to listen to the earth, water, air and fire. Wander around, walk, dance or sit in one place. Perhaps there will be some small thing that speaks to you that you can bring back to your home without harming the earth. 

In his essay “The Day I Lost Jesus” (Gathering” Pentecost 1, 2022), United Church minister Bob Root says, “The Celtic tradition teaches that God speaks to us in two ways: the Little Book, and the Big Book. The Little Book is that collection of stories, poems, history, and wisdom we call the Bible. The Big Book through which God speaks is Creation.”

What can you learn from the Big Book today?

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