Archives: Pentecost

The Rebirth of the Church: That Which Cannot Be Scheduled

A dear friend of mine and his wife, both priests, are getting ready to welcome their third child.

The baby is expected within the next two weeks, but as we know, even with all of modern medical science at our disposal, there really is no way to schedule or anticipate a birth. The baby comes when the baby is ready to come, and unless there is an urgent medical need to influence the birth more specifically…we wait.

We worry. We anticipate with joy. We guesstimate.

We exchange family stories and histories of other babies being born to hunt for clues as to how this birth might unfold.

And we wait, in a strange in-between world of being hyper-prepared while spinning our wheels.

We know we have to be ready for it to happen at any moment, but we also know that no matter how much mental or emotional energy we put into our racing thoughts, this momentous occasion will unfold at its own pace, in its own time.

As my friend was telling me about the strange liminal space he and his family inhabit while they wait for labor to begin, he mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for one of the most important days of his life while having no idea when it was going to happen.

And I thought: what if all the most important days of our lives were like that?

What if we knew that our wedding was approaching, but not what day it would be?

What if we had to have our graduation cap and gown packed up and ready to go, because our graduation ceremony could break out at any moment in the next two weeks?

When I think about the work I put into planning my ordination service, all the preparation and careful choreography—and how nervous I was that morning—and then to imagine that some invisible but undeniable signal could arrive at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, out of the blue.

It’s time! Get everyone to the church! We have to ordain her! Get the bishop here, stat! Continue reading

Less Fire, More Bubbles

Have you ever watched a toddler try to master blowing bubbles for the first time?

Entranced by the beautiful floating globes her parent has produced, she dips the wand in the bubble solution, brings it to her face, purses her lips…and blows an almighty explosion of air that achieves nothing but a spray of soap.

Pouty lips and even sometimes a frustrated chucking of the wand to the ground often follow.

She has learned that you have to blow hard to blow out the candle on top of the birthday cake. Why is it different when you blow bubbles?

Violent wind and gentle wind—both are manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

But in the Church, especially on Pentecost, we have often erred on placing too much emphasis on the violent wind in the Book of Acts, sometimes forgetting entirely the tenderness and gentleness of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples in the Gospel of John.

Jesus does not impart the Holy Spirit to the disciples with the force of a hurricane.

It is as small and as simple as breathing out, a gentle, patient descent of the Holy Spirit, as gentle and patient as the breath necessary to blow bubbles.

We are often as astute as toddlers trying to blow bubbles in our approach to being in relationship to the Holy Spirit.

We’ve all had (or at least wished we’ve had) the loud, bright Holy Spirit experiences, the moments in worship and in life when God’s presence is forceful, awakening, invigorating, when we can practically feel the tongues of fire descending on our heads.

But the experiences of being breathed on by Jesus—those can pass us by entirely unless we’re deliberately developing the spiritual discipline of being on watch for them.

Perhaps the reason we only want to remember the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts is because we only want to identify with the disciples in Acts. Continue reading

You Are the Voice of God (Don’t Panic!)

Because we know the story of Pentecost so well, it is all too easy to dismiss it. The tongues of fire descend on the apostles and they begin to proclaim the gospel in all the different languages of the multi-national and multi-ethnic group gathered in the city.

If we stop and think for a moment, however, we might question and wonder that this is the way in which the Holy Spirit chose to manifest.

Presumably the Holy Spirit could have come and empowered the disciples to do anything.

They could have been empowered to heal people or feed people, to do the same types of miracles that Jesus did.

But instead they were empowered to speak, not just speak, but communicate. What do you make of that?

Well, it says something about the nature of the work the disciples are called to do to birth the church. It must be primarily a task of communication, both speaking and teaching.

Deeds of power are useless without the words that explain them, that tell who is responsible for them and what they mean.

That’s why we have a sermon on Sunday morning.

The Eucharist is incredibly important, but if we didn’t have the opportunity to listen and speak and reflect on Scripture and the Eucharist and what they mean in our lives, we wouldn’t get very far in our Christian walk.

And the disciples wouldn’t have gotten very far in building the church if they did not have the ability to communicate the nature of the gospel.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is first and foremost a breaking down of the barriers to communication that exist in our lives.

This has important implications for us in two ways. Continue reading

Holy Spirit! Let’s Get Set on Fire and Drown!

Today we have an interesting juxtaposition: baptism and Pentecost. What do the two have in common?

There are four traditional baptism dates in the church year.

The first is Baptism of Our Lord, which takes place in January. That makes sense. Of course we would baptize people on the day in which we celebrate Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.

The second is Easter Vigil, the Saturday night before Easter morning. This was the traditional baptism date in the early church.

The original purpose of Lent was to give people who wanted to be baptized time for instruction and preparation. They spent forty days learning about Christian life and discipleship, and then they were baptized at Easter Vigil, receiving communion for the first time on the Sunday of the Resurrection with great joy and festivity.

The third traditional baptism date is All Saints Day in November. The symbolism here is that when someone is baptized, we welcome them into the communion of saints, the fellowship of all believers, and all God’s people throughout time and space rejoice with us.

I’ve mentioned to several of you that I personally was baptized on December 26, the day after Christmas, which incidentally was in medieval times a popular date for baptizing illegitimate children.

You could sort of sneak them into the church when no one was there and avoid controversy and gossip.

I suspect my parents’ reason was more along the lines of having family in town for Christmas, but it’s kind of hilarious given that I turned out to be a priest.

But what about Pentecost, the last traditional date? Why baptize today? Continue reading