Our midweek theological reflection group has been studying “angels, mysteries, and miracles.” While I have never encountered an angel, at least consciously, I am impressed that a number of our class members claim to have experienced guardian angels and paranormal events. Although it is important for me to weigh the evidence with mind as well as heart, it is clear to me that life is more surprising than we can imagine. Anyone of us – and recently polls suggest 50% of us – can have experiences that bound on the mystical and take us beyond the confines of everyday experience. We don’t always know what to make of these experiences, but there is no reason to deny them. In fact, all the great religions had their origins and growth in encounters with the holy.
How would you have responded to the dramatic coming of the spirit on Pentecost morning?
The men and women following Jesus had been praying for God to show up in a life-changing way, and then without warning, there were tongues of fire and a mighty wind that blew them out into the street, speaking in strange tongues and breaking down the barriers of ethnicity, race, and class. Imagine how surprised and perhaps frightened they might initially have been when the Spirit filled their hearts, minds, and mouths.
If such an event happened today, winds and fire surging through our sanctuary, what would you do? Would you dive under a pew? Put your coat over your head? Start screaming? Call 9-1-1? Or, go with flow, letting the Pentecostal energy take you toward new horizons of the Spirit, and propel you out onto Main Street with a song and message? These are all authentic responses. Indeed, as our study of angels has revealed, the first response persons have to angelic visitations is often awe and fear, and often the first words of these angelic encounters is “Don’t be afraid.”
On Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection, Jesus’ followers experienced the unspeakable, and then spoke about it to persons of all races and ethnicities. They were so ecstatic that a number of bystanders assumed that they were completely snockered at nine in the morning. But, they were high on something else than spirits; they had encountered the Holy Spirit, filling them with the energy of love and exuberance of faith. God was real, and God was sending them into the streets with a message.
Peter is ecstatic, but not so ecstatic that he can’t give a sermon. Quoting ancient wisdom, he proclaims:
God declares I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
He concludes his message with words of promise:
Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Pentecost is more than just a Christian holiday. It embraces all of humankind; it opens the door for our children and teens to be wisdom givers and parents and spouses and friends in nursing homes to dream of God’s heavenly realm. No one is excluded from the Holy Spirit’s guidance – it breaks down issues of race, ethnicity, economics, and religion. God can speak through an immigrant mother from Syria, a homeless recovering addict at the soup kitchen, a teenager struggling with her or his sexual identity and God can speak through us.
Moreover, God’s salvation is generous and God’s invitation is to everyone. Just as we are, God calls us, regardless of our past.
Pentecost is the season of inspiration. We need inspiration and guidance as persons and as a nation. We are facing problems bigger than our imagination and few solutions are in sight, and we need to open to a wisdom greater than our own and an lively energy to encourage our responses to opioid addiction in Hyannis and across the Cape, rising waters on seashores, virtual technologies, political chaos in our own country, and the unprecedented changes in the spiritual landscape that have led to decline in church attendance, the closing of seminaries, and ironically a greater thirst for God.
On Pentecost, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We may not have a spiritual tsunami that shakes our building’s rafters or have the fire alarms go off from flames in the fellowship hall, but we can let the Spirit move us into the world, we can breathe in the Spirit’s calm insight to face the challenges of today, and we can have warmed hearts and lively spirits that inspire us to reach us to others with words and acts of love.
God’s Spirit is here. God’s Spirit breathes through all of us. God’s warmth energizes our words and acts. May we have dreams and visions, all of us, for our mission as persons and for the mission of this congregation as we bring God’s wisdom and word to Cape Cod and the world.