Pentecost reflections

Pentecost was yesterday, my sixth as a serving pastor. On my first, I was in Jerusalem. On this most recent, I’m awaiting my ordination which will happen, God willing, this coming Saturday.

I’ve thought a great deal about the breath of God, the Spirit and Advocate, during the upheaval of my life in the last (several) year(s). So, I returned to the sermon I preached on Pentecost 2019 and decided to share it here.

Babble

In the beginning, the only language was love. As God communed in the garden with the humans created in Their image, words were superfluous. But the fruit of the tree gave the humans knowledge—just enough comprehension to doubt the mystery into which they were invited. And they were afraid. So they left the garden, and when the gates closed behind them, and God felt far away, love seemed as far away as eternity.

So, they began to speak. Perhaps it sounded like so much babble, hoarse and guttural as their voices became accustomed to making the sounds. But sounds became discernible, became a language, and a wandering pair became a family, and a people.

As their language grew, so did their knowledge. They began to comprehend some of the mysteries of the world around them. And they mistook that comprehension for a deeper understanding of the mystery that had once been made clear to the adamh. Until one day, in the valley of Shinar, they decided their comprehension was enough to carry them to heaven.

And God saw what, despite their words, their comprehension, the people could not begin to understand what they couldn’t see, what remained behind the walls of the garden and in the heart of God. They knew that they were called to the heavens, but they did not understand why. So, their tower of stones might have reached the sky, but could they possibly hope to understand what they would find when they tore through a barrier they weren’t prepared to transgress?

God, brokenhearted, understood that humanity was not ready. So, God made the language of the earth balal, so much babble, and once again connection—love—seemed as far away as eternity.

Fire

Fire is heat and warmth and light. It illuminates, destroys, purifies. It represents passion, desire, motivation.

This fire came on the wind, a rushing wind that sounded like so much babble, even as the babble of many tongues—Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, regional dialects—filled the gathering space. It was Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, time to remember God’s gift of Torah.

It had been fifty days since Jesus said, this is my body, this is my blood. This is the new covenant. Pentecost.

They had become accustomed to the babble, almost able to forget that things had not always been this way—that they had been connected by a common language and one step closer to the ultimate language of love.

And into this room the Spirit came as fire. As she rested on the heads of each, they found themselves, for a moment, cleansed of the babble. Each tongue moved in the language of disparate ancestors, and yet all were bound by a single language: love.

They could not comprehend this mystery, but for the first time, as they accepted its invitation, they began to understand it. God, this holy fire, could and would close the distance between them.

The fire rested above them; then, as Peter began to preach it moved within, settled within their splanchna, their guts, their centers of all feeling. It warmed them, cleansed them of the doubt and uncertainty about the message Christ had taught. It burned within them, so they too burned with the power of the Spirit.

The Spirit continues to settle upon us as holy fire. She does not wait for this day but comes upon the rushing wind, ready to burn away the babble. We carry fire within us—sometimes a flicker, sometimes an inferno. And when we feel it, we too begin to understand.

And fire, as Katniss Everdeen would say, is catching.

Fire cares not for babble. It burns through our excuses, crackles defiantly in the face of our doubt. It warms us when God, when love, seems as far away as eternity. And it drives us onward, from mere comprehension to true understanding of the mystery: we are beloved. We are of God. We need only accept the invitation.

May your fire continue to catch.