When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.
Acts 2:1-4, 37-39, NIV
Pentecost Sunday dawned overcast and muggy on Bogue Sound, but by 8:30 or 9am, a front began to pass through, pushing winds of 20mph with higher gusts. The whole environment was magically transformed, as the humidity plummeted, and the wind whipped up whitecaps on the sound almost as large as those I’ve seen in hurricanes. (Yes, once upon a time, I stayed on the island during a hurricane; but of course, I was younger and “foolisher” a quarter of a century ago.) As I sat looking out at the wildness of the water, “watching church” in my jammies, it struck me how aptly the first Pentecost was being echoed and replicated in the mighty, rushing wind rippling across Bogue Sound at that very moment. I went outside to get the full effect, thankful I’d slapped on my ball cap, since it seemed to be the only thing holding my hair on my head; when, without warning, a smile crept across my face, and joy sprang up in my heart. “You’re doing it again, Lord, aren’t you?” I shouted up and out into the wind - and then looked every which way to make sure the neighbors weren’t calling 911. There’s no way to probe it, but I’m fully satisfied that the Lord was reminding me (and anyone one else paying attention) that Pentecost is more than history, more than a Use By date on the liturgical calendar, more than the traditional birthday remembrance of the Church. Pentecost is what God keeps on doing through the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, like Church, can happen anywhere, anytime. It’s not once and done; it’s incoming and ongoing. It’s a present and future tense promise, made “to you, and to your children, and to all whom the Lord will call.”
Which is really good news right about now. I confess that national events of the last few days have lowered my mood and disturbed my spirit. I’m horrified by the violence in some of our cities, and equally, if not more greatly, horrified by the pitiful cries of George Floyd begging for his life. No, I’m not going political on this; I’m going baptismal on it: accepting “the freedom and power God gives (us) to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves” is our second baptismal vow. If you’ve been baptized, or confirmed, or reaffirmed your faith in a United Methodist Church, you’ve said “I do” to that vow, just as I did, and just as all our fellow United Methodists have done. So, by Sunday morning, I was feeling flatter than a fritter, flummoxed by not being able to figure out what on earth I could do about the current instances of evil, injustice, and oppression, amid this Time of Pandemic. Until a mighty rushing wind on Bogue Sound changed my perspective, alerting me that I was on the wrong track...yet again: trying to figure it all out, instead of looking out and about to see what God is already doing, instead of listening up to hear what God is even now saying. (Being born with an analytical mind is a spiritual learning disability - but that’s no excuse.) The disciples gathered together on the first Pentecost Sunday, awaiting the Power they’d been promised, never did figure out how they were supposed to carry on the work of their Risen Lord, nor how they might manage to birth a worldwide movement. They were swept up and sent out: informed, inspired and impelled by the Holy Spirit to do what needed to be done, and to say what needed to be said. And so the Church was breathed into life, and went on going and growing, even amid uncertain times, even in the face of resistance and persecution, because it was perfectly plain that the transcendent power fueling the Church came from God. Pentecost was something only God could do; and so were all the signs and wonders that kept on coming - despite the fact that none of God’s human agents had any earthly idea of what was coming next, or what they ought to do about it. Strangely enough, that didn’t seem to worry them overmuch.
In the “goodbye” letter I wrote a year ago, I gave thanks for the long line of strong lay leaders and excellent staff who have blessed Centenary over the more than two centuries of her history. Now, in just a few weeks, you’ll be celebrating the first anniversary of Pastor Tom’s and Pastor Michael’s arrival at Centenary. You don’t need me to tell you: they’re doing a wonderful job! God sent them “for just such a time as this” - and what a time it has been, and continues to be. How the Church will be the Church in the days to come has not yet been fully revealed. The future doesn’t just seem to be uncertain; it is uncertain. When has it ever been anything else? God goes on unfolding the future as God always has: day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. As the timeworn saying puts it, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” The good news is, that is more than enough; because the One who holds the future is the One who goes on stirring up the mighty winds of Pentecost, the One who goes on sweeping us up, and sending us out.
Do it again, God! Do it again, we pray. Amen.
“O Spirit of the Living God” UMH, verses 1 and 3
O Spirit of the living God,
thou light and fire divine,
descend upon thy church once more,
and make it truly thine.
Fill it with love and joy and power,
with righteousness and peace,
till Christ shall dwell in human hearts,
and sin and sorrow cease.
Teach us to utter living words
of truth which all may hear,
the language all may understand
when love speaks loud and clear,
till every age and race and clime
shall blend their creeds in one,
and earth shall form one great good news,
God's glorious common weal.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood