Pentecost: thoughts and exegesis

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Acts / Creation / Exodus / Lectionary / New Testament / Old Testament

As someone who views the Scriptures as unified Grand Story, rather than a collection of mini-stories that may-or-may-not-be related to another, I am grateful to the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary this week who give us not only the Pentecost narrative, but also the story of the tower of Babel. Of course, it’s been noted over and over again that the Pentecost event is a reversal of Babel. As God confounded communication in Babel, God opens the channels of communication with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

On the Day of Pentecost speech wasn’t a barrier to the spreading of the Gospel. Doors that were once shut, were open wide again.

There are, of course, other links back to the Primeval History in Genesis, with the Holy Spirit coming into the room as a the “rush of a violent wind.” A well-worn homiletical path has also tied that wind back to the wind/ spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation, and the breath/ spirit that God infused a hunk of clay with that he had recently formed – giving us the gift of life. In Hebrew the word for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word. The scriptures play with that word and those overlapping concepts with rich regularity. Pentecost is a beautiful expression of that: a new creation, and a new gift of Life for the pilgrim church.

And so, at the dawn of a new era for God’s People with the coming of the Holy Spirit: what was once broken in Babel is now restored, and the cosmic Wind Breathes Life once more.

All is right in the cosmos, and all is right for followers of Jesus living in the wake of Resurrection.

This year though, what’s got me thinking is the verse: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this
mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Two very different reactions to this holy event. Like the miracles of Jesus which often inspired [a word which literally means breathe into or to breathe with] people to be amazed or begin to wonder, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples took some people aback. They were living in the moment. They were talking about the deeds of God done with great power without reserve.

Remember these are the same guys who were huddled in the upper room with the door locked and the windows closed a few days earlier. Most of them weren’t naturally confident. They were predisposed to look out for their best interests and acted often out of fear and self-preservation or self-exaltation.

A lot like me. And probably like you.

But now they’re footloose and fancy-free.

A new creation indeed.

And, I can understand looking in on this group of men and being amazed and perplexed. When I’ve watched people of great faith do and say great things, I too am often amazed and perplexed. And, such feelings inspire [there’s that word again] me to live similarly.

When received with wonder, such action is contagious. People catch it.

It can go viral.

But others sneered.

Ah, yes. Not everyone was amazed.

They were so loose, so fancy-free – that they could have been drunk.

Some thought they were.

A few months ago I got caught up in the Winter Olympic frenzy. It was so much fun watching sports that I only ever watch once every four years. Curling, ice hockey, snowboarding – it was all so much fun.

I don’t remember who the athlete was, or even what country he was from – but I was watching mens downhill slalom skiing. The competition was heating up and there was one dude who was on his way down the mountain, and on his way to greatness. The announcer who was giving the ‘play-by-play’ said that he was ‘riding the edge between control and being out-of-control.’

And, it was a good thing.

If he stuck too closely to control he’d lose speed. If he lost too much control he could have planted his face squarely in a drift.

He was on the edge of losing control, but was in enough control to stay upright.

It was beautiful. It was thrilling.

The disciples are riding that exact edge here on the Day of Pentecost. They are slightly in control (speaking actual languages) and they are simultaneously slightly out of control.

They are on the edge, and it could go either way.

So much so that some thought they were amazing, and some thought they were loaded.

It’s the same edge that Moses rode when he went back to Egypt to confront the most powerful man on the planet. It’s the same edge that King David rode when he danced with all his might before the Lord and when he went to battle with a giant. It’s the edge that Jacob rode when he went back to meet his brother Esau. It’s the edge that the Israelites rode when they took the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them. It’s the edge that the people in Babel rode when they decided to get closer to God by building a great tower. It’s the edge that Mary rode when she accepted God’s invitation to bear His Son into the world, even when she was a little girl who was not even married yet.

Sometimes it ended up good. Sometimes it ended up badly.

And that’s the nature of riding the edge of control/ out-of-control.

The question I’m left with is this: How is the Church today on the edge? When’s the last time you left church, or a Bible Study, or an outreach project – and some people were amazed and other people thought you were drunk? When the last time your vestry/ session/ board published the minutes of their last meeting and people questioned their sanity? (OK. . .no comment.)

Are we riding that edge? The edge of Pentecost?

Cause if we just sink into the mire of Christian blandness we might as well just climb back into the upper room.

And lock the door. I heard it’s safe in there.

But when the Spirit of God moved on the waters, and Light shined forth, and the morning stars sang together with all the heavenly host – when that hunk of clay took its first breath direct from the lungs of God – when the white-hot fire of God swooped down from Heaven and set a bush on fire/ blazed a trail in the wilderness/ filled the Temple with God’s Presence/ brought forth the Holy Spirit and set the disciples’ heads literally on fire. . . there was nothing bland about any of it.

How can you/ your parish/ and the Universal Church ride that edge – and live Pentecost once more?

To ponder that question would make for the beginnings of a pretty amazing sermon.

Or they’ll just think you’ve been drinking.