the journey into pentecost...

This Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, we are experimenting with another participatory and sensory worship celebration.  There are two candle-lighting prayer stations at the back of the Sanctuary:  after two of four different brief reflections - one on the Genesis 11 text and the other on John 14 - people will be invited to do "walking mediation" as they move, light candles re: the brokenness of the world (first) and the Spirit's calling to us to be healers (second) as we create two jazz improvisations. In my head, I hear this bluesy groove of Herbie Mann's take on "Come Together" for the second improv. 

During the other readings, Acts 2 and Psalm 104, our children and youth will unfurl "tongues of fire" from the balcony (rolled crepe paper) and sing and chant the ancient Psalm. The culmination of this liturgy will be Eucharist - as in the unity  of different peoples coming together in the Christian encounter with Pentecost - where people will leave their seats and gather around the communion table. They will serve and be served the bread of life and cup of blessing in the round.

One of my mini-reflections on each text, John 14, articulates one of the Pentecostal insights like this:

This is the “other” Pentecost story in Christianity: the promise and presence of the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete in the Greek text – who gives us hearts to trust and eyes to see the essence of God in Jesus – and then to LOVE the Lord our God by living in the WAY of Christ. The fundamental insight in John’s gospel is that we can see what God is like – and how to love and serve God – by following, embracing and living the way of Jesus. Jesus is the man of peace – the soul of humility – the servant teacher who gets down on his knees to wash the feet of his confused and surly friends and then tells them:  this is my new commandment for you – love one another as I have loved you – on your knees as humble servants.  Do this and you will come to know the Lord your God in your flesh.  And there are three essential insights to embrace here:

+ First Jesus shows us in the flesh the polar opposite of the Tower of Babel:  they follow themselves and cause destruction and violence; he follows the Father and serves others with humble tenderness. They alienate themselves from God; he embraces and is embraced by God’s love. They are self-centered, he is other centered.

+ Second, by watching, following and learning from Jesus we, too, will receive
inspiration to become tender servants guided by humility and love because God will inspire us from within. We can’t manufacture such love. We can’t create it either – we can barely comprehend it. But, by grace and in God’s own time, we will be given the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – the Comforter – who will lead us into new and life-giving acts of compassion.

+ And third, there is specificity as to what it means to follow in the way of Jesus and his Spirit of holiness, not ambiguity.  In both the Old Testament and the New, in Isaiah and the letters of St. Paul, the power of the comforter – the Holy Spirit – is NOT some sacred teddy bear to snuggle with, but rather a way of living born from above.  It is a calling and a commitment to make the way of Jesus flesh in our lives and Scripture tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are sevenfold:  sound judgment or wisdom, understanding of how grace and real life work, the ability to counsel others in the way of faithful living, intimate experience with God’s grace, strength to persevere, inner peace from prayer and a sense of awe concerning God’s love and power.

Pentecost is all about the promise and the presence of Jesus in our flesh. Professor of homiletics at my alma mater Union Theological Seminary in NYC, Barbara Lundblad, put it like this:  Those of us who attend worship regularly know all too well that we are rarely what Jesus called us to be: We spend too much and share too little; we judge too many and love too few; we wait too long and act too late.

We also know that all across the United States and Western Europe there are people who are interested in the way of the Lord but say:  Show me a church where ministers aren’t self-serving, where hypocrisy has been purged away, where love is genuine, and I’ll become a member.  From our own experience we know that these folk will have to wait a long, long time for such a church to take root on earth because in the words of St. Paultoo often we do what we hate and forget what we love.  We are uncomfortable embracing the radical humility of Christ – we are afraid – and we hedge our bets.  We are too busy and we forget to reach out to others in love. We are broken and need our own love, forgiveness and healing.

And so we gather for Pentecost to be reminded: if you love me, you will keep my commandment.  I love the simplicity of this truth:  it is challenging, positive, possible and life-changing. So let me invite you back into a walking meditation to light a candle and ask yourself: what is the next step for me in trusting the love of Jesus more than my own fear, hurt, confusion or guilt?

I am looking forward to this celebration in sound and movement, thought and silence, insight and questioning. 


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