NT: Acts 2.1-21
Pentecost: The Work of the Spirit
If I were to ask you which Christian celebrations were the holiest, what would you say? Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Good Friday.
What about Pentecost? Poor Pentecost is the red-headed stepchild of the Christian tradition, and I say that will all due respect since I am a red-headed, left-handed, stepchild! What did Pentecost ever do to deserve being left out in the cold? It is after all the birthday of the Christian church! The day the Holy Spirit descended like a derecho from the western sky and swept across this world in Jesus’ absence. Because of that, some argue it should fall after only Christmas and Easter in the hierarchy of holy days. Yet we rarely do anything special to celebrate. Why is that?
It could be for the simple reason that it hasn’t been special in the past. We tend to be pretty traditional people, and if we haven’t developed a tradition of celebrating Pentecost in a special way…then it never rises to that level of sacredness.
Or…maybe it’s because we’re afraid. Now, I know…we’re West Virginians…we’re not afraid of anything! But I think we just might be scared of the Holy Spirit. The birth of a baby on Christmas isn’t scary; it’s reason to rejoice! The resurrection of Jesus on Easter isn’t scary; it’s hope incarnate! But the arrival of the Holy Ghost, here on earth; that’s scary. Who is it? Where is it? What is it? That’s the story of Pentecost we’ve just read in Acts.
Jesus left his disciples. He promised not to leave them orphaned. He promised to send a helper. But his work was done, and they were left on their own. If you worked with a partner everyday for years, and your partner suddenly left, never to return, you’d probably feel lost as well. Jesus’ work was done, and now it was time for the disciples to realize they were powerful enough to continue his work.
He told them to wait for the Spirit. Amazingly, they listened. They waited in the locked doors of the house. I know the details of the story get a little murky at that point. But suffice it to say that the Spirit moved among them, allowing them to understand one another. While they came from different cultures and spoke different languages, somehow they were able to understand one another by way of deeper truths.
It was such a scene that bystanders could only imagine one possible explanation. They must be drunk! Peter stepped forward to try and interpret for the people what was happening. He tells them that God is at work in this world, bringing all people together. Times have changed. New possibilities abound. God’s spirit unites us despite what we think divides us.
What’s so scary about that? Because the Spirit doesn’t blow like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day; it blows like a violent wind, upsetting our things and our thinking. It doesn’t comfort us; it challenges us. It doesn’t speak with the still, small voice of God; it shouts in different languages! It’s no wonder we don’t celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost knocks our socks off, and the Holy Spirit’s arrival is enough to scare any sensible person.
The real kicker, the deep down fear that’s so scary to the disciples and to us today, is not that we are supposed to continue Jesus’ work with the help of the Spirit. The real fear is that we are capable of continuing Jesus’ work. It’s much easier, much more comfortable, to look at the world and say, “What a mess,” and leave it at that. It’s much harder to look at the world and say, “What can I do?” It’s even harder to look at our own lives and say, “What can the Holy Spirit and I do to make it better?”
I read a fascinating article this week about why people leave their jobs. It’s usually not because of the work or the company or even the pay. It’s usually because of the boss. Does that sound right to you? Sounds right to me. One of my favorite jobs, in terms of the actual work, was at the golf course bag room when I was a teenager. I loved the work! Received good pay! But I dreaded going to work everyday, because of the guy who “managed” us, and by that I mean the guy who sat in a chair and yelled at us all day. There’s a guy in France who’s actually suing his former boss, because he bored him to bad health. By some counts, as many as 60-70% of all employees are disengaged at work. In other words, they’re not excited about what they do. And it’s largely because the person who manages them does it badly.
What in the world does that have to do with Pentecost? The same thing that’s happening to most workers today is what’s happening to the Holy Spirit. We’re not utilizing our helper, the Holy Spirit, to its full potential. We’re locking it in a cubicle and leaving it there rather than allowing it full access to our lives! That’s what’s happened to Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in this world. Like the wind, you may not always see it…but you can certainly hear it, feel it, and sense it. The really hard part…is utilizing it!
To celebrate Pentecost this week, pray about your openness to the Spirit’s presence. Invite it in. Then use it. Ask for advice. Take the challenge to do the thing you could not do on your own but need to do and can with the Spirit’s help. Make this mess of a world a better place, not by yourself, but by the grace of God’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!