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THE NUDGING OF GOD ON THE DAY WE SEE RED!
Today is Pentecost Sunday. The day Christians traditionally see ‘red’!
Every year on this day, we hear Luke’s story
of what he claims happened in Jerusalem
50 days after what we have come to call the Easter event.
It's a playful story full of symbolism and great drama.
Like a movie director (William Loader), Luke, the one we traditionally claim
as the editor of the Acts of the Apostles, scripts a scene
with wind and fire, symbols of the presentness of God,
using flamboyant speech.
Yes, flamboyant speech!
Such speech may be an inadequate way of addressing the presentness of God,
but I suspect the use of metaphorical images - wind and fire -
is a more helpful way than trying to use abstract philosophical words.
(Perhaps this is also part of the secret behind the popularity of Dan Brown's fictional novel ‘The Da Vinci code’?)
It is folly, therefore, to try and read the script literally,
whatever historical events may or may not lie behind this story.
And it’s not an original or exclusive script either.
We also hear one other revised version
from the storyteller/theologian called John.
Yet along with Easter and Christmas,
Pentecost is one of the three major Christian festivals.
So what was (and is) Pentecost?
And is it just about a ‘language’ game as many charismatics/fundamentalists usually argue?
To sense some of all this
we need to hear a little bit of historical and cultural background.
Because what we commonly remember or know as Pentecost
is usually a linking of some stories
where that linkage was never intended.
What was (and is) Pentecost?
Pentecost’s roots are in Judaism. For Pentecost was, and still is, a Jewish festival.
Occurring 50 days after Passover it links Israel's
much older agricultural cycle to her religious history.
That is, it celebrates both the completion of the harvest
as well as the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai.
So, to the groups of Jewish ‘revisionists’ - followers of the sage from Nazara -
still grappling with their Jewish roots, and struggling to survive
in a sometimes hostile ‘orthodox’ religious climate, where ‘new’ could mean death,
these images would have spoken to them.
William Loader helpfully suggests:
“Luke is saying that the coming of the Spirit is as epoch making as the giving of the Law, the scripture on Sinai and more.” (W Loader Web site, 2005)
So this revamped story would have given them
a sense of legitimacy and purpose and empowerment.
And they remembered...
as at ‘creation’ and in the harvest,
as in the valley of ‘dry bones’
and at the giving of the ‘law’ on Mt Sinai... The spirit or presentness of God was active:
before - in the prophets,
during - in Jesus himself, and
after - in the subsequent ministries of the apostles.
The spirit of God was at work creating the new community of the church,
resulting in the beginning of the post-Easter mission
of the early Christian movement (Marcus Borg).
Is Pentecost just about a ‘language’ game?
Luke, as storyteller rather than historian, continues his use of flamboyant language.
Tongues of fire.
Often called ‘glossolalia’ and associated with charismatic and pentecostal churches
Luke’s pentecost story - speaking in foreign languages and Paul’s ‘gift of spirit’ story -
speaking in unintelligible speech, are often linked.
But this it to make a link not intended by the storyteller.
Indeed, Luke’s ‘foreign languages’ at Pentecost has the opposite effect.
The visitors to Jerusalem marvelled:
Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
So “rather than being unintelligible speech, it was supremely intelligible” suggests Marcus Borg (Borg/Beliefnet Web site).
If the storyteller is making any links
it is more likely to be with the story of the Tower of Babel.
From the babble of languages - a symbol of fragmentation...
To the inclusion of languages - a symbol of one new humanity,
able to bridge differences and to value diversity...
Sounds rather contemporary, doesn’t it!
So what might Pentecost be for us, in the 21st century, in Canberra?
Pentecost is something more than a so-called past event.
It is the story of God’s continuing presentness experienced again and again...
“...the amazing story of people coming to awareness through reflection on the life of Jesus that the same Spirit that moved in him moved in them.” (Morwood 2003:84)
Not ‘incarnate’ in just one person, but becoming incarnate in us.
As people dream dreams and see a vision of justice and compassion in the world.
Not in the babble of tongues, but in the gift of tongues -
the ability to hear and speak the word,
each as we come to know it, understand it, and tell it,
in the uniqueness of our own experiences.
There is much in our daily, ordinary living as Canberrans,
as Australians and
as members of the Uniting Church nationally, and of this congregation,
that can sap our energy and frustrate us no end.
So let me offer this suggestion (following some others):
Pentecost in the 21st century might be imagined as
“the nudging of God in our lives which can bring about an expanding experience of what life is really designed to be about.” (Goff/P&F Web site, 2005)
So, where and how is that ‘nudging’ now? That's the $64 question, isn't it.
If the stories from the past are any guide,
this nudging of God will touch us in such creative ways
we'll be totally surprised.
And one of those ‘creative ways’ that could be the surprise, is in the way
Christianity could be transformed by an openness to other religions,
and its desire to relate to them in the quest
for a newer and broader form of spirituality. (J Killinger, 2008/ www.csec.org)
A new Christianity for a new age! (Now where have I heard that before!)
And certainly way beyond the current wave of fundamentalism and new neo-orthodoxy
in all the religions of ‘the book’, which breeds and lives on fear.
Now that will be worth celebrating, I reckon.
On any day. But especially on the day when we see ‘red’!
Morwood, M. 2003. Praying a new story. Melbourne. Spectrum Books.