John 7:37-39, Acts 2:1-4
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PENTECOST: A PREGNANT MOMENT IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH...
Wind and flames and a cacophony of languages!
Some even want to claim it as the birthday Big Bang of the church!
What it is, is a 'pentecost' script full of symbolism which just can not be taken literally,
whatever historical event may or may not lay behind this story.
The very different biblical stories of the first Pentecost experience,
are told in the most expansive and descriptive ways imaginable.
That told by the storyteller we traditonally call Luke,
the accepted author of The Acts of the Apostles, is dramatic.
A heavenly sound like that of a rushing wind.
Descending fire, appearing as tongues of flame.
Patterns of transformed speech allowing everyone to hear
what was being said in all kinds of languages.
A moment of conversion resulting in thousands of people
being added to a tiny community of faith.
That told by the storyteller we traditionally call John, is personal.
The Spirit of God brooding in the hearts and minds of people
as it brooded over the face of waters
in the story of creation.
What storyteller Luke describes as happening over 50 days,
storyteller John suggests it all happened on the same day!
And we should not try to combine or debase them
into some simple chronological event.
Ever since the so-called first Pentecost, this day has been regarded
as a pregnant moment in the life of the church.
For a moment... let us think back to our own Sunday School days.
Those who have had such an experience…
see if we can recall what we were taught about the Spirit of God.
Especially what we were taught was the emblem of the Spirit of God.
(The dove.) Indeed, the dove of peace.
And the designers of the Uniting Church in Australia emblem,
believing that this new church was a Pentecost church,
included both the dove and the flames on the UCA emblem...
(All done in the significant colours of red, white and black! The colours of my AFL football team)
Printers of church bulletin covers also seem to think the dove
is the right emblem or symbol for Pentecost...
the "sweet heavenly dove" of the Holy Spirit.
Now there is much to be said for the dove.
Rumour has it, it was a dove bearing an olive branch
that flew back to old Noah on his Ark,
signalling the good news of dry land after the great flood.
The Spirit of God descends "like a dove" upon Jesus at his baptism,
according to Luke's gospel story.
A nice white dove suggests innocence, purity and peace.
And in medieval times they used to release hundreds of them
in the cathedrals on Pentecost day,
but discontinued that when the doves
rained down on the congregation more than light and grace!
The dove is gentle, graceful, and seductive...
But that, according to storyteller William Bausch, is its limitation.
‘It’s too sweet and sentimental and, finally, wrong’ (Bausch 1998:474).
Recent legend has it the Irish had it right when it came to Pentecost emblems.
It has been claimed (and disputed I might add)
that in old Celtic traditions the Holy Spirit
was not represented as a white dove - tame and pure - but by a wild goose.
Geese are not controllable. They make a lot of noise.
And have a habit of biting those who try to contain them.
Geese fly faster in a flock than on their own.
And they make excellent ‘guard dogs’.
Ian Bradley, former lecturer in practical theology at St Andrew’s University in Scotland,
might be historically accurate when he says he can’t find any evidence
to substantiate such a tradition in Celtic folklore
beyond the creative imagination of George Macleod of Iona fame...
But I reckon the Spirit of God is like a ‘wild goose’.
It comes not in quiet conformity but demanding to be heard.
Its song is not sweet to many.
It drives people together, demanding they support and travel with one another.
It shouts a truth many with power would rather not hear.
And it often forces those on whom it rests
to become noisy, passionate, and courageous people of the gospel.
As Patricia de Jong has suggested:
“St Paul did not have the benefit of Hallmark Cards, which thinks doves are just like love-birds, billing and cooing come Valentine's Day. But St Paul knows for sure, that the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is love - not the love sold to us by Hollywood and the greetings card industry, but the love of God which is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, binding an aggregate of different and unlikely people together, creating new community on new common ground in the Body of Christ”. (de Jong/FCC Berkeley Web site, 2005)
Pentecost is the wild goose of
the whistle blower,
the meals-on-wheels provider,
the hospital visitor,
the ‘greens’ protester,
and those seeking welfare and education reform,
and employment opportunities for all.
It is not surprising, then, that as we gather to celebrate
the coming of the Spirit of God at Pentecost,
our biblical readings have nothing to do with
the innocence and purity and peace,
associated with the Spirit as dove.
On the contrary,
“this Spirit is the living energy, the creative vitality that stirs the waves and whispers in the wind, that warms the sun and eroticises the moon, that vibrates in the sounds of nature, begetting novelty in every realm of [the universe]”. (O'Murchu 2005:96)
Let me offer a bold claim.
The spirit of Pentecost is alive in this place!
So let us then continue to embrace new and different ways
of worshipping and thinking theologically,
so that we might reflect the challenging and unique diversity
of Creativity God in the world.
Let us also celebrate the Spirit of play and wonder in this place.
As we worship together, care for one another,
push old theological boundaries,
and go about the life of this congregation.
And finally, let us continue to embrace the dreams and visions of the future
which we believe makes this place both unique and important.
We could rest in nostalgia and our past, especially our (No.) years past.
We could also approach the realities of planning for a new beginning,
only with our conclusions.
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.
Creativity God with us. Creativity God for us. Creativity God in us.
Creativity God involving and engaging us.
Bausch, W. J. A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers. Mystic. Twenty-Third Publications, 1998.
Morwood, M. Praying a New Story. Melbourne. Spectrum, 2003.
O'Murchu, D. Catching up with Jesus. A gospel story for our time. New York. Crossroad Publishing, 2005.