Pentecost: When Things Get Messy

Jun 09, 2019

As I write this, it's Pentecost Sunday. 

For what it's worth, Google search defines it as "the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter."

I think a better definition is that it's when things got messy. 

Not that following Jesus wasn't messy. He had a way of not staying in his own lane, talking to the people he shouldn't, healing when he shouldn't and saying things that either made no sense at all or made way too much sense to be comfortable.

Pentecost pulls us all into the mess.

When there's one right way to think about God, to speak about God or to worship God, well then, we can control that. We have standards.

When there's one right group of people to testify about God, well then, we can control that as well. If you don't meet the qualifications you'll be silenced.

Then comes Pentecost, and this messy Spirit of God that spills out all over everywhere. It's so out of control that the only seeming explanation is that these are some enormously eloquent drunks.

Peter corrects that perception (apparently not subscribing to the "It's five o'clock somewhere" philosophy because he says that it's too early for them to be drunk.) He says that this messiness is all God's doing, it's what God has been waiting to do.

We can't restrict the power of the Spirit to those who are in our club. It spills over to men and women, young and old. Everyone is invited to this dance.

It gets messy.

It gets messy when you start hearing the gospel in your own native tongue. You always felt like you had to go along with the pious platitudes because that's just how things are... until you discover someone who is just as cynical and questioning and deeply longing for faith as you, people who "love Jesus but a cuss a little." And you hear faith in your own language.

Or maybe it used to be your language. The boxes for faith all felt right to you.  Until they didn't. It's messier and totally unpredictable, but you hear someone else for whom faith is a journey and not a destination, and your heart is strangely warmed. You don't know where you're going but for this first time in your life, you can believe that's okay, okay for you and okay with God.

I think it's part of the power of Rachel Held Evans' work and why so many were so deeply affected by her death. She spoke their language - even when that language changed. Especially when that language changed.

Commentators will tell you that this terrifying-for-the-liturgist list of place names is Luke's way of telling us that the gospel will not be limited. It now reaches the four corners of the known earth.

So it is in these days. The Spirit comes into our perfectly manicured and orchestrated church, and people are amazed at hearing the gospel in their own language: the gay people and transgender people and the ones with no real box to check, the women who cannot be and will never be male disciples, the depressed folks who have no idea what joy in Jesus - or in anything - looks like, the grieving who have no use for praise bands because their only song is a lament, the seeker who doesn't want to sign the membership card but who wants to see what this way is all about, the disabled who are surprised to find welcome when most of their lives they've only known barriers.

They hear it, they hear the amazing gospel of love in their own language. We want to shame them ("they must be drunk" is one of the ways of saying, "they don't know what they're talking about.) We want to keep our entrance guidelines.

But the Spirit comes and blows all of it away. 

This is the messy day we have been promised.

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