This past Sunday, Christians around the globe gathered in churches scattered far and wide to celebrate something big–the birth of the church. On Pentecost Sunday, we remember the remarkable story of the Holy Spirit roaring like a hurricane throughout the room where the apostles were gathered, branding them as holy vessels with a tongue of fire above their heads, and giving them the ability to speak in many different languages. On that day thousands of years ago, God showed up in a big way. God sent his Spirit…the Advocate…the Breath of God…to fulfill the promise Jesus made to the disciples before he was raised to heaven.
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1: 8
As the disciples spoke, the Spirit was set loose–opening the minds and hearts of countless people from all over the known world to the gospel message.
At its core, Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit and of God’s awesome power to fulfill each and every one of the promises made in Scripture. It’s a celebration of hope –the hope that we have in God’s mighty power to act in this world and to build his kingdom here…on Earth as it is in heaven.
But lately, I’ve had a hard time reconciling the Pentecost story to the world in which we live. There’s too much hate. Too much evil. The news of yet another massacre of innocent children at a school broke something within me. To be honest, God and I are still processing the rage I feel at this senseless act of violence, and my despair that we, as a people, keep allowing such tragedy to take place. I don’t know what the answer is, but I believe that we, as American citizens, are accountable for the lives of these children. We have chosen the tribalism that is American politics over the sanctity of life beyond the womb. And far too many Christians bow before the alter of nationalism rather than the alter of Christ. My own teenagers see the world as a fraught, chaotic, and confusing place, and they feel great anxiety as they seek to navigate what seems to be a swirling, churning ride. Studies would suggest that my boys are far from alone in this sentiment, as many kids and teens prefer to cocoon at home rather than entering a world that seems so tumultuous.
While cocooning is tempting in time’s like these, it’s not what God wants for or from his people. As the Spirit threw open the doors behind which the disciples hid during Pentecost so they could share the good news of Jesus Christ, so, too, the Spirit calls us forth into the turbulent waters of the world today to share the message of God’s love. It’s not easy. There’s much that stands in the way. But where God wills, the Spirit makes a way, as Paul affirmed when he was in the midst of stormy seas on his way to Rome.
Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem, but he appealed to Caesar. The journey to Rome was fraught with peril, but Paul used each stop along the way as an opportunity to spread the good news. When Paul’s ship becomes swamped in a terrible storm at sea, his traveling companions (some of whom were seasoned sailors) panic. They’re sure they’re going to drown. Yet Paul invokes the Spirit of God, assuring them that he still has work to do, so the Spirit will lead them safely to shore. “I believe,” Paul tells his shivering shipmates, that “God will do exactly what he told me.” Acts 27:25 And, of course, he does.
Scripture is a wonderful gift. It’s a record of God’s love for all he created, especially his children. Scripture is full of the promises of God, and time and again God shows up to fulfill each and every one of those promises. Paul got to Rome, and he shared the message of Jesus’s love with some of the top government officials of the day. God showed up for Paul throughout his journey, even when all hope seemed to be lost.
Some days, it’s easy for me to feel like God has abandoned us. That he’s washed his hands of his belligerent children who seem compelled to throw away his gifts of grace in favor of selfish destruction. But Scripture tells a different story. Scripture tells us of a loving Father who relentlessly chases after his wayward children, ultimately sacrificing everything he has in order to bring them home. Our God doesn’t give up on us. And he doesn’t stop acting.
The psalmist writes:
The story of Pentecost is the story of God showing up. So let’s be brave, my friends. Let’s be strong. Let’s lean into the storms raging in our communities, our nation, our world, and allow the Spirit to lead us. Let’s be the hands and feet that bring good news to the brokenhearted. Let’s speak to others in words of love. Let’s offer grace to those whom we disagree with. Let’s forgive those who have wronged us. Let’s show mercy to those whom we feel are misguided or wrong. Let’s offer food to the hungry, and care to the homeless. Let’s listen before we speak, and give room to those who need to talk. Let’s greet others with kindness. Let’s open our hearts to empathy, and show compassion for those whose journey looks different from ours. Let’s sit with those who mourn, and encourage those who are struggling. Let’s push our leaders to be better and to do better.
Most importantly, let’s expect God to show up in the midst of the chaos. And let’s be ready to follow when he does.
Blessings and Peace,