When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Acts 2:1-3
Do you know why the community was gathered in one place? They were in Jerusalem for the offering of the first fruits, a festival called Shavouth. An unblemished perfect sheaf of wheat or barley was given to the priest to wave over the altar in thanksgiving to God before the harvest. No flour was ground, nothing taken to market, no bread was baked until after the offering of the first fruits. The community was giving the very best of their lives to God even before knowing the benefit of the harvest which would occur 7 weeks later. The offering of the first fruits is when the Holy Spirit showed up to empower the community.
We celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The experience of the Holy Spirit is near and dear to the heart of Methodism. John Wesley was working to revitalize a stale church, a church that was caught up in theological arguments, a church of individuals, and a church that had yet to uncover how to extend God’s grace. After John Wesley experienced the Holy Spirit, which he described in his journal as “my heart was strangely warmed,” on May 24, 1783 , the Methodist movement took off. The cross in United Methodism has a flame attached to its base to remind us that the Spirit is the basis of our relationship with the living God. Augustine called the Holy Spirit the bond of love. The Spirit bonds us in love to God the Father and God the Son. The Father and Son cannot exist without the Spirit. We cannot live without Love either.
Many people well intended people think the Holy Spirit is that which nudges them towards whatever feels good. After all, in the gospel of John, the Paraclete is most often translated as the ‘comforter,’ and we often misinterpret the experience of the Holy Spirit as that which gives us permission to act in whatever way we think feels best. What feels best is unfortunately not always necessarily what is faithful. John Wesley called the work of the Spirit in our lives, sanctification. It is the grace present when we are empowered to love God and one another. The work of the Holy Spirit works within the entire community. It is the power of the Holy Spirit at work when we remain devoted and honor God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when we give the very best of ourselves even when we don’t know what lies ahead. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when we care for and minister with one another. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when we get along well both in work and in play. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when our humility and acceptance for another is expressed in community. Through the Holy Spirit, we inspire one another on to good deeds. Like the water in a mountain spring, the life of the Spirit cannot be contained in community either, it spills out and gushes forth becoming a blessing for the world.
The full Pentecostal blessing is intended for the whole family of God.
We wait and hope for this.
Do you remember how you FELT the first time you encountered God? Take some time to revisit that experience. What is God revealing to you now?
Try this, sit back, close your eyes if you want, take a deep breath and let go. Take another breath and relax as you exhale. Now for just a few moments, visualize one of the beautiful Spring flowers you have seen through this last week, perhaps a blooming bush or tree caught your attention. Breath in its fresh scent. Notice the color and texture of the flower in your mind’s eye. Bring as many details as you can remember, the stamen and pistil, the petals and stem. Follow the flower down through the stem to its roots, where this last week’s rain saturated the ground offering this flower nutrients from the soil. Imagine that all this flower needs to create beauty is being provided by our Creator.
Now take a moment to consider your own life. Imagine God caring for your life in the same way the flower is cared for. Consider the things God is nurturing your life with at present. There is nothing you need to schedule or arrange, nowhere you need to go for the moment, just take some time in the assurance that God is already providing all that you need to bring meaning and purpose to your days. As the flower opens up to reveal the blessing it offers, imagine your life gently opening to reveal something God is using to bless others.
Now look around the garden of your life, at all the other blooms. What attracts or repels you? How is your life connected to the others? Walk right to the center of this garden to the Source of peace and contentment. Inhale that grace deeply. Take a moment to soak up the peace you feel.
When you are ready, you may return your attention to your surroundings and stretch.
I love driving into our neighborhood. The road passes over a creek, trees stretch their arms to the sky, and sometimes a hawk flies into view or deer stand still in the landscape. I have a sense of communion with each of our neighbors who are shaped and formed by this same landscape. We see one other daily while walking our dogs, driving to work, attending to our lawns and caring for our children. When the wildness of creation tosses a snowstorm our way, we shovel and share eggs and milk as needed. At times, the landscape becomes still and invites us to do the same. We share a common and connected life with our neighbors.
My active role in the church has given me another neighborhood to dwell in. We are clergy and laity, women and men who are shaped and formed by the particular landscape of tradition. The common life we share is under tremendous strain. We cross bridges and climb over fences in order to reach others cut off by social and cultural divides hoping to share the landscape of God’s love which we confess is so deep and so vast that even we cannot fully grasp it.
I am fully convinced that what the church needs, in fact, what the global neighborhood needs, is to practice resting silently in the One who shapes and forms us by grace, forgiveness and mercy. As we become part of that landscape, we might find our connected, common life is already here.
I love it when I notice something new happening, like the renovation in my office I have been blogging about here these last few weeks. Though I have to say, I am ready for things to be set right again, in the usual order. Today, God captured my attention in the image of a kind of “blooming bush,” (photo above) and helped me to remember that even things that seem out of place belong.
Precious things grow in creative new patterns when we allow them to. Blooms spring forth in ways they have never before. Newness of life happens when we share space with others and grow together in new ways. Welcoming new people is the primary task of the church. I think the creative act of combining things in new arrangements has made a life-giving difference in our world. That is exactly how (for example) innovative technology, medical treatment, and artistic expression contribute to our world. Maybe the church would be more welcoming of people, if we would also open our minds to welcome new ideas and new challenges, too. If we have no differences among us, there is no space for unity to emerge.
Look again, everything belongs, even daffodils within an evergreen.