Speakers Corner in Hyde Park in London is an area where open-air public speaking, debate and discussion are allowed. I used to think anyone could stand on a podium and pronounce anything–often strange crazy ideas without fear of prosecution. But it turns out that’s not true. Speakers can say anything they like as long as it is lawful, and doesn’t cause complaints or is full of profanity. All of those transgressions will bring on the police and arrest.
I wonder where the people at what later got called Pentecost met. Was it outside? In a public square perhaps surrounded by palm trees and fig bushes?
Speakers Corner in Hyde Park is the site of the Tyburn Gallows where public executions used to be held. People no doubt gathered to watch the convicted die–to us not at all a pretty sight and something most of us would not attend. Or would we? Don’t we all want to know what is going on when we see an accident? Perhaps, if it were respectable, we’d be curious to watch a criminal for whom we had no love, swinging on the end of a rope, legs kicking, throat gurgling.
What do people who come to church expect?
Wind and fire probably doesn’t occur to you.
These are powerful natural forces, especially when not contained.
Fire in a fireplace is pleasant, heats the house, keeps us warm
Fire at a campsite is primitive, primordial
Fire raging through the forest is frightening and deadly.
What about the wind? We have many descriptors for wind: breeze, crosswind, dust devil, easterly, gale, gust, headwind, jet stream, mistral, sea breeze, sandstorm, sirocco, southwester, tailwind, tornado, trade wind, turbulence, twister, typhoon, whirlwind, zephyr… do you even know what a zephyr is, or a mistral? I don’t.
Those ancients, those Galileans, who’d knew Jesus when he was alive, they understood the wind to mean the spirit of God.
They were gathered together in Jerusalem–outside–perhaps in a market place. Clearly it was somewhere public. They were not hiding. People gathered to listen. So here they were, these followers of Jesus, coming together for a meeting…perhaps they came every week hoping, waiting, hoping for Jesus’s prophecy to come true. He’d said they would be empowered. Perhaps one or two brave ones pronounced their expectation: Christ will come again! But nothing had happened for fifty days.
The Galilean guys and gals who met at the time of Pentecost, probably had hope they could come up with a program to get the word out about Jesus. They were perhaps looking forward to sharing their stories about what Jesus had taught them and showed them, and how their lives had changed and deepened. They were probably expecting and hoping and praying for the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus who’d said “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 4-10
But it had already been 50 days since Jewish Passover–could they have misheard about the timing of their empowerment? Maybe they’d never gotten together before. Maybe they’d been hiding out, waiting for the furor of the crucifixion and the awe of the sightings of the ghost of Jesus to die down. They probably longed to see Jesus smiling at them again.
Imagine gathering for a professional meeting–perhaps another boring event you have to attend for work, or maybe it’s a conference you are going to out of interest and hope that it might develop into something more. Maybe you’ll make some new connections with people who can help you get a job or give you good advice. There again it could be a required meeting that is going to be boring.
I attended my share of those boring ones when I was a chemist. One particularly memorable assembly was for a talk about the safe use of gas cylinders–you know those large phallic metal tanks. The ones I used often contained highly flammable gases such as oxygen. It was an important topic–safety, but, yawn, I actually fell asleep. I probably snored and drooled. I didn’t hear the program.
Churches ought to invigorate, excite, energize, challenge and grow people.
But here they were–a crowd of followers of Christ hoping, praying, doubting, wondering, hanging out in the morning.
Suddenly there is a roaring sound. What is that? a breeze, crosswind, dust devil, easterly, gale, gust, headwind, jet stream, mistral, sea breeze, sandstorm, sirocco, southwester, tailwind, tornado, trade wind, turbulence, twister, typhoon, whirlwind, zephyr…
There’s no time to find out because all at once what look like tongues of fire are resting on the tops of theheads of every one of those gathered followers.
Suddenly they are empowered to speak in other tongues, using languages they did not know…and they aren’t speaking gibberish. They are conveyors of truth and life.
What are people to make of such an awesome event today? How would we respond if a rushing wind announced the presence of fiery tongues which caused our ability to communicate to sky-rocket.
Would we rationalize the event? Or would we allow it to empower us in new ways? Perhaps, we’d have no choice if we’d already said yes to Christ, yes to the Spirit of God.
Have you ever tried to learn another language? It is not easy, especially as you get older. And they weren’t children. Yet in a way their understanding might have been as innocent as that of a child: Wind, Biblically for them, signified a powerful force: the breath of life (Ezekiel 37: 5-7): remember dem dry bones, dem dry bones?
5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Their hearts must have been pounding. This was no ordinary storm wind, and it certainly wasn’t a gentle breeze. This was the spiritual infilling of God’s presence. They knew that. They got it.
Can we ever expect such awesome power again?
When Bob Bradley, pastor who baptized me, retired, at his last gathering with the congregation he’d ministered to for twenty + years in a beautiful sanctuary, as pretty as this one, there was the sound of wind. It was a perfectly clear day. And there was the sound of wind. And rain hailed down onto the roof of the sanctuary for a few moments. We all hushed. What was that? Perhaps, it was the tears of the congregation to be losing their beloved mentor and pastor–who can say?
No fiery tongues appeared above anyone’s head. Just as well. We rational intellectual people would either have had heart attacks or we would have fainted.
But those Hebrews, those followers of Christ, did not doubt what happened.
Fire for them meant many things, including God’s power. Remember Moses and the Burning Bush: 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So he went over and God spoke to him and told him to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. (Exodus 3:2 New International Version (NIV))
When are we standing on Holy Ground?
Jesus, the personification of God, has taught us God is love. Love is God. Clearly the Biblical intent of the wind and fiery tongues is to convey a sense of the awesome power and nature of the experience of God.
Some churches continue to seek those experiences and perhaps they receive them–but spiritual gifts are intended for the good of the whole community, so that would mean not merely an individual, not merely a particular church, not merely a particular denomination. Spiritual gifts are an out-pouring of Christ-presence into the world to bring about the realm of God for all.
Before, though, we can hope to reach out and send out holiness, give life, to others, we must recognize that these Galileans at Pentecost who began to speak in different languages had been empowered by God, and were grounded in their understanding of Christ.
And just what might that mean in our lives?
It means we must continue to grow in understanding which translates into how we live our lives. And how we speak to others. Communication is of extreme importance. Good communication eliminates confusion and speaks truth in ways people can understand.
All people, no matter Gentile, or Jew, Arab or Israeli, Hindu or Chinese, West Virginian or Kentuckian have common soul needs. We all need to be loved and understood.
There was a young couple who’d gotten married, and the girl was pregnant when her husband was called to join the army. He was gone for three years and never got to come home. At last he did come home and his wife met him at the village gate. They cried and hugged and were joyous. For the very first time he met his son who was almost three years old. As was their custom on a joyous occasion, the young lady went to buy fruit and flowers to sacrifice to their ancestors in gratitude and joy. While she was gone the husband tried to get his son to call him Daddy, but the little boy said, “You aren’t my daddy. My daddy comes every night and he sits with my mommy and they talk, and she cries and cries, and when she lies down, he lies down. So you are not my daddy.”
The husband was enraged. When his wife returned, he would not look at her or speak to her. She did not know what to do and said nothing. But as the days and weeks passed, he became more and more distant, and she became more and more distraught. At last, one day, she went down to the river and drowned herself.
After the funeral, the man and the boy came home. As the man lit the kerosene lamp, the little boy shouted: “Here is my father?” and he pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall. It turned out that the young woman, because she had missed her husband so much, used to talk to her shadow every night.
This a story told by a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. It is apparently well known to Vietnamese people.
What a simple matter it might have been if the husband had asked his wife about this man who came every night? She could so easily have explained.
What a simple matter it would have been if the wife had asked her husband to tell her what had made him so cold and distant?
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches loving speech, giving what he calls the six mantras of good communication.
We can learn from other traditions. Here are the six mantras from Thich Nhat Hanh.
1. I am here for you. To say this and to mean it by being fully present, by listening, by putting aside distractions is to help a person feel loved.
2. I know you are there, and I am very happy. But you must really know they are there and have practiced being “present.” Jesus certainly was present to others–he got it, he got them, he gets us.
3. I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you. We often want to fix things for our loved ones–but to be there for him or her is true love. We ease suffering by being present to someone. Didn’t Jesus ease the suffering of many? Can’t he still do that through us?
4. I suffer, please help. This is not so easy, because we have to admit we are hurting in some way…Recently, I was upset with Philip about some minor thing. He’d been insensitive and I’d over-reacted. It was hard for me to admit. It took overnight and me pouting for a while before I stopped being foolish, and said in my own way, I suffer, please help.
5. This is a happy moment. Really notice when you are having a happy moment–a connected moment…
6. You are partly right. This acknowledges and respects another person. It opens up communication. It admits I have weaknesses in me too and strengths, and I am trying to hear you, to listen, to understand…I had to admit to Philip he was partly right in his remark…
preceding section adapted from The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh
Jesus illustrates mindfulness in many ways. His example teaches us how to communicate–he is respectful of all people, including beggars, sick people, crazy people, children, and repressed women and minorities. He is direct, and teaches that anger must be addressed, not allowed to fester and cause us to become angrier and angrier.
The gift of fire and wind today from the church must empower us to better communicate, to have our minds grounded on what is wise, what gives life to others.
Churches have many community projects, feeding the hungry, providing housing, visiting the sick. They are places steeped in the teachings of Christ, offering opportunities for people to grow spiritually, and belong to a community of faith who are working together to be filled with fire, passion, and wind of the spirit.
What do you love to do that you’d love to share with others? Join a church community. Maybe your passion is the spark of life–what inspires you will give more life to others?
Charge and Blessing (from: http://www.laughingbird.net/ComingWeeks.html)
Go out into the world,
sent as Christ Jesus was sent,
gifted and empowered for the common good.
Dream dreams, pursue visions
and speak of God’s goodness
in words people can hear.
And may God give hope to your dreaming;
May Christ Jesus set rivers of life flowing within you,
and may the Holy Spirit unite you as one body and set you ablaze with joy.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
……..In the name of Christ. Amen.
Listen: Jars of Clay, They Will Know We are Christians by our love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyHvO4xoEh4
Dance: Earth Wind and Fire, September: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs069dndIYk
Invite the Holy Spirit: Veni Creator Spiritus – Catholic Gregorian Chant Songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WX8n_r_T8m0