Today is the final major holiday in the church calendar. We begin the church calendar with Advent and have our first major holiday Christmas. That’s Incarnation, God With Us in human form. Then we have Easter. Resurrection. Life after death. The promise of eternal life. And today is Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit to the people who followed Christ. All this together is power of God stuff.
So then what we really do is spend a lot of time and money to exchange gifts at Christmas, wait for a cute, fluffy bunny at Easter and then ignore Pentecost. Anyone having a Pentecost party this weekend?[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/275230-power-of-god-stuff.mp3]
It’s easy to ignore Pentecost because we usually hear the Pentecost story with tiny, sedate flames surrounding people in nice polite ways. The English translation kind of leads us that way. We hear in verse 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them and then they start speaking in different languages. The appropriate response to having a tongue of fire resting on you is to respond strongly and with great energy. The only response we hear about in this case is in v6 and that was the people were bewildered and THAT is about the language, not the tongues of fire. And so sometimes we have red streamers floating around or hanging down from the ceiling trying to create a rich visual environment for celebrating Pentecost. What we’ve, and when I say we I mean I, have often done is to tame the Holy Spirit into a sedate and petlike demeanor that tends to fit what we desire rather than what God desires. That’s easy. That’s comfortable.
Here’s the thing though. Have you ever been in a burning building? Have you ever run into a burning building on purpose? I can tell you from personal experience there is a pronounced rush of adrenaline as you run toward the door, wondering if it is going to backdraft into an explosion when you open it. When you cross the threshold and it doesn’t backdraft you move toward or into the flames depending on the situation. It is a singularly terrifying and exhilarating, all kinds of chaotic kind of moment, all at the same time. You don’t know when or if an explosion is going to happen. It looks kind of like this: (video clip)
I think the fire of the Holy Spirit looks more like this than the tame version we hear about. I think the fire of the Holy Spirit looks more like this than the petlike demeanor we prefer. I think the Holy Spirit comes at us full bore with the power and fury of fire. It surrounds us. It consumes us. And we respond in kind, with the same kind of power because the Holy Spirit is that fire that is inside us.
Or… we don’t respond in kind. Any and all of us if we’re actually honest with ourselves. Each of us needs to ask ourselves, on a regular and ongoing basis, am I living my life with the Holy Spirit or am I living my life for myself? Each of us needs to ask ourselves, on a regular and ongoing basis, am I doing what the Holy Spirit is calling me to do or am I doing what I desire?
Part of the problem is cultural, I think. As a large group with its historical center of mass in the upper Midwest, Lutherans are raised to not make outward displays of much of anything. Unless they’re at a football game in which case going a little bit crazy is not only accepted it is expected. Personally, I don’t even make a lot of racket at a Husker football game. For the same reasons I suppose I’m not a big fan of whoop and holler kinds of displays of faith, either. But I wonder sometimes if we couldn’t do with just a skosh more outward enthusiasm in our faith lives. Couldn’t we?
We, and many other communities of faith are doing some great things but who knows about it? We’ve got the greatest story ever told in Christ Jesus. The man went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, died and three days later was raised from the dead giving each of us the promise of eternal life, too. This is power of God stuff.
Then the Holy Spirit became manifest to the people and now there are followers of Christ all over the world responding to the gifts we’ve been given in some amazing ways. We just don’t hear much about it. How many meals did the Lincoln Lutheran Food Pantry provide in 2014? 116,000. That’s 9700 per month. That’s the Food Bank, some grocery stores and churches like us providing food. I didn’t know that until I was at a meeting last week. We here how horrible churches are and if we’re honest there have been some horrible things done by churches and church people. But you won’t hear about 116,000 meals on the news. That is the story we’ve got to get better at telling.
Another one of the things that we can do as people of faith is to contact the people we elect to public office. This gets way overlooked and I’ll confess I only contact my elected representatives a couple of times a year. On a good year. Do you know who your state senator is? If you don’t it’s pretty easy to find out if you have internet access at nebraskalegislature.gov. Put in your address and it’ll tell you who it is and how to contact them. If you don’t have internet access give me a call and I’ll look it up for you. It is an important kind of thing to do.
I’m not telling you what position to take on a given issue. I have an opinion, of course but it is the work of the Holy Spirit to guide you on that. One word of warning. You may experience what I believe is known as cognitive dissonance when you start listening to the Holy Spirit. Cognitive dissonance is that stress or discomfort that comes from being conflicted by what you think and desire and what you feel like this Holy Spirit is leading you toward. It’s that moment when you think about your opinion on an issue, a deeply held opinion you’ve had all your life and the Holy Spirit tells you otherwise. It’s that moment when you think about your deeply held position and realize that Jesus looks at it differently. And is calling you to look at it differently too.
My cognitive dissonance for me this week has been who we’re praying for today. We’ll lift up Det Kerrie Orozco, the Omaha detective killed in the line of duty last week and rightly so. We’ll also pray for Marcus Wheeler, the man who shot her. I don’t want to. I haven’t wanted to all week. I don’t want to even say his name in the same breath. But the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus tell me otherwise.
I can’t tell you who to vote for or what to say to your elected folks other than to get out and vote and to let them know what you think. I can’t tell you who to pray for. I will say this much, though. When you and the Holy Spirit have a difference of opinion, go with the Holy Spirit.
This is power of God stuff.