The Lord Before Me

The Lord Before Me

 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

Jane Shelton, TRE; June 26, 2022

First Presbyterian Valdosta

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch the movie “Chocolat.” You may be familiar with the movie, but for those who are not, in the movie, a mother and her daughter come into town, and the mother opens a chocolate shop.  Soon, you learn the daughter is illegitimate, and the mother/daughter duo have led somewhat of a gypsy lifestyle with their special chocolates.  These chocolates, it seems have special healing properties, bringing the towns’ people…who dare to try them…much joy and happiness.

 

But the mayor, who runs the town, is not satisfied because the mother and her daughter do not attend church, and he just can’t seem to find the good in this woman, who has no intention but to make sure others find happiness when they experience her chocolates.

 

The Chocolatier soon takes under her arm, a battered wife, a deserted grandmother and her grandson, and the wife of a drunkard, who soon finds a relationship with her husband again after a few of the infamous healing chocolates.

 

Now as much good continues throughout the town from the miraculous chocolates, it just doesn’t seem to be enough for the disgruntled mayor, who even writes and directs the sermons for the young, and recently installed Clergy.

 

However, as the movie progresses with many ups and downs for the mother/daughter duo, and much effort by the mayor to eliminate her from his community, the mayor is soon pushed to his limit to resist the temptation of the knowledge behind these mysterious chocolates.  He breaks in to destroy the chocolates in the shop, but hysterically finds himself laying in the shop window overcome in hysterical chocolate bliss.

 

Overcome with hysteria, he is unable to complete the Easter Sunday sermon for the young clergy, who gladly accepts the challenge to do it himself.

 

From his pulpit, the young clergy begins, “I’m not sure of a theme today, Do I speak of the miracle of our Lord’s miraculous transformation?  I don’t want to talk about his divinity.  I’d rather talk about his humanity, you know, how he lived his life here on earth…his kindness, his tolerance.  Listen, here’s what I think…I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do; what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude.  I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.”

 

With this, this townspeople have a wonderful Easter celebration in their town, and welcome with open arms the Chocolatier and her daughter.

 

Inclusion and acceptance, can we find anyone who doesn’t want or need to be accepted for who they are?

 

Paul reminds us in Galations that we are called to freedom, but not for self-indulgence, but through love we should become slaves to one another, or devoted to one another in love.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  It is through this love for one another that we find true Joy in the Holy Spirit and with one another.

 

In the movie, as the mayor tries to destroy the female chocolatier, he soon becomes consumed with scheming and hatred that pushes his very soul to the brink of insanity.

 

He became anything less than free to experience any joy and freedom he had presumed he would by eliminating from his town this woman he deemed unfit.

 

Our Psalmist says, “I keep the Lord ALWAYS before me,” and what is the result, a glad heart, a soul that rejoices, and a body that rests secure!

 

Wow!  Who doesn’t want that in their life?!

 

I’m sure you have all followed someone at some point in your life, somewhere you were guided by a leader, and what do you do?  You keep your eye on the leader, because if you glance away for a second, you find yourself lost and searching for where you go from that position?

 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation, whether as a child or as an adult, where you were following a leader, and at some point you became distracted.  You stop to look or listen at something that draws your attention in another direction, and you lose focus on the leader.   When you look up, the leader is out of sight.  You feel lost, maybe even panicked?

 

However, when you keep your eye on the leader on your journey, you feel safe and secure, and maybe you even learn a thing or two along the way.

 

When we keep the Lord before us, we focus our eyes on the Lord.  It’s much easier to follow the Lord whenever we allow his presence before us.  Rather than reacting to what is ahead of us if the Lord is behind us, or beside us, we are following his lead?

 

With the Lord before us, we are in the best capable hands, and in his presence we find fullness of joy.  It’s only when we get ahead of the Lord or lose focus that we become lost, confused and maybe even a little stressed.

 

Let’s picture for a moment, if every day, when we open the door to our garage or our car, we say, “Okay Lord, you go ahead of me, I’m going to follow you today.”

 

How would that change our day?

 

When we walk into our office or sit in our office chair, or take a walk outside to start our day, what if we allow the Lord to go before us.

 

“After you,” we might say to put it into perspective.

 

If we could get in this habit, would we have the same reaction on the road when a car cuts in front of us, or perhaps when we get a disgruntled person on the phone.  When we yield to the driver’s rage and we actually listen to the disgruntled person on the phone, how would the response be different if we picture the Lord there before us.  Would we be more likely to give a response that is less reactive with rather soothing words and tone like the Lord before us?

 

Remember our traveling Jesus that Dr. G created for us to use in our photographs on summer vacations a couple years ago?  What if we put traveling Jesus on a stick and held it out in front of us as we walk through our daily lives, would our attitudes be different?  Would we be as critical and judgmental of others around us?  It’s kind of hard to have that attitude when Jesus is there in front of us.

 

And I don’t see the Lord before me rushing through life, no, he would be taking his time, walking among the people, very much aware of what is going on around him and listening to see who he can help.

 

Delving into the lectionary this week, the Presbytery Outlook wrote:
‘In our lectionary text from Galatians, Paul writes about the nature of Christian liberty. In Christ, we are not freed from responsibility, not freed to do whatever we want, or freed to indulge in self-centered desires of the flesh. Rather, in Christ, we are freed FOR love, freed to care for, respect and cherish all lives. The cross is the symbol of this Christian freedom. Jesus did not pick up a weapon to defend himself from the violent Romans. He went to the cross. In his life, death and resurrection, the transformative power of God’s love for humankind is made known. Nothing can separate us from this love.’

 

When we allow ourselves to put the Lord before us, and be led by the Spirit, we can experience the fruit of the Spirit, and that fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

 

Indeed, we experience fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore!

 

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O God, My God

O God, My God

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Jane Shelton, TRE; June 19, 2022

First Presbyterian Valdosta

What a story!

Picture it – maybe you want to close your eyes and picture it – but picture this….

You are the man possessed with demons, you are naked.  You are dirty and cold.

You have broken your shackles and chains and come out of the tomb.

You’ve escaped the guards and you see the boat approaching the shore.

In the boat is a man in white.  He’s standing in the boat as it moves towards the shore.

Coming out of the dark tomb, the light is bright, you raise your arms and try to shield the sun from your eyes.  You squint and blink…then blink again.

Are you really seeing the man in the boat?

Is the boat really coming to shore?

You race down the hill to meet this man; you sense there is something different about him.

You sense that he can help you.

Just as the man steps out of the boat onto land, you meet him.

And to your surprise, like other people you meet, he doesn’t run the other way, he doesn’t get back in the boat and have his disciples paddle away as fast as they can.

No, he stands there, and meets you where you are in the condition you are in – naked and afraid.

It’s as if he has been waiting for you.

You don’t know what to expect – is he going to strike you down, put you back in chains and shackles?  That’s what all the other people do.  They bind you and keep you in a dark place.

But this man is different.  http://jkweddingevents.com/jk-wedding-gallery/page/3/ THIS man called Jesus.

Then demons…the legion of demons…inside me speak to him.  They are afraid.

They beg not to be sent back to the abyss….back to the regions of hell, that deep, dark bottomless space separating them from people.

This legion, being crafty and thinking quickly, devise a plan that they be allowed to enter the swine.

Jesus permits this, and the next thing you see are the swine racing down the steep embankment, and landing in the lake where they drown.

Suddenly, you feel different.  You see yourself for the first time…. and you are standing face to face to this man, Jesus, looking into his eyes when someone approaches you with clothes, clean clothes.  You gratefully accept and put on these clean clothes as you have an awareness for the first time that you have been naked.  No one has ever approached you before unless they were coming to put you back in shackles and chains.  It’s new, it’s different, and if feels good.  You feel whole, like a person of worth.

Your mind is clear, and you can even think of pleasant things.  You are at peace and consumed with joy and disbelief!

You sit down at Jesus’ feet and you listen to him speak to you.  You are so grateful to be in another’s company, to be out in the light of the day…it’s so warm on your skin, and the air is fresh.  The breeze is gentle on your face, and you are calm.  You’ve never felt such peace, and you understand what Jesus is saying to you, and you continue to eagerly listen to him.

Then other people start coming near to see what you are doing.  You don’t know these people, and for some reason they are afraid.  They tell Jesus, buy Clomiphene at gnc YOUR healer, to leave.  But you don’t want him to go.  You love him and what he has done for you.  He doesn’t frighten YOU because you know who he is, and he knows you!

You want to go with him, you beg him to please let you go with him, but he tells you that you must stay and tell others your story, tell others what God has done for you…how he has healed you, loved you, and made you whole.  So being so grateful, you obey, and do what he has told you to do, you declare all these wonderful things to the people in the city so they will know God’s healing power, and God’s amazing love…

WOW!  WHAT A STORY!

But let’s back up a minute.  Why are the people afraid?

Did they not understand the good that had been done?

Were they more concerned with the swine that had been lost than this man who had been healed?  Maybe the swine was their food supply for a month….maybe they thought their grains may be spoiled next.  Maybe they were so concerned for their own well-being they didn’t acknowledge the sacrifice that needed to be made to heal this man that lived in the tomb and was possessed by demons.

Were they afraid because they didn’t know the heart of Jesus?  Did they think Jesus was going to send them down the steep embankment into the lake?

Reading the story, I don’t know about you, but I’m left shaking my head.  How is it possible that these people could be seized with great fear?

And as I began to ponder this very thing, I began to realize, isn’t it our very human nature to fear the unknown.

Maybe even sometimes we fear the very good thing we see before us.  To their credit, they didn’t know Jesus the way we do, and well, we humans, we are such creatures of habit and perceived control we think we have, that are we not also blinded when something changes.  Even when it changes for the good of all, we fear it rather than rejoice and embrace it.

We fear because we don’t understand.

We fear when we can’t comprehend.  We fear because we don’t have faith in our God to deliver us.

We fear when things happen beyond our control.  How many times do we miss the opportunity to look Jesus in the eyes, and sit as his feet because our fear paralyzes us?

Just as the man was “seized” with demons, the people were seized with fear.  So is fear a demon itself?

I believe it can be.  When we allow fear to control us to the point we become paralyzed, and we can’t see our way to Jesus then, yes, I believe it is a demon.

What is causing us fear today?  How do we let go?  How do we break free?

Our fear causes us to enter a dark place, a tomb if you will, and unless we can break out of those chains and the things that hold us immobile, we cannot grow.  We have to reach to the place where Jesus waits, reach out of the darkness into the light…it’s there, in the warm light, not in the darkness of a tomb, that Jesus waits for us to listen to his word.  He desires to be present with us, to teach us, to guide us, and to love us when we cannot love ourselves.

When we step out of the darkness, when we can break free of the burdens that seize us, like the Psalmist, we say, “O send us your light and your truth.  Let them lead me.  Let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.  Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the harp, O God, MY God.”

In her book, “Return to the Root,” Joyce Rupp writes a chapter titled, “Breaking the Chains.”  It’s only three pages, and I would like to share it with you.

Breaking the Chains

Some sat in darkness and in gloom,

prisoners in misery and in irons….

They cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and [God] saved them from their distress, [God] brought them out of darkness and gloom,

and broke their bonds asunder.

~ Psalm 107:10, 13-14

I spent most of a week walking for hours each day on the magnifi­ cent Oregon coast. One morning I noticed how much delight I felt. I also observed this in others: a father and daughter screamed in false fright as they held hands and leapt into the incoming waves; a blonde-haired girl in a bright blue party dress laughed at the water circling her feet; people of all sizes and ages smiled as they stooped over to pick up shells and other objects capturing their curiosity; a middle-aged woman lay flat-bellied on her surfboard and erupted with triumphant shouts as the waves lifted her to shore. Everywhere slivers of enjoyment appeared, sounding in the voices of children building sandcastles and in the joined hands of elderly companions as they strolled the sandy beach.

As I walked along, I thought, This place draws forth joy. It seemed to me that the rhythm of the ocean allowed each person there to temporarily leave behind the stress and strain that clog our lives and that people drag around every day. The usual tumbles and turns wrenching away the delight of life and the pressured schedules that clamp down on simple pleasures temporarily halted.

After returning home I wondered if it might be possible to retain the quiet satisfaction that readily took over my spirit at the ocean. The answer came when I joined other women for our Tuesday

morning prayer. Our facilitator that day chose a theme from The Cup of Our Life: “Recognizing Resistances.” The chapter opens with a quote from Macrina Wiederkehr: “I am entirely ready to have the

chains that keep me bound be broken. I am entirely ready for the walls I’ve built around myself to be torn down. I am entirely ready to give up my need to control every situation. I am entirely ready to let go of my resentments. I am entirely ready to grow up.”

As I heard this, I realized, That’s it. If I could live that kind of “read­iness” regarding my dairy tasks and the unwanted aspects, joy would find a more lasting home inside of me. Resisting what is, fighting off what I do not want, trying to force everything to turn out positively, forgetting how the Holy One guides and directs, throwing mental tantrums when life gets messy or painful-yes, all of this and more, are bound to keep the kind of happiness experienced on the shores of the Pacific Ocean from residing in my being.

When I face obstacles, I have a variety of options for how to respond. Some choices de-energize me and shut out joy; others re-energize and enhance joy. When I pause to listen closely, I am most often led to a freeing decision rather than to one that increases the heaviness manacling me to the concrete floor of my ego-the part of me that always wants what it wants when it wants it and throws a hissy-fit when it cannot have it.

When I face these kinds of choices, I know I need to turn to a power greater than myself for assistance to move beyond the restraints. As Psalm 107 indicates, there’s a moment when I find myself crying out to the Holy One that I may have wisdom and strength to break what binds my peace and joy. When this happens, I feel like Peter imprisoned in chains, the angel coming in the dark of night, breaking those restraints and leading the disciple to free­ dom (see Acts 12:3-19).

Nature often teaches me about moving from obstacles to free­ dom from them. When I brought overseas visitors to the area of the Black Hills in South Dakota, I arose early one morning and went by myself to walk the loop around a nearby lake. It was early April, and I missed the sign about possible ice on the path. Not long after I started walking, I faced an unwelcome sight: huge boulders and the path between them filled with a grim layer of ice. I looked ahead and saw more of the same. I had no hiking boots. I knew I could fall and break a bone, which would ruin the trip for my friends. I paused. What to do? In that silence, ever so softly I sensed where I might go.

I turned around, and after a short jaunt, I found a way to walk into the woods. A path there took me on soft pine needles among evergreen trees to a place above the icy boulders where I could look out onto immense pillars of sandstone and beyond to the beautiful valley. In this place I found a small open space among the stones where I could sit, put my head back on the rocks, and rest my feet in front of me on a flat stone. I felt held by those ancient parts of earth and cradled by the One who led me beyond the blockage to that surprising embrace of pleasure.

Sometimes turning away from an obstacle is not easy to do. And sometimes it will not bring immediate relief as the new path did for me. But if we turn inward when something or someone blocks the way ahead, when we pray through a difficult situation, eventually we turn the corner and discover a peace-filled place within ourselves.

The flow of life will not always be upbeat. There will be periods when pain of body, mind, or spirit temporarily thrusts joy aside. This is to be expected. I will not always feel content, but inner peace can remain constant. That is, if my resistances cease and I am ready to have the chains broken. (Rupp, 2021 pg. 58-60)

As we take time this morning for silent reflection, I invite you to consider…by what demons are you seized?  Be it fear, lack of enthusiasm, depression, silence, gossip, not taking care of yourself….whatever your demon might be, I invite you to meet Jesus as the shore, run out of that dark, damp tomb into the warm, bright light, be filled with joy, and declare ALL that God has done for you!

*Cover Art via churchart.com, used by subscription

Rupp, J.  (2021). Breaking the Chains. Return to the Root (pg 58-60). Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; June 12, 2022

Trinity Sunday

John 16:12-15; Romans 5:1-5

 

Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit arrived to birth the church. In many Presbyterian churches, Pentecost is the only Sunday the Spirit gets any attention. It reminds me of a story often told about a Pentecostal woman who happened to walk into a Presbyterian church during worship. She made her way to the front pew and immediately started responding—out loud—to the minister’s sermon. “Amen. Hallelujah,” she said. “Preach it, brother…Praise God… Yes, Lord Jesus…” As her enthusiasm grew, so did the anxiety of the people around her. Finally, when she stood up to raise her hands in praise, an usher appeared at her side and whispered, “Ma’am, is something wrong?” “No,” she said. “Nothing is wrong. I just have the Spirit.” “Well,” he said, “you didn’t get it here.”

 

 

Last week we considered how Pentecost marks the beginning of the work of the church—a work that now falls to believers who commit themselves to the way of Jesus—to the way of Love. Today is Trinity Sunday, or God Sunday, as it is sometimes called. It is the only day of the liturgical year that invites us to ponder a doctrine of the church. While it is true that our Scripture readings reflect the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, preaching on the topic can be a daunting task. Gregory Nazianzen warned that to speak of the Godhead is like crossing the ocean on a raft.  Augustine, one of the greatest minds of the western world, wrote about the Trinity. It took 10 years and 15 books.

 

 

But, at the end of the day, what does it matter? What does the doctrine of the Trinity matter to people who are still impacted by a global pandemic? What does it matter to someone who is suffering from cancer? What does it matter to the family dealing with a child who has gone astray, or a couple who is headed for a divorce, or a man who has just lost his job, or a woman who has just buried her mother? What does it matter that God is Father, Son, and Spirit when all we really want to know—most of the time—is that God is God and that somehow, someway, God knows who we are, where we are, and what we need to make it through the day?

 

 

While much of the ways of God are and will forever be a mystery, meditating on the Trinity can be helpful because doing so broadens our understanding of God. And as we mature in our faith, it is important to learn how to better articulate what God has done among us, what God is doing now, and what God promises to accomplish. For many Christians, the language of the Trinity has been a useful tool for doing just that. It’s how the doctrine of the Trinity began in the first place.

 

 

Although the term “Trinity” wasn’t coined until the 3rd century, there were hints before then. Take our scripture passage from Romans, for instance, in which Paul notes our connection to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Or consider Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel about the relationship between Jesus, his Abba Father, and the Spirit of truth. These, and other texts, became building blocks to craft the historic doctrine of the Trinity. We experienced God’s extravagant Triune Love, and as a result, we naturally started speaking of God as Trinity. It was the same God that we had experienced as the Creator of the world, the Father of Israel. Now we experienced God in the flesh as Son, and as the power flowing from God—the Holy Spirit. In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity helped give words to our faith.

 

 

When it comes to experiencing God in three persons, it seems that Celtic Christians had no trouble imagining such a concept since trinitarian language is deeply ingrained in the heart and soul of their spirituality. Frequently, the image of three in one is found in Celtic art and poetry. For example:

Three folds of the cloth, yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints of the finger, but still only one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock, yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snowflakes and ice, all water their origin share,
Three Persons in God; to one God alone we make prayer.[i]

 

 

Over the years, the Trinity has been illustrated as water that may occur as liquid, solid, or gas; or as an apple that is made up of the peel, flesh, and core—yet all the same apple. Augustine used a tree as a metaphor saying, “The root is wood, the trunk is wood, the branches are wood; one wood, one substance but three different entities.”[ii] While these are good examples, I prefer to think of the Trinity as a circle in which God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are in community with one another. Herein, there is the idea of constant movement and interaction within the Trinity—the Father gives to the Son; the Son returns praise and glory to the Father; the Father and the Son give to the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit draws everything back to the Father and the Son. It is within this community that we are invited to experience and participate in God’s endless love.

 

 

Chris Polhill of the Iona Community offers these words:

If we see the Trinity as a circle—no beginning or ending, no top or bottom—Jesus can say: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ This is the relationship we are invited to join, so that we pray in God and not to God. Here we see God committed to the dance of an equal and unending relationship, willing to suffer rather than force us into relationship. We see the Father and the Holy Spirit in agony with Jesus on the Cross, so close is the relationship…We are invited to be in this relationship, part of the dance, knowing the vulnerability and the joy of love. Instead of constantly searching for the way to God, whenever we pray, we dwell in God, in the Living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.[iii]

 

 

Through the doctrine of the Trinity, we are offered a panoramic view of God’s wonder. We are given enough of the picture to see that God is God and we are the recipients of a love wider, deeper, and broader than we can ever imagine. Moreover, we are invited to join in the dance of Love. So yes, meditating on the Trinity matters because it helps us remember who we are and whose we are. It helps us remember that as believers in the Triune God, we worship a God who is still creating among us, a God who redeems us through Jesus Christ, a God who continues to sustain us through the Holy Spirit. Great is the mystery of our faith. Thanks be to God!

 

[i] Eleanor Hull, The Poem Book of the Gael, quoted in de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer, 39-40.

[ii] Feasting on the Word, 44.

[iii] Chris Polhill, Fire and Bread, 210.

 

*Cover by Stushie Art, used by subscription

Pentecost

Pentecost

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; June 5, 2022

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. It is the birthday of the church. While our reading from Acts is one of the most familiar readings in all of Scripture, the circumstances are anything but familiar. Even in the liveliest, most spirit-filled churches I have ever worshiped in, I have yet to see tongues as of fire sitting on anyone’s head. And never, ever have I witnessed 3000 baptisms in response to Spirit-filled preaching—which is what happens later in the chapter. Yet, Pentecost is part of our story, and we are part of the ongoing work of the church that was birthed that day.

 

 

As believers, we continue the work of the church whenever we devote ourselves to the studying of God’s Word, pray, worship, have meals together, and share our common life as a diverse community unified by Christ’s love. When we do these things with glad and sincere hearts and believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit is already ours—already working to make us into the people Christ intends for us to be—there is no end to what we can accomplish in the world. Do we believe? Do we expect transformed lives—our own included? Do we hope the Spirit will grow the church in surprising ways still today? Or have we given up hope?

 

 

Thom M. Shuman is a Presbyterian pastor and poet whose prayers, liturgies, and devotions are used by people throughout the world. I often refer to his written prayers and other lectionary resources. In one resource, Fire and Bread, he contributed a monologue that I wish to share with you this morning. It is entitled, “The Surprising Thing About Pentecost.”[i]

 

 

What?

 

 

Who’s there?

 

 

Oh, it’s you.

 

 

Yes—the Teacher told me you would be coming round. I was waiting for you and must have dozed off. Now, let me see. You want to know what happened on that day. Oh, it was so long ago. Of course, you’ve come to the right person. A lot of folks will tell you they were in the city that day. But I was a lifelong resident of Jerusalem—in fact, my house was right next door to where Peter, James, John and all the rest used to gather for their meetings.

 

 

That fact alone surprised a lot of us. I mean, the followers of Jesus staying in the very city where he had been put to death! Not that they caused any trouble, mind you. They obviously weren’t the band of zealots that everyone had thought—or hoped—they would be. If they were up to something in that city, the authorities would have known about it pretty quick, let me tell you. Between the Roman spies, Herod, and the council of priests, you never knew who was watching you.

 

 

Anyway, it was Pentecost. Nowadays, everyone associates it with this new faith: the great day when the Church was born. But people forget that we Jews have been celebrating Pentecost for a very long time. First it was an agricultural festival—to celebrate the first harvest of the year and to give thanks for God’s blessings. Over the years, though, it became more a celebration of God’s gift of the Law to the people.

 

 

Every year, thousands of Jews from all over the region returned to Jerusalem to celebrate their religious heritage—to dance, to sing, to reminisce, to gather together for worship in the Temple. So, it was not all that surprising that there were so many people around that day, so many excited people, so many people eager to rejoice and party.

 

 

Peter and the others—oh, there were probably only a hundred of them at most—had gathered at the house to pray and worship together… Anyway, they were praying and worshiping—I could hear them through the open windows—when, suddenly, there was the strangest sound. First, it was just a hint, a whisper of a breeze. Then, the wind raced down the streets, rushing past the houses, sounding like a thousand chariots coming at us.

 

 

One of the neighbors later said it sounded like the first day of creation must have sounded when God breathed upon the earth and the waters. I tell you, I dropped my tools and ran out into the street—just like everyone else.

 

 

Huh?

 

 

Of course we were surprised! Actually, most of us were pretty frightened. I’ve never heard a noise like it since that day, and quite frankly I hope I never will. Then I heard someone shout: ‘Look at the house!’ meaning the house where Jesus’ people were. The doors and the windows were wide open—we could see in quite clearly. How can I describe it? It looked as if flames—tongues of fire is what Luke called them later, I think—were dancing about the room. At first I thought the cooking oil had caught fire and exploded. But then I noticed that nothing was burning…and that no one—I mean NO ONE—in the house was hysterical or even frightened. No, they just stood and watched as the flames filled the room; and the flames seemed to touch—without burning them—every single person in that house.

 

 

It was an incredible sight! We were rubbing our eyes, pinching ourselves, looking at one another in wonder and fear. Then—the words came. I think it was Peter at first, but then John, and then someone else, and then another, until all the disciples—every single person in that house—were talking and chattering away.

 

 

A man in the back of me shouted: ‘They must be drunk!’ But a man standing near me said: “No. I understand what he’s saying. He’s speaking a Mede dialect.’ A rabbi corrected him. ‘No, my son, that’s Aramaic.” I heard a woman mutter under her breath, ‘Men! It’s clearly Egyptian they are speaking.’ Me, I’m no good at languages. It was all Greek to me.

 

 

But everybody—and I mean everybody—Roman, Jew, Turk, Cyrenian, Galilean, all the different nationalities that were standing there in the street—heard—each in his or her native tongue—what the followers of Jesus were saying. It was an awesome display of power and majesty. I felt like one of the ancient Israelites must have felt when God spoke to Moses from the mountaintop, in thunder and lightning.

 

 

Well, you know the rest. Peter came out of the house and spoke to all the people standing in the street. He had a quiet crowd—believe me. What a sight: This uneducated fisherman speaking to a crowd composed of every race and nation in the world.

 

 

You know, some say the Church was born on that day. Others say it was the day that the Holy Spirit came down. Me, I think it was the day Peter became the person God intended him to be. What a speech—so simple but powerful. It was so overwhelming that 3,000 people were baptized into the faith! Yes, it was a day of incredible drama, a day of miracles, a day in which lives were changed…

 

 

What? Sorry?

 

 

What surprised me most?

 

 

The most surprising thing about Pentecost was that the disciples WERE NOT SURPRISED! I mean, the wind didn’t scare them, the flames didn’t panic them, the crowds didn’t intimidate them. It was as if they expected it all to happen to them: the rush of wind, the touch of the flames, the speaking in tongues, the powerful sermon, the response of the people. It was as if someone had told them ahead of time that, if they only trusted, if they only believed, if they only had faith, it would happen just like it did.

 

 

[Silent Reflection]

 

[i] Thom M. Shuman, Fire and Bread, edited by Ruth Burgess, 149-152.

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