The Day of Pentecost, 20 May 2018

May 20, 2018 | by Bruce G. Epperly

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Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104:24-34, 35b Romans 8:22-27 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Pentecost is polyvalent and mystical in nature.  The holy day begins with humanity and stretches out to the non-human world. God’s Spirit speaks deeply within our human lives, but that same Spirit can be found in osprey parents returning to Cape Cod each year, breaching endangered right whales, and the transcontinental migration of monarch butterflies.  Pentecost pushes us beyond one-dimensional rationalism to multi-dimensional mysticism. Put on your head gear and strap on your safety belts; on Pentecost, you’re in for a wild ride!

Often associated with the birth of the church, Pentecost centers around the emergence of God’s enlivening Spirit.  From a process perspective, the Spirit was always there, and dare we say, the church was always there, long before and not limited by the institution.  But, on this particular day, the Spirit became evident in that confluence of human prayer and divine providence through which a quantum leap of Spirit falls upon Jesus’ disciples, enabling their voices to bridge the barriers of linguistic diversity.

No one can explain the mechanism that allowed each person to hear, regardless of language and ethnicity, God’s voice in their own tongue.  Could it have been the vocalizations of the Spirit, which sighs within each of us, praying constantly for our well-being and providing guidance sufficient for each moment?  Could the deeper whispers of God, beneath the conscious mind, have burst into the conscious mind? Ultimately, like so many other biblical stories, the message and not the mechanics is what is important.  The message is that of unity, despite diversity; overcoming ethnic and racial barriers; transcending the past and opening into a new Spirit-centered future. The message is that we are all (potential) mystics, just waiting for God’s Spirit to illumine us.  

Pentecost proclaims a democracy of the Spirit, characteristic of process theology.  God’s Spirit falls on “all flesh,” not just a favored few. Everyone receives divine insight and the energy to embody it. The antinomies of Peter’s speech are intended to reflect the all-embracing nature of God’s Spirit.  No one is neglected, no one is left out; everyone has a piece of the Spirit, appropriate their life situation. The gospel message is not addressed to a Godless world but to a God-filled world. Even those who run away from God, or immerse themselves in paths of darkness, are touched by God’s Wise Spirit.  Evangelism is, accordingly, aimed not at outsiders, but to persons who have been touched by God but may perceive themselves as unaware of it. Salvation is embedded in every life. As Ernie Campbell once said, “there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are in God’s hands and know it, and those who are in God’s hands and don’t.”  Even the least of these – the slaves, described in Acts 2 – are touched by God and can communicate Divine Wisdom to those who believe themselves to be privileged and educated.

Psalm 104 proclaims the manifold works of God.  Divine Wisdom, the Spirit of Sophia, brings forth a world of diversity and beauty.  All things depend on the divine breath. Wisdom energizes the non-human as well as human world, and in the spirit of the environmental movement, awakens us to divine blessing and revelation in all creation, and not just human religiosity.

Romans 8 reveals the intricate interplay of humankind and the non-human world and is especially appropriate to our current environmental crisis.  Creation is groaning. We can see the groaning of creation in islands of plastic floating in the Pacific, dying coral reefs, polar bears drowning in the Arctic, and humans starving as a result of extreme weather conditions. The pain of creation is related to destructive impact of wayward human agency.  Perhaps Paul has the sin of the legendary first couple in mind. But, even if we disregard the tales of Adam and Eve, it is clear that our human impact on the non-human is ambiguous, at best. We nurture our companion animals; yet are also complicit in the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosphere, and the reality of climate change as evident in drought, extreme weather, rising seas, and melting icebergs.  Still, the Spirit speaks within us in words we cannot fully fathom. God’s Spirit aims us toward wholeness, but those sighs too deep for words seldom come to conscious awareness or ethical action. God is interceding for us, perhaps praying for things we can’t yet articulate, bringing forth the deepest desires of our hearts, or directing our paths toward climate concern, which in our waywardness and consumption, we fail to embrace.

As Jesus prepares for his crucifixion, he reassures his disciples with the promise that God’s Spirit will be them, as an Advocate, Inspirer, Support, and Guide.  We are never left without God’s Inspiration and Guidance. This Spirit is the gift of God, the embodiment of Jesus in our hearts and in the world. The Spirit will provide us with new insights into God’s presence in the world and in our lives, and these days we need such insights.  In our aimlessness and destructiveness, we need guidance and the energy to embody our insights in daily life.

God’s Spirit is the Spirit of Life, and this Spirit embraces all creation, both as agent and provocateur and as companion and inspiration.  We are never alone, nor are we without guidance. On Pentecost, we are challenged to “practice Pentecost,” to open to God by listening to the Spirit through prayer, meditation, and justice-seeking and peacemaking.  Living in the Spirit joins us with all creation, breaks down the walls of separation, and creates bridges that join humans with each other and all creation. Practicing Pentecost awakens us to our common origins, destinies, and hopes, and challenges us to learn Wisdom everywhere and then apply it in healing the earth.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, UCC, Centerville, on Cape Cod, MA, and professor in the D.Min. program at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of over 40 books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure with God, and The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh.