Acts 2:1-21 and Romans 8:22-27
May 19, 2013 Pentecost
Life in the Spirit
Roy W. Howard
We know the story well: an anxious, fearful people gathered in a large room; expectant yes; but equally unsure about the future. In the absence of their leader, new leaders were not yet formed and those that were designated leaders were silent – one might say timid – in the face of a future about which they had no knowledge other than the uneasy feeling that getting there was completely out of their skill set.
What now? That must have been the prevailing question as they gathered in prayer, doing precisely what Jesus instructed when he left them. What is the next right step for our community?
Communities waiting in prayer often make the mistake of relieving the anxiety and fear that comes with deep discernment by doing something – anything! – other than waiting. We too easily forget that waiting particularly waiting in prayer, deeper listening and discernment is actually doing something. Deep listening for God is the most demanding thing to do, which is why it is so often abandoned for something else.
What our story suggests is that the earliest believers waited just long enough for the nearly unthinkable to happen. I say “nearly” unthinkable, because they actually did have an inkling of what might happen if they could just wait. It seems to me that this quality of waiting is authentic faith: hearts open, minds alert, obedient to the God, expecting the promise but never grasping, only waiting hands open. Then suddenly it occurred, perhaps in a way they least expected it would occur:
like a violent wind, a hurricane did God appear among them as fire descended upon their lips.
When I was in Louisiana a few weeks ago, I learned from a salt-of-the-earth Cajun bayou boat operator that they call hurricanes – the black storm. We were on his boat in a bayou about 10 o’clock at night with Jonathan and Megan’s wedding party looking for alligators. “The black storm” he said, comes over you and we just ride it out.” It may just be me, but I appreciate that dark description of a hurricane and think it fits our story of what happened to those early believers on Pentecost.
The black storm came over them burst through their fears and anxieties, their timidity about their essential calling. In the fierce wind of the Spirit, they received their voices to proclaim the saving goodness of God for all people. All they did was give voice to the astonishing good news that God in Christ has blown away all the barriers. The story suggests that the same Spirit that gave them voices, also did the other: gave the gift of hearing such good news to all those diverse people gathered. And so out of this black storm that thy rode out that day, a timid people became a bold community in the streets telling world about Jesus who heals the broken hearted, gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, lifts up the crushed, brings down the mighty and creates a community of abundance out of nothing. No one is left out of the telling, and no one is left out of the hearing. Babel is reversed.
It is all very public this outward thrust of the Spirit creating a bold community; a visible sign of the God who makes diversity a splendid display of unity. This is where we usually stop on Pentecost, with the stunning birth of the church in the world. Yet, I think there is another aspect of this black storm that is important to remember. It’s the inward aspect of the Spirit that sustains us in this life.
Are there occasions when your words falter in the face of grief, or all that you can’t understand? Your voice goes silent not because there is nothing to say but rather whatever you might say would be utterly inadequate to the moment? There are things in this world that reduce us to silence; the loud, boisterous, bold proclamation in the streets has its day, but not every day for any of us. There is something else to which we attend. That is the Spirit who brings us consolation, hope and courage in the face of all that renders us silent.
When my friend suddenly lost his 11month old grandson, when the Longs suddenly lost their son, when the Miller’s tragically lost their granddaughter and so much more anguish than we can name– it is this inward aspect of the Spirit that comes to mind and upon whom I collapse when all words are inadequate for the palpable pain that floods over us at that moment. The same Spirit that send us on a outward journey, that gives bold speech, also guides our inward journey into deep communion with God. Each is for the sake of the neighbor: when we have no words to say, the Spirit prays within us with sighs and groans that are too deep for words. This is the mystery of communion with God; it is prayer.
This outward-inward journey is the form that our life in the Spirit takes in the world. Outwardly the Spirit filled community proclaims the gospel of Jesus by the quality of our life together and our gracious, courageous speech welcoming all people particularly those on the margins who have no home for their hearts. Inwardly we attend to the Spirit who prays within us when our words fail and draws us more deeply into the mystery of life in communion with Christ.
This is our life in the Spirit. Alleluia.