Pentecost is an event about power—God’s power! In the Acts chapter, we see that the event we know as Pentecost is ushered in by foreboding, visceral imagery as “violent winds,” and “tongues of fire.” At first read, it is easy for us to shy away from this story, and see it more as an apocalyptic event that arouses fear in us. We are not used to coupling celebration and frightening visceral imagery. We may be able to deal with the blast of fireworks on Independence Day or the shouting of young children on birthdays, but none ever seem to measure up to a “violent wind.” Most often, we like to think of the coming of the Holy Spirit as a gentler event. But in Acts, we see that foreboding imagery found in the Pentecost story, is one of the most profound ways that God captures our attention.
Living in a world where we see images of bombs, explosions and other machinations of terror, “violent winds” can seem terrifying. We have become far too accustomed to seeing apocalyptic images in all types of media. But whether we like to accept it or not, loud noises certainly do capture our attentions; they disturb our lives and unsettle our everyday routines, and many times this is what the Holy Spirit is like for us as well. Unlike the bombs we hear around the world, God’s noise comes to bring life. But in the process we are shaken and it may be necessary to stop all the other things that we are doing so that we can clearly hear God. It is far easier and more palatable to want the Holy Spirit to come to us in a gentle whisper, but truthfully, we are not always prone to listening for it. This is what makes Pentecost both powerful and profound. We find that whether we like it or not, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit has to be demonstrative to us – God has to get our attention!
In many ways, the Pentecost experience is God’s way of letting us know that living and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is an urgent and immediate undertaking. In verse 11, we find those who are touched by the Spirit are speaking of God’s “deeds of power.” This is an interesting phrase because “power” in Greek is called DUNAMIS(doon-a-miss), and we get the word “dynamite,” and “dynamic” from this word. What is exciting about this is the emphasis on the contagious energy that is involved in the Pentecost event. It is almost as if God, through the power of the Holy Spirit lights our fuse so to speak, so that our creative faith and potential in the Spirit can be released into the world.
But in addition to challenging sights and sounds, the Pentecost event presents us with a larger challenge – the challenge of witness. Pentecost does not just commemorate the “birthday of the church,” I believe that it also celebrates a “birthing” day, where we are challenged to live in the newness of the spirit. It is a day that challenges us to use our faith to make new relationships happen and to be witnesses to the loving and transforming power of Jesus Christ to all around us. It’s a birthing because we are called to use our strength, gifts and bodies to bring about substantive change in our lives and life around us. Pentecost is a time for us to be the very people that we are called by God to be. Quite some years ago, the U.S. Army had a catchy slogan “Be All That You Can Be!” I believe that Pentecost beckons us and inspires us to do so.
As we are called to live Pentecost in our lives, we find that God’s fire does not consume us, we are warmed and comforted by it. As God’s community of faith, we are also melded together by it. It is here when we carry the torches of Pentecost in our lives, we begin to celebrate what God is doing in our midst. We see reflections of the Holy Spirit in our everyday church programming as well as our worship. Here we find that our faith is not about well wishing, passing out tracts or throwing pamphlets into the wind. Pentecost shows us that our faith calls us to engage and interface with others and with our world. As you reflect on ways that God calls you to witness and carry the torch of Pentecost in your life, I leave you with a quote from Ted Loder’s book Guerillas of Grace that in many ways sums up what our dealings in the Holy Spirit mean:
“Take a few minutes and pray.
I would be silent, now,
that I may receive the gift I need
so that I may become the gift others need.”
Rev. Alonzo T. Johnson was Pastor of Oak Lane Presbyterian Church from 2003 to 2014.