The Feast of Pentecost, Year A
June 4, 2017
Most hospitals have pastoral care offices, and chaplains make rounds, just like doctors or social workers, visiting with patients and their families during some of the most critical times of their lives.
When I was a patient recently at Overlook hospital, a chaplain paid me a visit.
It was a particularly difficult time for me. I was quite sick, felt terrible, and was undergoing many tests, some of which were quite painful. But perhaps worse than that, the potential diagnoses the doctors were considering were more than a little unsettling, and potentially life-changing. It was a scary and very uncertain time.
So in walked the chaplain, who unfolded a chair and pulled it up to my bedside, and she said, “So, your life has been turned upside down.” I nodded my head. Yep. That’s true.
Then she asked, “How does THAT make you feel?”
Well, you can imagine my reaction. Some nerve. Her brash insensitivity annoyed me to no end, and IF I was going to have that conversation, it wasn’t going to be with her, a complete stranger.
So, I did what any self-respecting hospital patient would do . . . I suddenly became very sleepy and I told her I needed my rest.
But her comment, “So, your life has been turned upside down,” actually does us a favor this morning, because it places us in the upper room with Jesus’ disciples and, I think, precisely describes what they were experiencing at that time. Sure, we like to think of the disciples as courageous . . . faithful . . . and hopeful, but more honestly and realistically, I’ll bet they were still distraught about the brutality of Jesus’ death. And I’ll bet they were still confused by their post-resurrection experiences of Jesus, who was gone but then was, somehow, with them again. And, of course, being identified as Jesus’ followers, I’ll bet they were afraid for their own lives . . . that the Roman authorities would turn on them too, which of course, eventually happened to most of them.
The disciples were huddled together in that upper room, anxious and confused, perhaps searching for hope, and yes, that’s pretty much how one feels when life has been turned upside down. So how in the world could they possibly move forward with their new diagnosis – take those first steps into their new lives?
That’s where Jesus stepped in. Well, actually Jesus stepped in and breathed on them; which is an important detail. Because that breath was the same breath that in-spired, that creatively and miraculously brought forth creation. And when Jesus gave his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, he in-spired them too, and creatively and miraculously gave them the gift of new life, sparking their imaginations, imparting in them a powerful sense of God’s presence, and giving them the power to take bold steps into their new lives.
The thing is, when your life is turned upside down, it takes imagination to move forward. It takes boldness . . . vision . . . creativity . . . and a willingness to be a part of something new. And that is what this feast of Pentecost is all about. The feast of Pentecost is God’s invitation to return to and enliven our imaginations. And importantly, imagination, I believe, is the first step toward wisdom.
Relating to the Holy Spirit is tough for many of us. And throughout scripture it is described in so many ways. But is the Spirit like the wind? Or is it like fire? Is it a cacophony of many voices and languages? Or is the Spirit more like a silent stillness? Well, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But for me, the Spirit is also intuition and imagination, and the Spirit is Wisdom and boldness, the ability to take those first steps into the unknown with a sense of God’s power and presence.
So, let’s think about the angel’s announcement to Mary, and the imagination it took for her to move into the unknown of bearing God’s son. Think about the spark of imagination it took to believe that a few fish and loaves of bread could actually feed more than 5,000 people. Think about Paul’s conversion, what creativity it must have taken for him to re-envision himself as an Apostle of Christ, after persecuting Christians. Or even Peter, who dared to step out on to the water – or, perhaps even more difficult, had to imagine what forgiveness and grace looked like after his vehement denial of knowing Jesus just before his death.
Barbara Brown Taylor makes the case that imagination is central to our faith. “Look at seeds, weeds, coins, sheep, nets, pearls, and birds,” she says. “Look at parents and children, stewards and laborers, farmers and fishermen; look at women sweeping and baking bread… [God’s kingdom] may be hidden, but it is there, if we will look not once but twice…. [It’s the Spirit’s gift of] new sight that turns us around so that when we are set back down again we see everything from a new angle. And over and over again, it’s the human imagination that turns out to be the place where we encounter God, and where we find the power to transform the other realities of our lives.”
This is the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It was the birth of the church, and it is new birth for all of us with the gift of God’s presence, imagination and vision . . . where we can see ourselves created in Gods image; where we can see the world as God’s kingdom. The gift of the Holy Spirit makes us bold enough to imagine and take those first steps toward a world where love reigns, where hope exists even in the midst of rampant hopelessness, where we are courageous enough to expect and demand peace, and where we are bold enough to realize God’s grace extends to all people.
So . . . today, on this Feast of Pentecost, our lives have been turned upside down by the Holy Spirit. How does THAT make you feel? Amen.