mosaic church art

Holy Chaos


Pentecost A2023
Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Pentecost makes me giggle. As Lutherans, we come into the worship space, pleasant and chatting with our neighbors and nicely dressed. When the prelude music concludes and I stand, the room obediently hushes. I say “please stand and sing,” and you do. We do the work of the people, the liturgy, in time-honored fashion. Then, we get to the reading from Acts chapter 2, where the Holy Spirit breaks loose. It’s total chaos! But then the reading concludes and we move on to the next reading and then the sermon and a hymn, and we just go on as if the Holy Spirit, the star of the Pentecost show, were as pleasant and obedient as us. It’s not.

To properly embody the mood of Pentecost, I need 4 people to be wind, 4 people to be tongues like fire, and one whole row to be the disciples—you will remain seated but have speaking parts. Everyone else, you are the crowd of devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

Disciples, when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages, each one of you, please choose one of these translations and read it—all at the same time, not in unison or chorus, just read, just read even though I will still be talking. It’s fine. It’s Pentecost. Give them the handout. Wind, fire, and devout Jews, are you ready?

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and the wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among the disciples, and a tongue rested on the head of each disciple. All the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Say it together: What does this mean?

The story of the day of Pentecost goes on, but we’ll end there. Power clap!

How would you describe Pentecost? Chaotic, noisy, wonder, unsettling, etc…

The disciples did not control the Holy Spirit in any way. Rather, the Holy Spirit showed up and did exactly what the Holy Spirit intended. Good on the disciples for not running away. Good on them for sticking with it. Good on them for baptizing three thousand people that day just as the Holy Spirit called them to do. And the Holy Spirit still just comes and does whatever the Spirit wants. We can’t and don’t control the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t care if we think what it’s doing is controversial or improper or just untimely. The Holy Spirit will do whatever the Holy Spirit wants. That’s Pentecost. Isn’t it great?!

But this year, we also read a portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul begins chapter 12: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, sisters and brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” He goes on to name various gifts that people possess: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing. He writes: To each person is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. Perhaps when you hear Paul’s words, you wonder: What gift have I been given? What am I good at? Maybe we’re looking around the room and asking the same questions of our neighbors. I have long done the same thing, and we certainly want to name the gifts we see in ourselves and others. But I learned this week that the Greek word we translate as “gifts” or “spiritual gifts” is pneumatika which literally means “spirit induced phenomena.” We were in Thursday Matters, actually, reading a commentary together when it clicked. The so-called spiritual gifts are not about me, not about you. They’re about the spirit showing up and doing something through us, in us, for us and others. They are not our gifts but, instead, spirit induced phenomena. Paul’s invitation is not to say: what am I good at? What is he good at? What is she good at? Instead, the invitation is to ask: what is the Spirit doing? Where is the Spirit showing up? How is the Spirit working? And of course, the Spirit shows up in people doing spirit induced phenomena.

No wonder, then, that these spirit induced phenomena are for the common good. Whatever gifts of the spirit show up through us, they are not for us individually, not for our achievement, not that we may be recognized, not that we alone may prosper but that the whole people of God and all creation might have life and have it abundantly. Or as I often used to say: every gift is a call. Every gift we have been given is not for us or even about us. It is for the spirit to use for the sake of the world God loves.

And the spirit induced phenomena taking place inside us and through us and inside and through others—they’re wild. Like the day of Pentecost, if we roll with the spirit, the Holy Spirit does more than we can ask or imagine. The wind will fill this entire house. Flames will dance upon our heads. We will proclaim the good news of Jesus in words we’ve never spoken before. We will advocate for justice and serve our neighbor. We will visit those who are sick and care for the most vulnerable among us. We will lead and serve and give in all the ways God calls. In all this, we are not the movers and shakers but the spirit at work in us. And for that we can say: Thanks be to God! And come, Holy Spirit, come. Can I get an amen? Amen!