This day of Pentecost calls to mind the Holy Spirit coming down in wind and fire upon the disciples who had gathered with the mother of Jesus in the upper room. Wind and fire. Driving wind and tongues as of fire. I tend to imagine the whole event as more dramatic than the bible tells us, maybe because the image of driving wind and tongues as of fire just don’t speak to me enough of power and majesty and urgency. It sounds a bit subdued. I imagine the coming of God’s Spirit in wind and fire had to have been a whole lot more intense, more transforming as to send the once cowering band of Jesus’ followers out into the streets of Jerusalem in broad daylight proclaiming the mighty acts of God in the many languages of the human family. Besides, no one else but the people in that upper room knew about the driving wind and the tongues as of fire. The bible doesn’t say the driving wind came with them out into the streets, or that the tongues as of fire that rested upon their heads followed them out of the room. The wind and fire happened to the apostles that day. And no one else in all the history of Christianity has ever reported wind and fire happening to them in a similar way. So if we ever expect the Holy Spirit to do it again, to come down upon us in wind and fire, we probably should revise our expectations, or we could be waiting a really long time.
It appears everyone else only saw and heard the effects of that powerful experience. The once timid and frightened company of Jesus’ followers, uneducated and unimpressive by the world’s standards, had encountered something so awesome and mind-blowing they were never the same again. They were transformed. By what exactly? And how? Only they could really tell. But the crowd that gathered, and saw and heard them, understood something amazing had taken place. How the Holy Spirit powerfully transforms anyone is nothing we will ever comprehend, even if we’ve known something like it ourselves. We can try to describe it, using words or music or images. But no one else will truly understand what we have come to understand. The only thing we might be able to relate to is the sense of wonder and warmth and courage and joy. And what becomes of those so transformed will rest entirely upon their own willingness to proclaim for others to hear, to show by their actions and way of life, to witness by their kindness and compassion, the mighty acts of God.
All we know of Jesus’ disciples when the Holy Spirit came in wind and fire was that they spoke boldly that day of God’s mighty acts in many languages. We know they continued to speak boldly for many more days and months and years after that. They faced persecution and danger and death, but their conviction and courage did not waver. They may even have performed signs and wonders—healing the sick, calming storms, driving out demons. But whatever else they did was about proclaiming to all people the mighty acts of God. The driving wind and tongues as of fire are really just metaphors. The Holy Spirit transforms each person in such uniquely awesome and powerful ways, we can all describe it as some kind of wind and fire. It is the closest we will ever get to putting such a powerful experience into words.
So here we are, two thousand years after that most awesome and transforming event in the lives of Jesus’ first followers. We do believe the Holy Spirit is still present in the world, still transforming lives, still inspiring Jesus’ followers with conviction and courage to proclaim the mighty acts of God. But sometimes we tend to see the Holy Spirit like we see the next contestant on “America’s Got Talent.” We expect something awesome and impressive to happen. Then we go “ooh” and “ahh.” And when it’s all over, we just go back to our lives until the next big something catches our attention.
Maybe we’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be analyzing the Holy Spirit like some kind of lab specimen. Instead, we might focus on how God’s mighty acts are proclaimed in the Church, among those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, among us who call ourselves Christians. We all can point to some experience of God’s mighty acts in our lives. We meet people, we join in worship with a church community, or we visit some place of Christian devotion, and we can tell whether or not God is present and active. We can’t often say how or why, but we know. So we should look at our Christian way of life, dig deeper into our own hearts to uncover obstacles we have placed in God’s way, shine God’s light where there still is darkness, and allow God access to our lives with the Holy Spirit’s transforming wind and fire.
Some years ago we were introduced to the New Evangelization, defined as the church’s effort to “proclaim the Gospel anew to Christians who had grown distant from the faith.” Church leaders had noticed that traditionally Christian societies in Europe and North America were turning to secularism, and growing distant from the faith. The gospel message is unchanged. But we have to find better ways to proclaim it and draw others to it, with the hope of more transforming and lasting results than before. We don’t need to bring the gospel message in wind and fire. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. We need only bring the gospel message by proclaiming God’s mighty acts.
So if the Holy Spirit has indeed transformed us deep down, we might be more receptive to opportunities that proclaim what we have come to know. For instance, I experience God’s powerful presence and compassion most in the joy and kindness of others. I might then be more intentional about extending joy and kindness to those I meet. So fundamental to proclaiming a message of reconciliation and compassion is an attitude of reconciliation and compassion. For instance, when I answer phone calls at the parish office, I need to respond with kindness, and a sincere desire to serve. Then I need to examine how I welcome people who come to church on Sunday. If I were new and were met warmly at the door when I arrived, I would be inclined to return. But I shouldn’t wait to be greeted first. If I experienced respect and kindness from people around me, I would be more respectful and kind back. If I experienced acceptance and goodwill, I might not be so quick to frown on babies who fuss and people with nervous ticks. If we have truly witnessed God’s mighty acts and been transformed by the Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to draw others to experience God as well, and be changed by God as we have been changed, with driving wind and tongues as of fire.
Now Pentecost is also referred to as the birthday of the church. But birthdays don’t really celebrate our accomplishments. Someone else did the hard work. All we did was show up. Instead birthdays celebrate the gift of life, and the Giver of the gift. What we do with the gift proclaims our gratitude, that the gift was not given in vain.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016