Fire & Fury of God’s Renewing Spirit

Pentecost Sunday

We are a nation in tremendous pain. We grieve with our sisters and brothers who have long known systemic oppression and racism. We are at the same time angry, confused, disgusted, and saddened for reasons we don’t at the moment completely grasp. Part of our outrage stems from the brutal murder of George Floyd on 25 May in Minneapolis while in police custody. We are also outraged at the memory of similar other incidents against unarmed black women and men over our nation’s history that have simply been ignored yet continue to seethe and fester beneath the surface. There is also a history of oppression long endured by minority cultures within our great nation; and people of many religious and political persuasions are exhausted, angry, disgusted, and saddened over the murder of one defenseless black man. Outrage has also spilled over to violence and chaos in the streets in response to these grievances which seems intended to force the rest of us to share, we who up until then have been untouched and unmoved and appalled and infuriated by our neighbor’s suffering. There’s a lot of yelling going on as well, furious rage and distress, and a lot of angry, silent tears. Some are fearful things will only get worse. Others are hoping things get worse because they no longer harbor any hope things will ever get better. Voices from all sides threaten even more unrest and violence, yet no one is even attempting to step into the breach.

It has become a sad and unfortunate pattern in American life these days, maybe longer but I haven’t been around long enough, that people who are marginalized can be treated so unjustly, killed, and forgotten no matter the outrage it generates. Those complicit in the violence and chaos, whether directly or indirectly, often claim the law is on their side. It is an argument invoked in the abortion debate as well as the gun rights debate, yet those who claim defense of the law are on opposite sides of most everything else. Curiously in both these cases the outrage is just as loud and angry in defense of the right to disregard the value of the human person. Perhaps this perspective is not the disease itself but merely a symptom of something worse. How else do we explain why the otherwise noble defense of one’s civil liberties is so passionately invoked with little regard for the health and safety of the vulnerable, the elderly, and those with severe health challenges, while we mark the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from a deadly virus? But the incident in Minneapolis is particularly heartbreaking because it is also openly and unapologetically marked by racial tension and prejudice.

And in the face of all this pain and turmoil and darkness, we have the audacity to proclaim with joy God’s gift of the Holy Spirit upon the church. It feels awkward, troubling, and disconnected from reality. It’s possible that were it not for TV and social media, we would probably just go about our business without a care, content to live quiet, inconsequential, and boring lives in the Shenandoah valley. But plumes of angry black smoke rise around us in every direction. Where is this fierce rushing wind, this searing, blazing fire of God’s Spirit sent to energize the believing community and renew the face of the earth? What are we missing? What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell us?

At that first Pentecost, a fierce rushing wind and searing, blazing fire created the deafening chaos of many voices speaking the languages of many nations proclaiming the mighty acts of God. But just prior to that awesome glorious mayhem the disciples were gathered fearfully in the upper room, immobilized by sadness and anxiety and doubt and anger. Jesus had told them he would send the Holy Spirit, but they had no clue what all that meant. So when it actually happened, they had not made any plans, and God opened their hearts and minds to his wisdom, and they emerged from hiding suddenly compelled and guided by the fire and fury of the awesome Spirit of God. In every generation, the same awesome Spirit of God has drawn the community of Jesus’ disciples out of hiding, compelling and guiding them to proclaim with conviction the mighty acts of God and bring renewal to all creation.

We find ourselves in a situation today as the disciples did in the upper room that first Pentecost huddled together in sadness, anxiety, doubt, and anger. But unlike that first Pentecost, we already possess the awesome Spirit of God. So why are we not more joyful, more creative, and more energized to do the Spirit’s bidding? Why are we not less anxious, less fearful, and less aimless and adrift? Why are we still paralyzed with sadness and doubt and anger? Why are we lacking courage and enthusiasm about proclaiming the mighty acts of God in our lives? What new languages do we need to learn and speak? What new places do we need to discover? What new peoples do we need to embrace and draw into the fold of God’s family so that they too might encounter God’s saving grace for the renewal and nourishment of their spirits?

We might find ourselves in a time of tremendous pain and turmoil and darkness today. But we are not helpless and alone. Jesus promised he would remain with us always. And he has given us his Spirit to help draw all the human family and all creation to the fulness of his own life. But what exactly does this mean for us? What is God asking of us? Above all else, God invites us to be active agents of his compassion and healing. But until we are able and willing to recognize the pain and grief and suffering of our sisters and brothers who have been historically deprived of human dignity and basic liberties, we are not hearing the cries of the anguished, and we are not extending to them God’s compassion and healing.

And until we are able to grasp and speak to their pain and turmoil and darkness, we will fail to proclaim God’s mighty acts for them to hear and understand. When missionaries are sent to bring the gospel to far-away lands they will willingly and joyfully go out of their way to learn the language and customs of the peoples with whom they wish to share their faith. Jesus sends us to proclaim the gospel to people who have been pushed to the margins, those who are often unseen and unheard, systemically oppressed and victimized by the dominant culture, but who are without a doubt near and dear to God’s own heart.

We cannot allow our own pain and turmoil and darkness to send us cowering in fear. We must seek the strength and courage that God’s Spirit bestows, set aside our own pride, and reach out to those in pain so that God’s compassion and healing might renew the human family and all creation. The Holy Spirit came in fire and fury that first Pentecost and set the world ablaze with God’s compassion and healing. More than ever we need a new Pentecost, and the fire and fury of the Spirit’s compassion and healing.

This mass was offered for the people of the parish.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020

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