Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tongues of Fire: But What Are We Saying?

Pentecost is one of the more exciting days in the church calendar.   After the patient and anticipatory waiting of the birth of Christ during Advent, we have the long and sometimes difficult trek through Lent as we lead up to Good Friday and the crucifixion.  Our heaviness gets a reprieve with the reward of Easter and the resurrection.  And just when we're thinking all is well again--whoosh--Christ is gone.

The disciples must have been in a state of confusion for sure.  And, huddled together in the upper room waiting for this promised "other" Jesus had told them about, they probably weren't ready for the burst of wind and something like tongues of fire resting on each of them.  And they must have wondered what was going on as they began speaking in languages other than their own, but known to at least somebody  in the room.

In our reading from Acts, we hear that some of the people were supposing that all these babbling guys were just drunkards.  And that's when Peter, the extroverted and eager Peter, stands and delivers his testimony to the honor and glory of God and the Messiah who is Jesus Christ.

I have always thought of this scene as Peter's moment to shine and to speak with such authority that the words leaving his lips are coming from a place of total and unshakeable faith.  What that we all could have those moments where we overcome fears or shyness, and speak what we believe to be true.

For a long time, those of us who are Episcopalians have been reticent to engage in the "e" word of "evangelizing."  That word... and what it has come to represent... is NOT what we do.  You don't find the people of the red and blue books standing on street corners with megaphones, shouting at the passers-by to "Repent!!"  Evangelizing means megachurches and preachers in polyester suits and a thousand pairs of arms raised to the ceiling and shouting out in praise of "Gee-zus!"

That isn't exactly typical of your average Episcopal church service.

And yet, evangelizing is what we do every time we extend ourselves to another from a place of Love.  When we greet a stranger and make eye contact, that is the beginning point of the evangelism that is doable, even for Episcopalians.  If the topic turns to God, we need only to tap into that root of our Baptismal Covenant to know how we respond, grounded in our own faith the same way Peter did, while respecting the dignity of the other to be responding to God in a way that may or may not look just like our way.

Evangelizing isn't about converting people.  I believe only God can really convert a person to Christ.  Evangelizing means sharing the good news with others that light drives out darkness, love overcomes hate, life will triumph over death.  It is about reminding everyone that Jesus' life and mission was to free us from our prisons of fear, hatred and greed.  And not just reminding others, but to remember that essential truth for ourselves and live into that place.

More importantly than any words we can speak, we must also listen to other people and hear what they are saying.  For as many times as it seems Jesus was speaking words of wisdom, he was also remaining quiet so he could hear what was being said, and then could respond in Love.  While the church needs people to share and talk about their faith, I think Christianity could use time listening to others and paying attention to their  words instead of just our own.   We have our faith in God.  We acknowledge the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.   What can we learn about other people, and then how can we share what we know of the Divine with them in a way that is an exchange and not an argument?

And can it be that in engaging with others who are not like us in a respectful dialogue about our faith, we might learn more about God than we knew before?  In John's gospel, Jesus tells the disciples:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 

God is enormous and all-encompassing.  And because God is so huge, it is impossible for us to know all that there is to know about this Almighty Being.  But those who are engaged in a relationship with God, in whatever way, are having the mystery unfolded to them piece by piece.  So, imagine the fun of discovering when the piece you have fits with someone else's piece of God.  It can be mind-blowing and way cool!

The Holy Spirit has now entered the picture.  And that Spirit moves in ways that defy any logical understanding.  But it's the Spirit that will aid us on our paths toward God, as long as we are willing to let that Spirit give us the guidance.  May we all be able to preach like Peter one day!

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