First Reading for the Day of Pentecost (Year C)
One of my favorite parts of each Sunday at our church is the Doxology. The rhythm of those words, which I first learned in a children's class at my grandparents' church, ground me. But I must admit that if I am in full critical thinking mode, the hymn is always punctuated with a question mark. The last line is directed towards the Trinity: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As a Baptist, I do a typically poor job paying attention to the dancer in the Trinity known as the Spirit. When you start referring to that entity as something as Scooby-Doo as a ghost, it makes me furrow my brow.
Holy Ghost seems like such an odd name to describe an aspect of God. I know it is because ghost is basically a synonym for spirit, but the word connotes deadness. There are the ghosts of our fiction who inhabit people and in that possession move them to action they would not normally take. There is a superhero who does that. You know what his name is? Deadman. So even though the idea of men and women being supernaturally pulled toward Christ-like behavior lines up with scripture, the word ghost is a hang up for me.
I think Holy Ghost does not work for me because the Spirit in Acts is an animating presence. If anyone is a ghost in Acts 2, it is the disciples in the moments before that roaring wind. They are not fully alive. Yet then there is that wind and things get...well, they get interesting. Fire appeared on them and they began speaking different languages. It's like the scene goes from a solemn black-and-white period piece to technicolored anime.
It's easy to get hung up on the otherworldliness of it all. And perhaps that is why people in my tradition give the Spirit the short shrift. We're a bit weirded out by all of it. And there's nothing that we present-day Baptists do better than bury something that makes us uncomfortable.
Yet as out of my depth as I am here, the life that bursts forth from the Spirit cannot be ignored:
The Spirit Ignites the Disciple's Ikigai
A quick detour to Rob Bell's most recent book How to Be Here:
The Japanese have a word for what get you out of bed in the morning: they call it ikigai. Your ikigai is that sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make....Your ikigai is your reason for being. (Bell, How to Be Here, 56)
On Pentecost, the disciples begin to exude a courage and passion that heretofore did not exist. Peter and the others talked a big game throughout the gospels, but now they are more than just talk (which is ironic, I know, because what Peter is mainly doing in this passage is talking). In Acts, the followers of Jesus seem like completely different people. They live with purpose. They know the day matters. They have work to do. The Holy Spirit is animating force. The ikigai awakens.
The Spirit Signals that the Gospel is for Everyone
We rarely wander outside the boundaries of our own cultures. As such, religion tends to be the property of a specific tribe. So when the disciples begin to speak the different languages on Pentecost, it sends the clear message that the followers of Jesus will not be defined by any one culture. Jesus is not just for this one group that looks this way and speaks this specific language. The Gospel is for everyone.
This un-Babeling is important for a variety of reasons. It protects our faith from being tainted by our various cultural mores and prejudices. For example: if the Gospel is for everyone, prejudice disguised as religion is exposed for what it really is. The coming together of culture also helps us to discover different angles and nuances to our faith. You might see something differently than I and we can learn from each other. My faith has been enriched as I have studied the gospel from the context of different languages and cultures; even as recently as discovering the Japanese word ikigai.
The Spirit Unleashes the Creativity that God Placed in Each of Us
Language is not only the literal words of English, Greek, Spanish, or Swahili that an individual speaks. Language is a medium for a message. That means that language is speaking, relationship, art, presence, etc. And different people speak different languages. Some people speak logic. Some people speak compassion. Some people speak old hymn. Some people speak hip-hop. Some people speak poetry. Some people speak a person who helps them move. Some people speak baking cookies.
God has given us the ability to speak to others in this brilliant mosaic of ways. That is something that the church ought to celebrate. This does not mean that every church has to embody all of these ways, but we ought to celebrate it. I firmly believe the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is partly God letting loose the wildly diverse creativity that exists in each of us. And I know people say that they are not creative, but whatever that you are good at is something that can create. You can speak a language that can bring God's grace to someone in this world.
The Spirit Emphasizes the Importance of Community
When the Spirit came, the disciples were all together. This is an important reminder especially as American Christianity has a tendency to be hyper-individualistic. The Act of the Spirit--from a group discovering its purpose to the breaking down of barriers--seems interested in bringing people together. I believe that comes from the simple fact that we need each other. Together we are stronger. The story in Acts is not so much the story of Peter and then Paul. It is the story of a community. Together we live out the way of Jesus, which brings an animating presence to this ghost of a world.