Sunday, June 9, 2019
By Keara Ette
Birth is miraculous and incredibly messy. I think that anyone present at the birth of another human being can probably attest to this. Fear, elation, pain, and perhaps even frustration accompany the mystery of birth, the mystery of new life. At the birth of each of my sons, I was anxious with excitement. Because even as I had come to expect certain things (each time, I was lucky to have my husband as well as compassionate and competent health care workers there to monitor the health of the baby and me), it was viscerally clear that we were heading into the unknown. Labor had never been exactly like this and most of all – we had never met this human being before.
The first Pentecost – with the tongues of flame revealing the Spirit’s presence hovering over the heads of the disciples – is often considered to be the Birth of the Church. Notably, no documents were signed and no leaders were named and sworn in that day. But with no institution yet developed, the Church was born out of a mission: the Holy Spirit’s entering into the followers of Christ and sending them out to bring the message of Jesus to people of all nations and welcome them into communion with God through Christ. The scene described in the scriptures is one of energy, of movement, of passion, and even of hope.
But with all of this, what we often fail to recognize or imagine is that it must also have been an incredibly messy and even chaotic scene. Filled with the Spirit, these far-from-perfect human beings head into the street to preach the Good News. And yes, they have been given the ability to speak in different languages so they can be understood by the variety of people present there. But nowhere does it say that the hundreds (or thousands) present actually agreed with what they were saying! If we want to treat that first Pentecost as an actual human event in history, we should probably consider that there were likely a few arguments that ensued that day. At least some of the audience must have been shocked or even scandalized by the crazy message of a “Son of God” who died in the most humiliating and degrading way coming back to life to reconcile humanity to the Almighty one.
Imagining the first Pentecost as messy as well as inspiring might help us build the capacity to live in hope: Hope that our current reality might birth justice and mercy. Hope that conservatives and the liberals, the traditionalists and the progressives, the pius believers and the apathetic – we are all passionately and absurdly loved by God. Hope that we might still be the community (fractured and sinful as we are) through whom the redemption of the whole human family might unfold. Because that mission of the church, born at that first Pentecost, is one that calls the believers of Christ to be led by divine grace to transform the world.
Pentecost 2019 must not be a nod to a historical and finite moment from millennia ago. Pentecost today must be a recognition that the messiness of birth goes hand in hand with its mysterious goodness and fruitfulness. Pentecost today must recognize that the Spirit refuses to stop moving, and perhaps she even moves with more force and energy when the earth and all its residents ache and cry out for a new reality to be born.
Keara Ette is the Director of Ministries at Old St. Pat’s.