Sunday, May 20
By Vincent Guider
Pentecost is quite intriguing. The Acts of the Apostles accounts of that day describe Jesus’ Disciples as huddled together in a room in Jerusalem because they were afraid and confused. Then, we read, the Holy Spirit descended upon them in powerful signs. There was the sound of a loud rushing wind, tongues of fire appeared above their heads and they began to speak in many foreign tongues. These mystical signs then compelled the disciples to venture out into the streets to boldly bear witness to Jesus’ message. They continued to carry it to Judea, into Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth. On that Day of Pentecost the disciples gained new courage to move beyond their privatized faith and share it out in the world.
If you have ever interpreted that story the way I did for many years you may have missed what I believe is the central message. Always being caught up in the wind rushing, flames burning above the disciples and their many voices uttering different languages all at once, I failed to concentrate on what the scripture was really conveying. The main message is not how powerful God is, it is moreso about God rather insistently saying, “OK disciples, now it’s time for you to leave your comfortable place and do what I’ve prepared you to do on the outside. But don’t worry, I am with you” The wind, fire and multiple voices merely prompted the disciples into action. Ah ha! Pentecost is not as much about the signs; it is more about sending forth. There is important work to be done in the world and we need to go and do it with God’s help.
My supervisor at my first real job pulled me aside one day to talk to me, and the conversation shook my spirit to the core. He said, “Look buddy, it’s time for you to stop piddling around here. Get your ass out of there and go finish your bachelor’s degree like you said you wanted.” Mind you, he was not talking about my donkey. I actually owned a used car at the time, but I digress. Anyway, I took his advice and finally enrolled back in school and finished the program I had started but procrastinated on finishing for an embarrassingly long time. Actually I had to enroll because in addition to my bosses insistence that I go back to school. He also cut my hours for work. Was this a sign? I loved my job but it was not what I should have been doing. Well, in about 18 months I finally graduated, and it was all because of his nudge. I needed that signal to understand it was time for me to get beyond my fear, comfort, and inertia, to do what needed to be done.
Signs tell us where to go and what to do or not do, but the actions are up to us. Sometimes we respond better when we get clues that we should leap into action, broaden our perspective and use our gifts in other places. The way may not always be clear, but God is there to guide us.
Pentecost in Chicago in 2018 calls us to place ourselves in close proximity with God’s people. It prompts us to refrain from clinging to those just like us, cowering and waiting in places familiar and comfortable. There is an urgency that we take to the streets to what we need to do – what Christ asks of us. As Pentecost people, we move beyond notions we hold of only my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my institution, my race, my culture, my age group, my way of thinking and doing things, my title, my money, my security, and instead extend our reach to the wider human family. Pentecost is spiritual summons to kinship. It’s that point at which we consciously place ourselves close enough to those whose voices deeply reveal the pain of their daily life struggles or joy when they describe their victories. We no longer shield ourselves from guilt, shame, or accountability by staying distant. Our sending puts us up close and personal with those who live differently so we may actually see that there is light aglow above and within them and feel the warmth despite what media or others may have negatively conveyed about them. Physical closeness with our sisters and brothers enables us to speak well and listen even better to the diverse, challenging, and liberating messages of truth. Pentecost is about being there with God’s people.
I am in awe of so many at Old St. Patrick’s who see and respond to the signs of the times. You recognize social injustices and human need, so you leave what could be familiar, huddled places and go to the margins of our city as Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ exhorts. You walk with the poor. You comfort the suffering and outcast. You encourage those whom others deem unworthy. You actively support works of compassion and progress. You contribute what you can. You are truly Pentecost people.
Many thanks to those who spend so much time away from Old St. Patrick’s to be with people in other communities. We are especially grateful to those worshipping in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Pentecost Sunday at St. Agatha Catholic Church, Lawndale Community Church, Greater Love Church of God in Christ, and Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church. These four congregations appreciate you very much. You being present to them is like the blowing wind reminding us of God stirring in our midst. You see the light glowing above and within our sisters and brothers in other neighborhoods and cultures. Your compassionate voices and hearing ears give reverence to the prophetically diverse message of Christ we are all called to share with one another so we may be mutually transformed. You are Pentecost’s signs today. You are a blessing to God’s people.
Vincent Guider is Director of the North Lawndale Kinship Initiative at Old St. Patrick’s Church