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Pentecost Dove

An Upper Room Experience

Pentecost, historically celebrated 50 days after Easter as the birthday of the church, is a “feast of the mysterious movement of God,” according to Joyce Rupp. In her book, May I Have This Dance, she says, “Each year it is an invitation to be attentive once more to God’s presence in our lives.”

Fire and wind have been the dominant symbols of Pentecost, of the movement of the Spirit, thanks to the story in Acts 2 about the great whoosh of wind and  tongues of flame that heralded the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Think about these metaphors for a moment and the characteristics of wind and fire. Fire and wind can both be destructive, dangerous, fearsome and agents of change. A fire can clear a forest for miles, but that simply makes way for new growth. A wind is felt and heard, but not seen. And both can also be gentle and soothing.

The choir sand a song yesterday called "Soul on Fire" which got me thinking. What does it mean to be "on fire" for God?

The story is told of a volunteer fireman who heard the siren and raced into action only to discover that the fire was in the Methodist church, of which he was a member, though he never attended. He and the other firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze. As they were cleaning up, the pastor came around to thank them for their efforts. When he saw the volunteer fireman, he said, “Joe, I know you’re a member of our church, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen you here.” Joe replied, “Yeah, well this is the first time I’ve ever seen this church on fire!”

Yesterday we talked about what it would look like to be "on fire for God" as a church or an individual. We agreed that being on fire connotes being alive, excited, open to change, forward looking, not boring, reaching out, trying new things and risking.

I think this is what happened to those disciples who were hiding out in that upper room - they caught on fire spiritually. This Upper Room Experience, complete with wild rushing winds and flames, changed everything. They came alive, found their voices to speak out about their experiences with Jesus and the things they were taught, they were bold, they risked, they seemed fearless.

I believe we all have Upper Room Experiences, though perhaps our wind is more like a soft breeze and our flames are more like flickers… but if we’re paying attention, they will empower us to move out of our safe places, or our comfy chairs, and bring us to life. They will drive us to action and lead us to change.

Sacred Journeys was created out of an Upper Room experience, though that fire was more like a 6 alarm fire, burning everything in its path and forcing change. Two brave, strong women were caught on fire first and then brought the rest of us along.

Sometimes the examples are much smaller. When I was ordained a probationary United Methodist pastor in 1997 part of the ceremony was a laying on of hands by the bishops and two already ordained clergy that you’d invited to stand with you. I went through the ceremony and then stood to watch the rest of my new colleagues being ordained. One friend, a man named Brian, went up for his turn and I noticed that he only had one other clergy join him. I looked around quickly hoping someone was stepping forward, but when they didn’t I felt compelled to move back up and place a hand on his shoulder for the blessing. I didn’t think too deeply about it at the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do, and I hoped I hadn’t been presumptuous. Months later when I saw him again, he had a gift for me. It was a three wooden doves cut out of wood, and flying downward as if descending, attached with small dowels to a base. He told me that he had had someone else who was going to stand with him and was very disappointed when something happened at the last minute and they weren’t able to be there. He shared how important and meaningful it had been that I’d stepped in and that he had another person there to support him.

If we believe that the Spirit is with us at all times, it stands to reason that she is nudging (or pushing) us all the time. Sometimes we heed these nudges, and sometimes we ignore them or don’t recognize them, and sometimes we plant our feet firmly in place because we don’t want to change and don’t want to risk. Many pastors I knew resisted the call to ministry for years before giving in to the Spirit. But, she is relentless. 

Upper room experiences can also be interior experiences. Joyce Rupp tells a story about giving a retreat for a number of ministers. One of them had come in to talk with her about his spiritual journey. From their past conversations she knew he was keenly aware that his spiritual life was mainly an intellectual one, that he felt safe and secure when he kept his faith in his head. He didn’t allow his feelings or his intuition to have much effect on his spiritual growth. He realized this and knew that he needed to experience God in his heart as well. But he held tightly to his intellectual approach for the control it offered – no surprises, no chaos. During the retreat he struggled with letting go and surrendering to God.

When they met for their conference the minister spoke of his mediation on Romans 5:5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” As he described being astounded at the generosity of God’s goodness, he paused and took a deep breath. Suddenly the reality of God’s goodness touched his heart. It was a complete surprise to him. He exclaimed, “Ah!” Then he sat quietly and tears began streaming down his cheeks. The rushing wind had penetrated his heart and he was overcome with the power of God’s abundant love.

There is a time for contemplation and quiet solitude. There is a time for seeking safety and taking time to regroup and refresh. But I don’t think that the Spirit wants us to stay in those places forever. I believe she wants us listen for the wind and watch for the flames and then follow where they lead… to strength, to justice, to compassion, to reaching out, to growing within, to being a light, to finding courage. We always have the choice to heed and accept or not. It’s risky. Sometimes it might even be scary, but with a little trust we’ll find we walk with a worthy companion and I think we'll be surprised, awed and grateful for the companionship on the journey.

Love & Light!