St John's The United Reformed Church in Northwood

Pentecost Thoughts

I hope this image rekindles thoughts of the sanctuary we call “our church”.

Pentecost comes after the Ascension.  Any vestige of doubt is ended.  Their friend is gone. Yet …
He might as well have ascended into the clouds.  These are days of salvage; rescuing what they can from the debris of the days they thought would never end.   But they did … end.
The days we think are ours always do… end.  Mortality.

And then something odd happens.  Midst all the chaos and doubt, the hurt and raw sense of loss, something touches, not just some, but all.  That’s the wonder of it. All are touched.  And despite their many tongues, their many insights and prejudices, their many hopes and fears, their babbling politics … they all seem to experience something similar.   Something that binds, holds together. Even as some things disintegrate and fall away. Is this the real resurrection moment?  A later, but wiser recognition?   No mere miracle.  Instead healing?

The parallels are not of our imagining; they are real.

For here we are living through a passion in ways none of us anticipated.  At every step of the way, as disciples, in 2020 we relive these events in light of a virus, that affects, infects, us all.  None of us is immune. There is nothing normal about this. Yet it is all deeply normalising. We are recreated as one, equal in our vulnerability. We’ve been more than stirred.  We are shaken.  We wondered what it would take.  Well, now we know!  Perhaps.  It’s ceased to be a nice story if ever it was.  (It never was) 

Like disciples in an upper room, like strangers caught together in a wind that sweeps through the streets … we are shaken.

That first Pentecost was no miracle, no magic bullet.  Their friend was still gone … there was no coming back either. The sham and drudgery of things that predated his birth, and would long outlive his death, were still there.  If anything things were worse.  Remember the fixed trial?  The corruption? The breath-taking injustice of it all?  Occupation of lands and minds? 
Caesars are brutal.  Virulent.

Hey, who said the Gospel obliterates the real news (or Fake News). It doesn’t. 
The Gospel isn’t about being nice. It is about being real; much more risky.

But Pentecost seems to suggest the possibility of finding a way of communicating beyond cynicism, cliché and wishful thinking, or press release and “briefing” or “moving on”.

Pentecost empowers, puts a pulse back into things, into us.  We can feel the heartbeat of things; we remember that we are alive.  So, let’s stop taking being alive for granted.  It really is time to stop that nonsense.  It you feel the pulse in your veins, thank God. Being alive may not be your idea of a miracle, but heck, it sure as the heavens above is my idea of wonderful, a close second!

And, PS:  being alive means you can challenge, hold to account, question. Follow your wildest instincts which are often the truest.  Faith is not about conformity.  Where did that ridiculous concept come from?

“Be not conformed to the ways of this world, but by them, be transformed….!”      Google it!   Paul said it.

Realism

As in any crisis we have now clearly moved beyond our trust in the heroic and, matching the path of our predictable emotional responses, we are now well and truly in the domain of disillusion and critique.  Private Eye is having a field day.  That’s healthy.  And necessary.
Let’s see how funding of our angels and heroes shapes up in the light, or shadows , of recession:

All this hand clapping no longer fits in a world where some have left us cynical, or at least questioning.  Clap hands one day, wash them the next?  Really?  Pentecost bids us get real.
Heck, who needs Pentecost.  Christian love and conscience says: “get real”!  Challenge lies. 

Pentecost gives us the language to critique, to question … yes, to hold to account.  But not just others. That’s easy peasy!  What about us, ourselves?  How are we looking as we dare to think about unlocking tomorrow?  Time to get out the mirror and look at those home haircuts, and other stuff.  
That’s what those first disciples had to ask.  What do we see?  What do we carry to the future and what baggage are we prepared to relinquish and bury, once and for all?

We see in a glass a darkly, but then we recognise:  ourselves!     Yikes!    No place to hide.

I suspect in 2020, that question is falling upon our all our shoulders, not just some.  There is an urgency and yet still, there is a promise:

We can still hear the echo of that promise (or was it a prayer?): I will be with you always … even when you think I’m lost in the clouds of a gathering storm. Even when you don’t like what you see in the mirror.

Patterns

For here is the truly startling thing:

As once Moses went up into the mountains and caught the merest  glimpse of God as God passed by, (which is what God seems far too often to do) he came back down to the valley, and recognised the reality and the mundane reality at that, of God in his life, his journey, even in littered streets.   (They had litter then too)

It’s a pattern that Jesus too would recognise.
All of us have to come back down to earth, often with a bump.

So, Jesus ascends into heaven (whatever that means) is gone into the clouds of unknowing.
Yet back in the temporal world of suns rising and suns setting, hearts opening and hearts breaking, something is understood; slowly but surely, understood.  That unnerving healing.

At Pentecost we are reminded that God has an insatiable appetite not to live remote, self -isolated in the clouds, but to dwell on earth, a place of contagion and pandemic.  That is what the incarnation is all about.  Even when it seems everything could be neatly bundled up and packaged off to the skies, a whole load of stuff falls to the earth, falls upon our shoulders and heads.   Astonishing.  The answers and responsibilities lie down here, not up there! Can you bear the weight of these things?

Today in St John’s I watched in awe as six young men bore the weight of their loss.  They carried their friend’s coffin into the sanctuary.  They laid him down.  Sam sat at the head of the coffin and I was proud that our church in heart and soul was open.

Why do people play looking to the clouds?   Jesus prayed with his eyes wide open looking around, making eye contact and soul contact too.  What have we done for the least of these?  That question rang in my ears today.  The answers are not in the clouds.   They never were.  Jesus knew that.

The Answers my friend; 
They’re blowing in the wind!  The answers are blowing in the wind.

There is nothing tidy or safe about Pentecost.  It turns our worlds upside down, creates havoc; unnerves yet suggests the hope of healing.  It disrespects the idea of “back to normal”.  Faith and normality are very odd companions.

I wonder can our individual, little, parochially trapped churches, denominations, faith traditions hear, far less embrace this rush of the spirit, this voice?  I think Pentecost might be bigger than the URC.  Just a thought!

You know what, it think it’s bigger even than Christianity.  I’m sure of it.

After thought:

Spell check is exasperating.  So too predictive text!
I went to type Penteco..     And it came up with; Pentecosy!

When I look at that window with flames resting on the heads of the few and the many, I see and feel nothing cosy.

There was nothing cosy in church today, but I felt the warmth of human love and compassion. Tears are warm too.  I felt that. And no immediate rush to sanitize, to wash my hands clean of fellow human suffering.

May the disturbing spirit of God chase us all out into the open places of our hearts and minds and the world we serve. Believe.  Imagine.

God’s spirit cannot be locked down, or released gently, step by step!
All or nothing, in love

May Pentecost blow into our lives like a wild goose!

James