"Hello. Good morning, everyone. Nice to see all of you. It is a pleasure to be here. [feedback from microphone] woops! Pete, would you turn down the gain in the back? Thanks. Well, it is really great to be here. Now I just want to acquaint you with this year's program. We are going to really wake up this little church! Are you excited? [scattered applause] My name is the Holy Spirit. In a few moments, you are going to hear the sound of a rushing wind, and little tongues of flame are going to descend on each of your heads. Then you are going to be able to preach the gospel in all kinds of different languages. Does that sound like fun? And don't forget, when it's over, we have a nice potluck supper for you, so y'all come back. Now, there have been some concerns about the tongues of flame. Just let me assure you that they are purely symbolic. You will barely notice they are there. And the rushing wind is really going to be more of a zephyr. We discussed this at our meeting last week and decided that 5 miles an hour was good enough to get the point across. So use your imaginations. Besides, we don't want to knock over any of that delicious punch and cookies the ladies of the church worked so hard to prepare. So, are there any questions? Oh, yes, I nearly forgot. Pete is going to make a speech afterward. Have you decided what language you are going to address the crowd in yet, Pete? I'm sure we'll have lots of interpreters. Well, let's have at it, then!"
If you are familiar with the story of Pentecost as told in the 2nd chapter of the book of Acts, you know that isn't exactly the way it happened. I've adapted it for the Methodist church in the 21st century, or maybe the 19th, or the 20th. Even if you aren't Methodist, you might recognize it as what would happen if Pentecost were to come to a little church near you.
I find some amusement writing about our local Pentecost celebration each year. Our church has a committee that plans our traditional worship services, and every year for Pentecost they try to do something special. For the past five years or so, it is generally been close to the same thing, involving a kind of recreation of the original story, with different languages being spoken, and flame colored streamers, or banners, or persons being asked to wear flame colored clothing to church. One year we processed into the church to a really jazzy rendition of "Come, Creator Spirit" composed by a Dutch organist a couple of years ago that I found online. Sometimes we even try to get the sound of the wind in there--not always convincingly.
This usually occurs at the start of the service, and often leads into, or comes out of, the opening voluntary. Last year it happened during the handshaking that occurs before the service, and the idea was to just suddenly have all of these languages pop out of nowhere and unexpectedly take over. Our pastor, being Methodist, pretty much told everybody what was going to happen ahead of time, but it still took some people by surprise, including a woman on our committee, who expressed concern at this year's meeting that it hadn't been sufficiently prepared last year. I tried to explain that that had actually been the point, but...you know. Surprises are exactly what we are trying to avoid when we go to church.
When I got home I looked up the Pentecost story again, just to make sure I remembered it right, and sure enough, the people at the original "happening" were "amazed" and "perplexed" and asked one another "what does this mean?" Apparently they did not think to be annoyed at the event planner for insufficiently explaining to everyone what was happening ahead of time.
And, of course, surprise is relative. If you know the story, and if you've been around the church for a while, and you know it is Pentecost, and you suddenly hear people speaking in different languages, how much of a shock is that, really? It depends, I suppose, if you are one of those kids in Sunday school who didn't remember that the answer to every question was "Jesus" or you only go to church once or twice a year and don't know much about this Pentecost thing. I mean, it does only happen once a year, so I'll give you that.
And Pentecost is a largely unknown holiday among the general population. It is the birthday of the Christian church, which makes it a pretty major event within the church, but in the world at large it isn't recognized. That's probably because it is a Christian takeover of a Jewish holiday, rather than a pagan one, which would give it more name recognition. The merchants haven't picked up on it yet, either, and unlike Christmas or Easter, with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, there is no Pentecost Pete giving away candy or toys to our children, so, shorn of anything not church-related, a lot of people have no idea it happens at all. It doesn't happen during any major change of the seasons, either, like solstice or the spring or autumn equinox (Easter and Halloween get those, more or less), marking the transitions of the climate and the ends of the growing season, and changes in our behavior as a result of living on this mercurial planet. In short, it's just itself, which isn't enough if you want to get the attention of the vast masses of humanity, who aren't going to pay attention to something unless it is on fire, blinking, or promises a lot for virtually nothing. An abstract holiday with no presents or silly customs you can do with your kids? It's a wonder it's still around. Even if few of us make much of it.
But Pentecost is getting fairly predictable around here, so, when another committee member offered this year that we've been concentrating on the "chaotic" elements of Pentecost for the last several years and maybe it was time to dial it back a little, I didn't protest. We've had a pretty good run, after all. Last year, I think we even managed to get people to speak in the different languages ALL AT ONCE! instead of politely waiting their turn so that languages were spoken one at a time in an otherwise silent room. It was pretty crazy, man! It took a while (as in a few years) to get people to realize that the Holy Spirit isn't just a gentle dove (that's how He appears at Christ's baptism, but not at Pentecost) and to overcome the natural inclination to make every event in the Christian calendar seem nice and pretty and gentle and soothing and predictable and calm. But we did it. The door may be closing on that, but, for a group of church folks, that was a stretch. And it happened. So I guess we can go back to doing things "decently and in order."
So if the Holy Spirit reads our blogs: please try not to do anything unexpected at our church this year. We've been stretched enough for one decade. No new songs, or new plans, or re-visioning for us for a while. We're just going to enjoy things the way they are.
But I can't speak for the folks down the street. They're Lutheran, so I probably wouldn't get too wild with them, either, but you never know....