05/28/2023 ~ Day of Pentecost ~ *Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39 ~ Memorial Day Weekend ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/831595496
“…suddenly they heard what sounded like a rushing violent wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house where they were sitting. ” — Acts 2:2
Tom entered Bangor Theological Seminary a year after I did. He was about my age, in his forties. He was married and he and his wife had two young children.
In most institutions there is a tendency to take nubies, new folks, the uninitiated under wing, to mentor, to nurture. And at this point, more than a year into my studies, while I had not seen it all, as those things go I was an old hand.
I took Tom under my wing. Besides, what was there not to like about Tom? Gregarious, gentle, he had a quick wit, an easy smile. Like me, he had seen life, had been around the block couple of times. (Slight pause.)
Less than two weeks into the term my phone rang. It was Tom. He was blunt. “Joe, get over here.” (Slight pause.)
That was strange. Not, “Hi, Joe. How are ya’?” not, “Can I see you for a minute or two?” Just, “Joe, get over here.” It had to be a big problem. I went right to his place.
Tom had just started a class students at Bangor Seminary nicknamed “Baby Bible.” It’s a course which deals with what’s actually in Scripture as opposed to what many people think is in Scripture.
It presented basic information like Moses did not write the Torah, the first five books in the Bible, that in the Torah there are four documents, written at different times over the course of about five to six hundred years. These separate pieces are then woven together into something like what we might recognize today.
Tom was shocked and Tom was in shock to learn about this. A person of deep faith, he had been active in his church, been a deacon, a trustee, a moderator, chaired a Pulpit Committee. Now in these first weeks in Seminary he was having a crisis of faith.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, instead of trying to console him, I poured more gas on the fire. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” I said. “Right now, you’re only looking at the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures in class. Wait until you get to the New Testament.”
“You know the letters of Paul?” I said. “Paul did not write all the ones credited to him. And the Gospels are not the earliest writings in the New Testament. The true letters of Paul, the ones actually written by Paul, were all written before any of the Gospels.”
“The first Gospel recorded,” I continued, “was Mark, not Matthew, and that happened at least thirty years after Jesus was raised. Also, even though the Gospel of John separates Luke from Acts in today’s Bible, Luke and Acts are two volumes of one book written at the same time. All this has been pretty common knowledge for a long, long time.” (Slight pause.)
“Why,” asked Tom, “why have I never heard this before? Why have I never heard anyone say this from the pulpit?”
There he had me stumped. I had heard, read, learned about all these widely known facts when I was a Sophomore in High School. Unlike Tom, I had heard my pastors talk about this from the pulpit way before I entered Seminary.
Finally I said this to Tom: “The Bible is not a rabbit’s foot. Many people treat it like it is; rub it and get your wish. They try to get out of it only what they think they see, as if they were trying to impart it with some magic power.”
“But it is the Word of God, not a rabbit’s foot. It is inspired by God and it is transmitted through frail human vessels.”
“The people who wrote Scripture were like you and me, people who lived in specific times and places who did what they could to be faithful to God daily and to go the places to which God called them daily, do the things God called them to do daily.”
“They knew they were imperfect vessels. We also need to recognize they did not think they were writing Scripture when they wrote. They were merely trying to write about their experience of the presence of God, what it felt like.”
“For me, knowing this background helps the Bible come alive. It deepens my faith to know God worked among these folks who were just like us— less than perfect.” (Pause.)
These words are from Luke/Acts in the section called Acts: “…suddenly they heard what sounded like a rushing violent wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Pause.)
Today, Pentecost, is the traditional day for the Rite of Confirmation. Over the years at different times I’ve worked with young people as they prepare for the Rite of Confirmation. I also recommend adults join with them in this because Confirmation is not just some teenage rite of passage, though many treat it that way.
In fact, I think adults should have the experience, go through the process which leads up to the rite of Confirmation every 15 to 20 years. Why? The goal of the process is to help someone to continue to grow and to strengthen and to deepen their faith.
So learning about Scripture in the course of the process is of great importance, Tom being an example of that. But the goal is not to just learn about Scripture.
The goal is to develop a toolbox, a way to help the person who goes through the process to cope during times when there is a crisis of faith. And at some point everyone has a time when their faith is tested.
As to the tools, I suggest participants think about several basic questions— not to answer the questions but think about the questions. The questions include but are not limited to: in what social context do I live? Put differently, who am I? Where do I live, small town, large city, in what State, in what country?
Next, what social context do others, who are not like me, experience? What is their experience of life?
Next, what is the church? Is it a club of friends or is it more expansive than that? That should lead to this question. How does the church fit into my life, fit into the social context of this community. How does the church fit into the social context of the world? (Slight pause.)
These questions are tools and there can be and probably are other questions. Also, the answers are not static— they can change. So the questions constantly need to be explored. Why? These question are tools but they also need to be versatile.
And like most tools, you need to keep them oiled, clean and use them. If they are kept, oiled, cleaned and used regularly then, when you hit a crisis, they will be there in the toolbox, waiting and ready. (Slight pause.)
The reality is, we all have times of crisis. There are all kinds of reasons for these from loss of a job to loss of a loved one. Crises are real. If you have nowhere to turn, nothing on which to fall back, no tool to use when crises hit, you’re left floundering, unsure of what to do, unsure of faith can help. (Slight pause.)
Let’s come back to this passage from Acts. I think our tendency is to concentrate on what seems to be magical in it— tongues of fire, speaking and hearing in a multitude of languages. But it is not meant to be read as magical.
The rushing wind indicates the reality of God is present. And one thing we fail to realize is no one is excluded from this display of the grace of God, the presence of God. Everyone is included at Pentecost.
In order that not even the least astute miss the inclusiveness of the moment, the names of places from which people who are listening live lists a wide area in the Greco-Roman world. What happens at Pentecost is, thus, no inner mystical magic experience, but an outpouring of the energy of God that can touch every life.
And yes, the Spirit does move; the Spirit is present. But God is not coercive. God does not force us to cooperate with the movement of the Spirit. Even if they did not realize it, the time the disciples were with Jesus was when they got their tools ready.
So it seems important to me that we get the tools we need, tools which will help us live life to the best of our ability. This might also help us know we are imperfect vessels who are simply striving to do the will of God. In short, it is imperative for us is to use our tools to work with and to cooperate with the Spirit. (Slight pause.)
And oh yes— Tom— what happened to Tom? Well, I guess you could say he did O.K. working with the Spirit, striving to listen to the call of God and to walk on the paths God might have him walk. Right out of Seminary Tom was called to serve as a Pastor at a church in Connecticut and stayed there until he retired. Praise be to God. Amen.
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “Two things: first, I try to impress on confirmands is that this is the Rite of Confirmation, confirming faith. So it is not about conformation, not about conforming. Indeed, we Christians need to be about confirmation, affirmation, not about being the same, conformation. Second, I think the reading indicated this. This is what I sometimes say: God loves everybody. What part of everybody don’t we understand?”
BENEDICTION: Let us acknowledge our many gifts. Let us seek to use them for the common good. Let us commit ourselves as people of action. God, the creator, is at work in our midst. The Holy Spirit is present to us. Jesus, the Christ, lives among us. Let us go from this worship to continue our worship with work and witness. And may the peace
of Christ, which surpasses our understanding keep our hearts, minds and spirits centered on God, this day and forevermore. Amen.
 This analysis is found in The Interpreter’s Bible: the Electronic Edition in the section about this reading. Needless to say, this has the same information as the printed version.