What happens to a person when the Holy Spirit descends like a tongue of fire? In Acts, those present were filled with the Holy Spirit. We all long for this. We all seek fulfillment. I saw this once when I was conducting a spiritual retreat for members of various 12-step groups. Each person spoke powerfully about how the pain of emptiness in his life had led him down wayward paths. Each had discovered that “you can never get enough of that which will not satisfy.”
On the first day of my vacation, I went fly fishing on the Yellowstone River in Montana and caught nothing but a couple of branches. That might have been because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I didn’t know whether to use flies that float (dry flies) or flies that sink (wet flies). I didn’t now how I should work them in the water. Should I just let them drift with the current, or use a fast or slow retrieve? I didn’t know which areas of the river would be most productive in terms of holding actively feeding fish. Did I mention that it had been 20 years since the last time I was fly fishing? The next day, that all changed when a good friend took me fishing.
We need to be reminded, as we celebrate Pentecost, that the Spirit is always much bigger and more "other" than we normally think.
Our reformer ancestors would be appalled by some of the small traditions of joy and triumph that have crept into the Christian celebration of Pentecost. We’ve added trumpet blasts to mimic the great sound of the wind of the spirit, we wave red streamers on bamboo rods, raise clouds of red and white balloons, and even nibble on birthday cakes for the church. We want to signal “Tada!” We made it!
Inevitably, in the course of a pastoral career, one encounters that person—the spouse of an active member, or an avid golfer—who claims not to need to attend weekly services because “I can worship God in nature.” Possible comebacks range from mild to sarcastic, but they rarely make any impression. A better question is whether the assertion is correct.
George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, said that in order to form community, people must be engaged in a “demanding common task.” In his case the task was to rebuild the accommodation areas of Iona Abbey. The group that he led included people with considerable formal education, as well as people with little education. These men and women formed community out of purpose and in difficult conditions; they shared what they had and learned from each other. They built with stone and with their lives, even though they could not know what the results of their work would be.
"When the Counselor comes!" What was Jesus trying to tell us? His words came after an embarrassing incident. When none of us disciples was willing to wash someone else's feet, Jesus did it. Our rabbi and leader. Not until much later would we understand what he was doing; on that night we could only listen and try to make sense of his words.
In the original Christian Pentecost are seeds of a universalist impulse, a catholic principle.