A Spirit That Is Not Safe

Acts 2:1-21 – Pentecost Sunday – for Sunday, June 8, 2014

“And suddenly from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind . . .” (Acts 2:2)

“Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012”
“Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012”

On Pentecost, God’s spirit unsettled Jesus’ disciples.

A wind. The fire. Those flames. Many voices. Simple folk that likely couldn’t read or write more than their own name and snippets from the Torah began to speak—with clarity and authority—“foreign” languages.




Since Pentecost—oft called the birth of the Christian community—we of the Christian tribe have institutionalized unsettledness.

On Pentecost Sunday, the preacher strides toward the pulpit. It is, right now, the scariest place in her visible and invisible world.

Before delivering the “good news,” she will read the scripture. The congregation already knows what she’s chosen because it’s listed in the worship bulletin, the web page, the twice-monthly newsletter and currently displayed on the projection screen.

Did she choose the “usual” Pentecost reading, with the “sound of a violent wind” from Acts where all the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit?”

Was the Gospel lesson chosen, where the author of John had Jesus declare, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit . . .?”

Perhaps the preacher desired Paul’s insights in the first Corinthian correspondence, where the apostle mused on, “Varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord.”

If risking an Old Testament lesson on this most Christian of celebrations, she was on the verge of quoting the 104th Psalms, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created . . .” (You being God and They being us humans.)

And yet, as I said, everyone (including the preacher) already knows the scripture. Given the four Biblical choices, it’s safe to say she’ll read about, and then preach about, God’s spirit.

TheLonelyFrenchChurchBut will it be safe?

If she clutches the Bible in one hand, the manuscript for her sermon is in the other. Or maybe she grips a few unobtrusive index cards, each with sparse notes to help recall a key point (or with a pithy saying writ in large letters because she didn’t want to muddle the Anne Lamott or Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote). It’s possible her other hand is empty because she doesn’t use a manuscript. All that will be said has been practiced—even memorized—for the moment when she dares to preach.

Now she’s at the pulpit. She opens the Bible to the spot she marked with a Post-it note. The words—those scheduled words—rest on a page. The font is clear. Each verse has an assigned number. Margins are straight. If she needs to turn the page, she’ll wet a finger from habit, and flip from one smooth piece of paper to the next.

God’s spirit, she reads.

It’s like a flowing river or a flashing flame. There are a variety of gifts and creation continues to unfold. God’s spirit, the scripture too calmly, too politely reveals, is unleashed, untamed and unruly.

Will they listen out in the pews? Do they lean forward in the chairs?

They have broken hearts and broken marriages. They have cancer and are in debt. They are lonely and can’t remember the last time someone said I love you to them. They fret about a child’s grades. They fret about being in the next wave of downsized employees. They are pregnant and want to be. They are pregnant and fear their life is ruined. They grieve. They doubt. They hurt. They wish they felt something. They are weary of feeling overwhelmed.

The preacher closes the Bible. The word that is not safe has been safely read. Even if their lives depended on it, some of those in the pews and chairs couldn’t recall a single verse that had just been read. They wanted more. They needed more.

In the high-ceilinged sanctuary, a few cough. Throats are cleared. A child cries. A door slams shut. The air conditioning rumbles on. Sunlight splashes though stained glass and paints red on a wall, there and then gone. An overhead light flickers.

The preacher prays.

Now the sermon.

6a01156fa3482e970c013483605ae5970c-piIt’s Pentecost Sunday. The five or five hundred in the pews wonder what she will say? She has them, expectant, for perhaps a minute. How eager they are, even the ones that appear bored or distracted. Can she say anything that matters? Can she say anything to make the day better or at least less worse? What can touch the hard heart? What can heal the wounded soul? What can rouse the weary mind? What can inspire the hungry spirit?

Will she unsettle them?

I hope so. It’s her job, even though she is as fearful and weary as the ones waiting for the word.

And it’s your job too, whoever you are. And mine. Every encounter with another, in the sanctuary or on the sidewalk, is a Pentecost sermon, an unsettling opportunity where one person dares to be honest. Dares to trust a spirit that is not safe, and that calls each one of us, with our variety of gifts, to invite the flame of hope into our relationships.

(Pentecost drawing from here; church from here; person in pew from here.)

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  1. Hi Larry, I love these words of yours:”They have broken hearts and broken marriages. They have cancer and are in debt. ” Wow, honesty and truth join hands. I often sense that folk are wanting something that speaks to the heart. You put it so well and cause me to pause for thought. I also like the idea that they were enabled to hear, each in their own way…do I enable others to hear or be heard? Thanks so much Larry for your broken bread of honesty and truth. Sincerely, Marc

    1. Thanks, Marc.

      I assume everyone wants to hear a sermon speak to their heart, even those that think they don’t!

  2. Thanks for this reflection on Pentecost. It was a most genuine and creative approach, very intimate and yet universal at the same time. May I have permission to use some of the material in my sermon on July 8 at Rossmore. Your reflection helped me to refocus my sermon. You have a gift of being able to not only inspire but help others find their own insights. Great job! Cheers, John

    1. John:

      Please use if you desire. I send these words out onto the web, hoping they will help others. I hope your sermon goes well.

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