Pentecost’s Aural Lessons

Acts 2:1-21Pentecost – for Sunday, May 15, 2016

“Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2)

Illustration by Jessamyn Jade Rubio*
Illustration by Jessamyn Jade Rubio*

We were hunkered in a Wisconsin basement, watching water gush through the edges of a closed window. A summer storm raged, its straight-line winds** later calculated at 100mph. No tornado ever developed, but the brief ferocity caused destruction across our region. While the rain penetrating every miniscule fissure and flaw in the window’s frame was unnerving, the outside sound seemed worse.

The wind mimicked the proverbial roar of a freight train. It was as if individual cracks of thunder coalesced into a steady, unrelenting blur of noise. Louder became louder became louder.

The storm rampaged past our rented condo and neighborhood. Suddenly the basement filled with an eerie, startling . . .


My wife and I had scooped up our two cats with surprising ease in anticipation of the storm. Now they nervously meowed from a basement corner. Like us, maybe they wondered it there’d be more, and worse, in the next seconds.

It was over.

But I kept hearing the seconds-that-felt-like-hours roar, as if all creatures in creation were screaming at the top of their lungs.

+     +     +

In the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus’ disciples were more a band of uncertain stragglers, it was sound that first announced their shift into a community of faith seeking to transform the world.

Pentecost may be the least of the major celebrations in the Christian church, a shy sister compared to its brash and flashy Christmas and Easter siblings, but it helps recall an inexplicable, extraordinary event.

My friend Gail Tanquary made the robe for me . . . stitch by stitch.
My friend Gail Tanquary made the robe for me . . . stitch by stitch.

However, in past writing and preaching, I’ve emphasized the visuals. Worship teams I’ve lead decorated churches with flames. Orange and red and yellow banners dangled above the pews. Early in my ministry, a dear friend made me a robe specifically for Pentecost. With too much vanity and barely enough humility, I wore her gorgeous gift for the church’s annual “birthday bash.” I wanted folks in the pews to see, to have their eyes wide open to the flames of faith.

Sound, however was first; a roaring and rumbling soon followed by voices. If flames stirred the eyes, it’s the noise of myriad languages that shook the souls of those Jerusalem visitors when the backwater, country-cousin Galileans expressed words they each understood.

Hear a reader in church stumbling over the lengthy Acts of the Apostles list of locations: Parthians, Medes, Elamites . . .

Hear the derision about, and accusations of, drunkenness.

Hear Peter (again) quoting the ancient text of the prophet Joel.

Sounds define Pentecost.

Sounds define us in myriad moments of creation and chaos.

+     +     +

What parents aren’t attentive to the sound of their newborn? How many modern moms and dads, maybe with a baby monitor, maybe with the baby sharing the room, have listened to the gurgling of their child and smiled before their own sleep? How many have listened to the absence of sound from a crib and been gripped with fear?

What lover doesn’t revel in the sound from the only other human on the face of the earth who best pronounces her or his name? We say someone can be a sight for sore eyes, but your sweet name whispered by a lover causes us to swoon. And when that voice is stilled, by anger or illness or death, the silence is a stab to the heart.

Sounds surround us. Traffic noise is bothersome. Commercials on television, regardless of what network executives claim, are amped up to disturb the viewer. The neighbor’s lawnmower may irk you on a Saturday afternoon, but the same machine volume at just past sunrise is the bellow of a beast. Car alarms clang. Electronic chirps and beeps interrupt meetings. Our days hum and drum and thrum and strum and it seems we’ll never escape the aural assaults.

The first Pentecost was raucous and voluminous, the Holy Spirit as storm warming. It sure wasn’t Elijah’s “still small voice of God” at the mouth of the cave. In the room where Acts said the disciples gathered, there wasn’t an articulate Holy Voice declaring Jesus, or anyone else, as “beloved” . . . like John the Baptizer and the shore-huggers once heard by the Jordan.

+     +     +

With Kynzi at our Canine Good Citizen class: greeting another dog owner.
With Kynzi at our Canine Good Citizen class: greeting another dog owner.

My dog is taking a Canine Good Citizen class. Kynzi and I must pass 10 different tests for official approval. There are the standard commands of sit and down and sit-stay. She also must be comfortable with others, including a “stranger” grooming her with a brush.

One of her challenges will be to NOT react to abrupt sounds.

The instructor will unexpectedly drop metal dishes or trays onto the floor. Will the dog remain calm?

Sweet Kynzi, equally cute and devilish, doesn’t appear bothered by loud noises. For example, some pets scamper away from the grumbling, sucking sounds of a vacuum cleaner. Not Kynzi. She remains as if supervising our household chores. And so, in her first practices with the sound test, she acted nonchalant while a tin can clattered onto a metal tray. No big deal.

But I suspect the roar of Pentecost would have caused even her to huddle in the corner like our cats in that long-ago Wisconsin storm.

+     +     +

The divine sound of Pentecost, if only for a moment that may have seemed an hour, disturbed everyone.

But what truly made a faithful difference were the next sounds.

People speaking . . . and people understanding each other.

Words spoken, words understood.

In past Pentecosts, I donned a fancy robe, a fiery visual symbol of newly formed community. And yet to keep a community together, to keep the divine wind blessing each individual, let the next sounds be voices that comfort and love and forgive and strive, with whatever language, to be understood.

Let us talk.

Let us listen.

Some may wish for the pyrotechnics, put my prayer is for helping another hear—again and again—how lovely and loved they are. Let the roar of Pentecost continue with our next healing or hopeful words.

*Pentecost illustration by Jessamyn Jade Rubio from Duke University’s Faith and Leadership online magazine. Used with permission of Ms. Rubio.

Midwestern storm soon to create straight-line winds . . .
** Example of a Midwestern storm soon to create straight-line winds . . .
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  1. Dear Larry, you clatter my imagination with the colour and turn me to prayer. With gratitude and respect.

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