June 4, 2017 – Pentecost Sunday
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
This winter my wife and I spent several weeks visiting the area around the mouth of the Columbia river in Oregon and Washington states. The area reminded us of home in Southeast Alaska. There were three notable exceptions. First, it was warmer than at home. Second, it was snow and ice free. And finally, one of the most attractive differences was the 4.1 mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge that crosses the mighty Columbia.
Before the bridge was constructed, Astoria and Megler were connected by a ferry system. The construction of this link between Oregon and Washington completed the construction of Highway 101. That long, narrow, two lane way has changed the systems of commerce, employment, and social fabric at both ends.
Last January as we drove over that steel span we wondered why it had taken us so long to make this journey. In fact the weather was blowing up a gale and it was a relief to get to the other end. We had grown up in Oregon and had driven to the coast many times. I do remember admiring the bridge from the Astoria end. I had watched its construction from my uncle’s home on the bluff above. And I had been fascinated by the changes the bridge promised. The project was completed in 1966, 14 years before we moved to Alaska. There had been plenty of time and opportunity to make this crossing. But my wife and I had never set tire to the pavement to follow were it would lead. More than fifty years after the completion of that highway, we took the plunge.
There are many highways and byways available to us in life. Most have always been available, unrecognized, and seldom taken. But occasionally a few announce their presence to us with such power and urgency that we can not ignore them. These, we have to respond to in one way or another. Taking them into our lives requires courage, trust, and a decision to open our hearts, followed by our action of setting foot on the path they have opened to us.
This Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate one such ‘high-way.” Most of us know the story. The disciples were hiding out in the upper room, waiting for something. Jesus had instructed them to stay put. He said a gift was heading their way. The gift was the Spirit of God. They had no inkling of the power of what was coming. When the gift arrived the disciples could only report what it was like – not what is was. It began like hearing a gale force wind miles off but approaching rapidly. As quickly as they heard the sound, the room they were in seemed to pressurize and explode with The Spirit. It was like the air was filled with tongues of fire as they breathed it in. The account in the Book of Acts does not record the few seconds after the pressure dissipated and before the disciples stepped outdoors to address the crowd that had gathered at the sound. In that briefest of moments, the hearts of those in that room made the decision to trust the experience and let it into their lives. That gave Peter the power to speak to the crowd as he did.
As the years and eons have passed, many of the followers of Jesus find it increasingly more difficult to open themselves to such an experience. In our time this may be because we know several who have, some of whom seem to have been changed in ways we don’t want to be changed. Few of us want to be the odd-person-out for their kooky Jesus notions in our increasingly anti-religious culture. Yet here we are once again at Pentecost Sunday. Once again we are reminded that the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is foundational to the experience of being a follower of Jesus.
Pentecost is one of those gateways to a new way that keeps returning year after year. This is one “High-way” we need to pay attention to. If the coming of the Holy Spirit truly is a gift from God, and it only seems awkward to us, maybe we need to re-examine our preconceived notions that keep it from being received as a gift. Maybe, day by day, as we open ourselves more fully to the Spirit of that Upper Room, we will find God changing our lives in ways that surprise and delight us.
The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 227)