Lots of churches will make a lot of noise this Sunday morning, perhaps because in the story from Acts, most people thought the disciples, having been filled with the Holy Spirit, were making a lot of noise.
But what if the heroes of this Pentecost story were not the magically multilingual apostles who were making all that noise? What if it was the “devout Jews” who were listening? What they heard was not meaningless noise. They heard a message being spoken to them — in their own language. They understood.
Perhaps the folks modelling “church” in this story is not the apostles but the “devout Jews.” And maybe the story means that as church we should be listening at least as much as we are proclaiming. At least as much. And maybe more.
Think of all those who currently fit the biblical category of “stranger, widow and orphan” and whose cries for help have been dismissed by the powers that be as meaningless noise.
Maybe we as church should be listening and understanding at least as much as we are proclaiming. And maybe more.
Family members tell stories of sitting beside a loved one nearing death and hearing what sounds like a conversation he or she seems to be having with someone not in the room. We may recognize a name or phrase or rhythm of speech – but the rest, the specifics, the words, are beyond us. Our loved one is in a liminal space: in between, not quite here and not quite there. They are taking their leave of our world and we cannot call them back. It is a sad and lonely moment.
The readings of the next two weeks evoke that liminal moment. We recognize familiar sounds – the teachings of Jesus and the biblical images of lambs and shepherds and light — but the specifics are pretty jumbled and confusing. Not to worry. Remember the Gardener talking to Mary outside the empty tomb: “do not hold on to me.” This is a liminal moment for Jesus and for us. We know that we need to let go.
This coming Thursday is Ascension Thursday. While not to be taken literally, the Ascension is a good way for us to “let go” so that we can get on with what comes next in our lives. If we have been sheep, it is time for us to be shepherds. If we have been observers, it is time for us to become artists. If we have been disciples, it is time for us to become apostles. It is time for us to become, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the church.
Pentecost will be here in two weeks. In the era before Vatican II, some Protestant churches used to call the six months which began with Pentecost “The Year of the Church.” Today, many Protestant churches follow the Roman nomenclature and simply call the Sundays after Pentecost “Ordinary Time,” making the Sundays after Pentecost sound like a time when nothing special is happening*.
I prefer the old name — “The Year of the Church” — because in fact, with the arrival of Pentecost, something very special should be happening — nothing less than the Church being renewed, inspired, refreshed and redirected.
We are in a liminal space liturgically for the next two weeks – Easter 6 and 7. So we can all be thinking and praying together about what a Pentecostal, spirit-led church would do and be now. Not “What Would Jesus Do”, but now, in our world, “What would, could, should the church do?”
* The term “ordinary” was not originally meant to indicate Sundays which were insignificant or “unspecial.” The term meant that certain Sundays of the church year were identified by “ordinal” numbers.