The Readings for Pentecost Sunday:
The doors were locked where the disciples were for fear.
This is how I know this is all true: the disciples were locked in a room in fear and in just 30 years they would change the entire world. They said this man died. They said this man rose from the dead. They said they had seen him. They said they had eaten with him. They said he ascended into heaven. One who was even persecuting them had the same vision, and he joined up. He said the same things: This man was killed and is now alive. This man is God. In 30 years they would change the known world. And in less than a hundred and fifty years everything had changed. If they were making it up, if they were delusional, if they were delirious, one of them would have cracked. I know it is an argument from Silence but none of them cracked. Every last one of them died saying the same thing. Eleven of them were killed by various people for saying these things. None of them recanted.
My entire faith rests on the testimony of these 11 men plus one. And they were in a locked room. Hiding in fear.
What changed? What changed at Pentecost?
The image at the head of this post is a stained glass window from my Parish Church in San Francisco. The image shows the 11 Apostles and St Paul standing around looking confused. I think it's perfect. They look like characters from a Jeeves and Wooster novel. They look dazed and confused. some of them have books because they wrote parts of the Bible. And some of them have symbols so that you can know who they are. But most of them are holding in their hands the methods by which they died. Saint Andrew has a cross. Saint Paul has a sword. Another has a club that looks terribly painful. They went from standing around confused too painful death and to preaching the gospel. What changed was the presence of God in their life. I don't mean some abstract “personal relationship with Jesus” here, but rather the indwelling power of God merging in synergistic union with their lives.
Grace builds on nature. The spirit of God reaches in and grabs ahold of you and set everything on fire. The scripture says our God is a consuming fire. What that means is that those parts of you that align with his purpose are set on fire to go out, to expand, to energize everything around you for the preaching of the truth; and those parts that are not aligned with him are burned up - because they were never you to begin with.
God's spirit reached in and grabbed a hold of these 11 men plus Saint Paul and changed not their purpose, not their modus operandi, but their courage. They were no longer locked in a room in fear: they were unlocked, set free, to be themselves as fully as they could be.
Saint Catherine of Siena says if you are the person whom God has intended you to be you will set the world on fire. That is because the person God intended you to be is not “following your bliss” nor on “doing what you love and the money follows, but rather you are intended to be a person who is ravished by God. The person you were intended to be is deeply in love with God, simply enraptured in the creative power of God flowing through you and out into the world. No matter who you are, no matter what your job, no matter what your state in life, that is you. Being that person will make you the best Barista, the best bus driver, the best School Book Depository librarian, the best politician, not at those jobs though. Being that person will make you the best librarian for preaching the gospel. Being that person will make you the best nurse for saving souls. Being that person will make you the best customer service agent for Jesus that there ever was. I don't mean you'll get promoted. In fact, you may as like anyone else, fail from time to time.
Remember Jesus when he spoke to the 12 apostles said, “I will make you Fishers of Men.” I will take your jobs and transform them into preaching the gospel. St Paul continued to make tents to pay his way as he preached the gospel. We in our lives don't have to stop being Librarians and Baristas just to preach the gospel. Rather we have to preach the gospel as Librarians and as Baristas and as DJs and as whatever we are. Pentecost means that some of us are called to ordained Ministry, but all of us are called to spreading the gospel. All of us are sent out from our locked rooms, from our fear, from our hiding to preach the gospel.
I said my faith rested on the testimony of these 12 men. That's true in that these are the foundation stones, but it's not true in that my faith rests on ongoing testimony from many others, including these 12 men, who have seen and heard and met the Risen Jesus. Again, this is not a wishy-washy personal relationship with Jesus moment. This is the indwelling presence of God working in synergistic flow with persons I have met. I have met Jesus in these people. I have met Jesus face to face. This presence cannot be denied nor can it be hidden. This presence can be jailed, but it can never be kept behind locked doors. My faith rests on nothing less than 2000 years of testimony of the Resurrection.
This is Pentecost. Today is Pentecost. The fire descends. Every day is Pentecost. The fire descends continually.