Plus ca change…(Pentecost, 2014)

Pentecost Sunday: Everything has changed.

One week ago I was in Waterloo, Ontario, attending the 140th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The weather was beautiful, the company was encouraging, the discussions were engaging, and all seemed right with the world; but all was not well. I had already been told of two tragedies at home – I knew even then that things would never again be just as they were when I left for Ontario. On our return, we were met with the news of more job losses in the county, and the horrifying events in Moncton that resulted in the death of three RCMP officers – Everything had changed.

Now, the conversations around the tragedy in Moncton got me thinking; the language of radical change is in everyone’s speech. We are led to believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg; that measures must be taken; that all this is a sign of our decline as a civilized nation. And I find that I cannot agree.

Our access to events of this nature is easier; we are ‘tuned in’, through our computers and cell phones, to the instant and constant flow of information from the scene. Murder and the resulting machinery of justice have become spectator sports. That has certainly changed. Seventy years ago (today) when the largest battle group ever assembled began an assault on the beaches of the Norman coast, our access to information was restricted by both necessity and the lack of invention. We were not eye-witnesses to the D-day invasion; the general public became experts only after the fact, and our sense of fear or our notions of change were (are) influenced by carefully crafted descriptions of courage and carnage. Such purposefully moderated reports changed the way an entire generation viewed war, duty, sacrifice and honour. We have learned much since then, and not all to our credit.

Change is an unavoidable consequence of the beating of hearts and the drawing of breath. And catastrophic change is a regularly recurring feature of the human experience. What changes most, however, is our response to such violent and heart-rending episodes of change. The changes wrought by war continue to affect politics and economic realities in every corner of the globe. In some places, the battle continues unabated, the reasons renewed by successive generations of combatants. There is no beginning, and seemingly no end to the manner and methods of our distress, but the Christian church has encountered, in every generation of her existence, a radical response to such things.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” so begins the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles – a book which describes the reaction of the (mostly) faithful friends of Jesus to a series of horrific and life-altering events. Things had gone from bad to unbearable with Jesus arrest and execution. Then, an empty tomb, and the appearance of Jesus alive and among them. And fifty days later, the unkindest cut – Jesus is once again taken from them; in glory and light, this time, but taken, nonetheless. And on the day of Pentecost, the festival of celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, there comes a rushing wind, and something like fire from heaven, and the Spirit of God speaks comfort and hope into the situation – and not for the last time, everything is changed.

This spirit still speaks, if we would hear it. It blows into our lives, past the wreckage and the clutter, and draws our attention to the truth in our situation. The Spirit of God is not deterred by tragedy or misery – in fact, it brings new light into such dark places as we have visited in recent days. Pentecost, as described in Acts was not a once and only thing, but a reminder that as long as God’s people face challenge and fear, the Spirit will rattle the doors and shake the foundations and bring our attention to the activity of God in those moments of uncertainty.

The Spirit moves even now to change our focus, to alert us to alternatives. It comes, not in tongues of fire but in that imperceptible nudge that suggests a new path, or that brave idea that you can’t keep to yourself. The spirit was present at the Assembly in the noisy debate and the quiet times of reflection and reconnection among the commissioners. And most important, the Spirit presides over this changing church, here in this changeable world.

Following their encounter with this holy wind, The friends of Jesus could do nothing but praise – they could see nothing but promise. Their situation was no different than it had been the day before, but their eyes had been opened to the power of God – their perspective changed – their behaviour changed.

So our situation seems grim – the world is going to hell in a hand-cart; changes beyond our control are threatening all that we hold dear – yet this is familiar ground for God’s people. We who wait longingly for signs of grace, and are called to live as citizens of the peaceable kingdom should, by now, recognize this pattern. For it is into this pattern of chaos and hopelessness that God’s Spirit is speaking comfort and hope. We know what to look for; we know the power of this gift from God – and not for the first time, we will see everything changed. Thanks be to God! Amen.


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