Pentecost is one of those events that a good preacher is always wondering about. There are lots of opportunities in the readings.
The first reading, for many Christians, prefigures the resurrection. I’m not interested if this is a correct interpretation of the prophet, but it may allow for an interesting shape of what it means to be raised. A few questions come to mind: First, where are the bones from? How did they die? What made them perish? I may discuss how institutions die, stay stable, or thrive.
The passage from acts makes me consider language: how do we learn to understand each other? It reminds me of a book I read on the language of cats and dogs: that they have exact opposite signals when it comes to hunting or being friendly. Yet, some get along. I might discuss the problem of translation – that good translation requires charity. It is enough to understand to get the work done: not to get the sentences perfect. The apostles are given the gift of understanding – not just speaking. Perhaps the holy spirit is not really about being able to speak – but being able to LISTEN. Once we listen then we can practice the words we say.
The gospel. Here are the sentences that hit me: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” What does the world believe about sin and righteousness and judgment? It believes that people deserve the evil they get.
I admit, I find Jesus cryptic here when he says everything that is the Father’s is His and that it will come to us, or the hearers of the gospel. What is the father’s? What is it that will come to us? A feeling of peace? There is a sense that what comes from the father is the divine affection, a sense of wholeness, of being liberated, of not being afraid. How do we find ourselves in this place?
I might also use this time to preach about the nature of being a baptismal community: what does it mean to us? How does it feel? I might have them remember the last time they felt complete joy. The other day I was thanked and appreciated; I heard an inspiring song; one’s wedding. It might be a completely altering experience, like diving into freezing water. A baptized community encourages people to live their passions and share them with one another. I may extend the “song” metaphor: we’re baptized into God’s song….
Another way to look at language: people build language when they work together: sometimes it is more important not to talk, but to make things happen. As people work together, they create a new language.
God happens, the church happens: it is not just an institution – institutionalization may signal the death of the energy in a parish. The church, perhaps, is a catalyst for people making their lives happen.
Now time to go feed people.