Smoldering Ashes

Acts 2:1-21; watch the video here

When the day of Pentecost arrived,
they all met in one room.

Like a movie,
Pentecost is filled with fantastical activity:
winds roar; flames dance;
foreign words fly from people’s mouths.

Yet, what wows me today
is that the group all met in one location.

Another translation reads,
When the day of Pentecost arrived,
they were all together in one place.

This feels miraculous.

It occurs to me that this Pentecost
is the first hybrid Pentecost that we have celebrated
since the pandemic began.
All the others were online only.
This feels special.

Today we gather physically across space via Zoom
and in person in the church building.

We have gathered.
Yet, life is not the same as it was
the last time there was an in-person Pentecost service here in 2019.

So much has been lost. Lives due to age. Violence. Sickness.

What is true for us is true for the disciples.
As they gather in the upper room,
life is different from their previous times in that room.
They remember a time when all of them, and Jesus, too,
gathered in the upper room for a last supper.
They ate. Talked. Drank in the presence of one another.
Then, they lost what was dear: Jesus killed.
Judas turned traitor and abandoned ship.

Now, they are left with questions:

What do we do?
We who remain.

There’s a sense of emptiness
A vacuum.
Life as they know it has burned to the ground.
Years of following Jesus.
Years of traveling around the country.
Years of them enjoying and also getting annoyed by the other followers.
This had become home to them.

Now all that is left of that familiar life is smoldering ashes.
Embers blaze orange. Smoke rises from the cindery chunks.

The bright coals of their lives still emanate heat.
They sit in the upper room, waiting, waiting, waiting.

What will they do?
They who remain.

Into this smoking pile of ashes,
the wind roars down, filling the vacuum.
Filling the entire house.
Leaving no corner, no cupboard empty.

The wind rushes in.
It whips up the glowing embers that remain in the hearts of people,
until suddenly, like wind on the embers of a forgotten campfire,
a wildfire sparks. Fire dances from one person to the other,
the flames licking their beings and pulsating over their heads.

Fire roars.
Everyone ablaze.

God has breathed on the smoldering souls of the people.

wind whistling

Like a camper breathing on a dying fire.

wind whistling

I love that the Spirit breathes on the souls of everyday people.
People who have seen their inner bonfire turn into an ash heap.

Sometimes we have a purified vision of the original Jesus followers;
we think they never had to deal with real stuff.
That’s not true. The people in the upper room were struggling people.
They were everyday people.
They were minimum wage workers, overtaxed parents, and harried spouses.
They were addicts, teachers, and desperate human beings.

An unlikely group assembled in that upper room,
cobbled out of the unlikely elements that could never fit together but did.
They found a way in because Jesus brought them in.
And now they will do what Jesus did.
Bring in the unlikeliest, most labored,
most burdened, most misunderstood together.
They will find different ways of doing it.
They will take on different roles. Different parts.
There is a part of Mary Magdalene, a part for Salome, a part for Joanna.
For Lydia. For Tabitha. There’s a part for Philip, for Peter, and for Matthew.
They will be creative with their own unique gifts,
inventive as they improvise how to bring people into the moment.

There’s a fullness of ministry within them
that they had yet not noticed.

Yes, yes, they felt empty.

Yet, emptiness means that we are receptive to fullness.
We can be drawn in. We are ready for joy. Because of their ashy life,
a commotion comes into their house that burst forth into communion.
A foment comes out of the seeming emptiness.

With this loud noise, everyone comes running to the wind storm.
They rush to the buzz. Something overcame the emptiness.
Something overcame the barriers that had kept people in separate places.
These strangers rush in. They are also filled. They converge. Attain connection.
The strangers ran to the house of emptiness.

All are amazed and disturbed.
This is the experience of the foreigners as they listen
to the Jesus followers babble in their own language.

Some marvel. Others scoff, “What are they doing? Are they drunk?”

Peter comes forth to explain.
In this moment of disturbance,
in this moment when everything has been burned to the ground,
Peter reminds the people that God has said,
I will pour out my spirit on all humankind.

Yes, there’s been a spiritual earthquake.
Yes, we will live in the aftermath.
Yet God will still pour out her Spirit and bless all of the earth,
and all of our hearts.
Everything has been burned down.
And God will pour out her Spirit.
Like the seeds of fireweed after a burning.

Everything the disciples thought they knew has fallen apart.
And God will pour out her Spirit.

Amazed. And disturbed the people of God are.
Disrupted by the spirit of newness.

Peter preaches,
“In the days to come—it is our God who speaks—
I will pour out my Spirit on all of humankind.
Your daughters will prophesy,
your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams.
Even on the most insignificant of my people, of every gender,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”

Peter preaches to the crowd. To the scoffers.
To those who say you are just drunk. There is nothing left.
To those who have nothing left. Peter preaches.
To those who are just cracked vessels.
To those whom it seems everything is lost and gone.
Peter declares, “God has not failed. The Spirit comes.”

When we gather all in one spiritual place,
what will we do? We who remain.

How will we face all the emptiness?

We cannot achieve our way out of the grief we have experienced.
Yet we can ask for help. From others. From the Holy Spirit.
She is our higher power who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
The Spirit will empty herself out on us,
pouring forth all of her grace.

The Spirit waits for empty vessels.
She does what Jesus has promised.
She will fill the vacuum. It will arise.

This is the good news. Not that the Spirit is trite.
But that the Spirit is real.
She comes to witness to real people.
She comes to witness where we actually are.
Sometimes we are embers, yes,
And the Spirit blows on us like the wind.

wind whistling
wind whistling

The Spirit comes to us where we are
and doesn’t trivialize what we are going through.
She witnesses to our embers.
She witnesses to our cindery chunks. Honoring them. Seeing them.
Surrounding them with her windy embrace of care.
That we might blaze again.

The Spirit doesn’t pour forth a trivial amount.
Not a trite amount. Not a token balm.
More than the minimum dose.
The Spirit pours out an entire amount for our entire soul.
Fullness. An abundant pouring out.
Not by merit. But by the dignity of our being children of God.
The Spirit pours out. Total spirit for the total soul.

This is the rich promise for all humankind.

wind whistling
wind whistling

Blessed be your smoldering ashes.


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