The story of Pentecost in Acts is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible. When I was regularly in the pulpit I loved sharing the touch of humor from Peter as he responds to the curiosity and suspicion of those gathered on that spirited day. Wondering if the disciples’ ability to speak in many tongues was the result of too much bad wine Peter reminds them “they are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only 9:00 in the morning.”
It makes me smile every time because Peter does not defend the disciples by saying, “These men are not drunk. They never touch the stuff!” Rather he leaves open the possibility that if these disciples were acting in such a loose and spirited way at 9:00 in the evening then the chance that they were drunk would have risen considerably. Peter seems to confirm that the disciples do appear to be drunk, but that the source of their unrestrained behavior is not bad wine, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Today I will visit my 50th church as I make my way around the presbytery during the first few months of my tenure as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. In my visits I am recognizing the spirit of Pentecost taking root. There is a loosening up of “the way things have always been done.” Congregations are experimenting with new ways of organizing and being present in the community. I have smiled on numerous occasions as church leaders have shared their desire to not let polity get in the way of good ministry. While reinforcing the need for structure and doing things “decently and in order” I also find myself being careful not to put a damper on the spirit that I can feel moving within their midst. Rules matter, but not at the cost of life-giving ministry!
At the same time that congregations are reflecting the slightly tipsy and unrestrained spirit of Pentecost I have noticed my own contribution to that spirit as well. In my meetings I can feel myself loosening up the system just like a good wine loosens up the party. While I don’t want to create chaos in a congregation by saying the wrong thing I have noticed that I have landed on the side of saying too much rather than too little (just like a drunk person might do!). I have decided that if a congregation dares to the ask the right questions I am going to trust the Spirit as I offer back as much information as I have at my disposal.
I can feel all of us coloring outside the lines a bit. It does feel like a Pentecostal moment. I am not in charge of the future. God is. My job is not to direct the future of the church, but to simply invite the Spirit to do Her work.
I think about that original day of Pentecost and the chaos that must have been experienced as the disciples shared the good news of Jesus Christ in numerous languages. In one fell swoop the church of Jesus Christ was initiated, but it wasn’t done as part of a long range plan or a carefully crafted strategy. It was initiated by a bunch of spirited disciples who were mistaken for being drunk.
There is a loosening up that I can feel in the presbytery. I am noticing it in the congregations. I am noticing it in my own approaches to the position as well as my conversations with congregations. I have to admit that it makes me a little nervous. I have enough Presbyterian “decently and in order” DNA to my personality that this trusting the future to the Spirit makes me a little anxious at times. Yet I also believe that Pentecost is the right season for this age that we live in.
We are going to have loosen up, get a little tipsy and trust a Spirit whose first interest is life, abundant drunken life!