30th May, 2004

The Feast of Pentecost

Fr. Mark D. Stuart

If people would have been asked in 1968 which nation would dominate the world in watch making during the 1990’s and into the 21st century, the answer would have been without question: Switzerland.

Why? Because Switzerland had dominated the world of watch making for the previous 60 years. The Swiss made the best watches in the world and were committed to constant refinement of their expertise. It was the Swiss who came up with the minute hand and the second hand.

They led the world in discovering better ways to manufacture the gears, bearings, and mainsprings of watches. They even led the way in waterproofing techniques and self-winding models…remember, “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking…”
By 1968, the Swiss made 65 % of all watches sold in the world and laid claim to 90 % of the profits. By 1980, however, a mere 12 years later, they controlled less than 10 % of the world market. Between 1979 and 1981, 50,000 of the 62,000 Swiss watchmakers lost their jobs.

Why? Quite simply because the Swiss had refused to consider a new development – the Quartz movement, ironically, first invented by a Swiss. Because it had no main-spring or knob it was rejected. It was just too much of a paradigm shift for them to embrace. Seiko, on the other hand, accepted it and along with a few other companies, became the leader in the watch industry.

The lesson of the Swiss watchmakers is profound. Their past which was so secure, led them to reject new developments to their ultimate undoing. Our lesson from Acts relates a powerful paradigm shift in the people of God, the mighty and miraculous activities that accompanied the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. We hear of unfamiliar new experiences like tongues of fire resting on those present and speaking somehow with the ability of those of many languages to understand. The entire book of Acts tells of the new Church growing by the paradigm-shifting manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

Can you envision the disciples there pondering the recent events of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension; yet still living in their old mindset, not wanting to move too fast. Then comes a “mighty” or “violent” Wind, the Holy Spirit, and shakes them up in ways they never could have imagined. And the Holy Spirit does this immediately; there is no waiting, no waffling.

As a young child born in the “tornado alley” of Kansas, I was not very fond of the storms rolling off the prairies with their mighty winds. When they would start up and crescendo, I would become afraid that they would destroy the house, or maybe pick it up and carry it away, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Although we never actually went through a cyclone, I remember seeing the vigilant anxiety in my parents whenever we would experience a tornado watch, or worse yet, a warning.

And when one touched down not too far from us, I remember seeing the terrifying results.

So, I guess that when we call the Holy Spirit a mighty Wind means that the experience of God is not always going to me nice and neat, orderly, or proper; as we tend to define those terms as well-bred Anglicans. In fact, God’s Spirit can be scary and definitely paradigm-shifting.

The Feast of Pentecost is the Feast of the Catholicity of the Church, the feast of its wholeness, its universality, its completeness. It is the feast of the renewal of the whole human race and of creation itself. For the history of the human race is the story of the Tower of Babel. It is the story of confusion of voices, misunderstanding, war, bloodshed, racial, social, gender, class strife and struggle.
Babel meant the effort of humans to try to reach heaven without God, acting like they were self-sufficient.

In our lesson from Acts we hear of the undoing of Babel, of the tongues of fire to silence the Babel of our past, of the renewal of the unity of the human race. Luke tells us that a wide spectrum of races and languages were united to hear and proclaim the mighty acts of God. The meaning of Pentecost is that Babel is over; that God, knowing we can never build towers to heaven, has come to us.

I have been as guilty as others in calling Pentecost the “birthday of the Church” when in reality it more aptly deserves to be called the “baptism of the Church.” God comes to us in His Son and says, “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink.” And John the evangelist adds: “This He said about the Spirit, which those who believe in Him were to receive.” Paul in his first letter to Corinth says: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, and all were made to drink one Spirit.”

In mediocre broad church western Christendom one rarely likes to get wet with one’s religion and prefers perfumes and colognes to holy water. Here at St. Thomas we aren’t afraid of getting wet with our worship: we have holy water stoops at the doors and begin each High Mass with the Asperges ( or Vidi Aquam in Easter season) as a reminder of our baptism. Those of us recently on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham drank from the holy well there, where we were promised “strange and marvelous things.” The gastro-intestinal distress Fr. Davies and I experienced the next day became the cause of much teasing for the rest of the trip; both of us being accused of over-indulging our enthusiasm for Our Lady’s miraculous waters!

The Pentecost experience is much more than just a breeze… it is a mighty wind… and it is much more than just a sprinkling… it is a flood! The signs and symbols of Pentecost come to us in a flood indeed! Wind, fire, fluent speech, water, new identity, boldness, and courage. It is a party where everyone gets a gift and a party to which everyone must bring the very spirit of the gift that they have been given.

Paul reminds us that there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit to build the community of faith. “Where’s mine?” is the motto of the grabbers of our culture… but again Paul reminds us that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Paul addresses the Corinthian Church, which has become divided by the selfish exaltation of some “gifted” people over others. A friend of mine used to say, “God gave everybody something. Sometimes it’s only good looks and a great body.” Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, that no matter what our gifts, they are not to make ourselves rich, famous, or self-important.

Scripture and Catholic tradition tell us that the teaching authority of the Church belongs to the Holy Spirit; not to a “magisterium” of centralized exclusive clerical power, as Cardinal Ratzinger would have us believe. This by no means validates the notion of some free church theologies of the “priesthood of all believers” either. The Pentecost experience is not just historical, nor purely individual, nor relegated to a few elect; but is a present occurring event, baptizing the community of faith into ever new experiences of God.

Remember the Swiss and the paradigm shift they would not accept to the eventual undoing of their famous and successful watch making industry? The disciples likewise had to accept a paradigm shift with their baptism as a new people of God through the Pentecost experience. And through the centuries the faith community has been challenged to accept paradigm shifts.

The Anglican Communion is currently struggling with that again. Bishop Gene Robinson said about his own election, ratification by General Convention, and consecration, that “God is doing a new thing.” Some embrace that “new thing” with joy and enthusiasm; others reject it as just too secular and politically correct, or even “sinful” because they alone possess knowledge of God’s Spirit; or the middle-of-the-roaders opt for a “don’t move so fast” stance. To be sure, the power of the Holy Spirit can be frightening but God sends it anyway to lead us into truth, like a mighty wind, whether we are ready or not.

London businessman Lindsay Clegg told the story of a warehouse property he was selling. The building had been empty for months and needed repairs. Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and strewn trash around the interior. As he showed a prospective buyer the property, Clegg took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out the garbage.

“Forget about the repairs,” the buyer said. “When I buy this place, I’m going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building; I want the site.”

Compared with the renovation God has in mind, our efforts to improve our own lives are as trivial as sweeping a warehouse slated for the wrecking ball. When we become God’s, the old life is over ( as Paul reminds the Corinthians.) God makes all things new. All he wants is the site and the permission to build.



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