This post is part of the weekly series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.” (Yes, I know today is technically Saturday, but I’m doing my best to get back on a regular writing schedule. Since Sunday is Pentecost, I wanted to take this time to wish everyone a Happy Birthday, Church!)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV)
Happy Pentecost! On this Sunday, we celebrate the birthday of the Christian Church. On the Feast of Pentecost,” tongues of flame” descended upon the disciples and empowered them to speak in many different languages (Acts 2:2-4). When I was a little girl, my pastor drew a connection during a children’s message between these tongues of flame and birthday candles on a cake. He gave us all red birthday candles and invited us to keep them in a spot where they would remind us to pray. It was a good comparison, and it helped me to remember that Pentecost is the birthday of the church.
Candles on a Birthday Cake
As the years passed, I added more and more candles to my birthday cake. Each year we grow older, we experience changes in our lives. The years slowly alter us. In the same way, when we allow Christ to come into our hearts, the Holy Spirit can quietly whisper in our souls and change us over a period of time. For some of us, the transformation can happen so gradually that we don’t notice it at first.
As I grew, the years changed me, and eventually I went away to college and studied to become a teacher. Although I had grown and matured in many ways, like all young people, there remained a great deal for me to learn. I still had no idea what it meant to have someone depend on me.
Just a Small Tornado…
Near the end of my time in college, I was assigned to be a student teacher at a school in Lancaster. Each day of that semester, I grew into my new reality of what it meant to be the teacher instead of the student. Although this was a change that had been taking place over an extended period, I felt the shift occur all at once on the day a tornado touched down near the school.
We weren’t sure exactly what path the storm was going to take, so we ushered the students into a hallway in the center of the school where there were no windows. We lined the students up in rows along the locker banks and instructed them sit with their heads between their knees and their arms over their heads. Seeing all the children looking so frightened struck a chord in my heart.
One freshman boy looked up at me with large eyes and said, “Miss—Miss—I don’t want to die.”
His words left a lasting impression on me. In that moment, I knew that I had somehow stepped across the threshold into adulthood. These children were our responsibility. I also began to feel some of the first distinct stirrings of my call to ministry. I wanted to tell the boy to pray, but I knew that I wasn’t allowed to say that in a public school setting. Instead, I pretended to be brave as I responded, “Just calm down. No one is dying today. Don’t be ridiculous. This storm will blow over an everything will be fine.”
Luckily, the boy was convinced by my false bravado. He calmed down and remained quiet while the lights flickered and we waited out the storm. In the end, I’m happy to report that (to the best of my knowledge) no one was injured during that brief tornado, although I was told later that there had been some structural damage to a local barn. The storm disappeared as quickly as it had come upon us—but it left me forever changed.
The Wind and Flame of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit can change us bit by bit, or it can change us all at once. A transformation had been at work in my heart for a long time, but when those fierce storm winds blew through my quiet world, I was forever altered. Up until that point, I didn’t think we had tornados in Pennsylvania—but clearly, I was wrong.
When we picture the tongues of flame at Pentecost, the benign candles on a birthday cake are an apropos image; however, we must not forget that the winds of change were fierce on the day the church was born. “Suddenly from heaven there came the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2).”
A Connection to the Old Testament
I have heard literary scholars point out that in many ways, Pentecost is the reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel; however, I think that it is important to note that on Pentecost, God does not erase the cultural differences that exist between the different peoples and nations of the world. The author of Acts seems to take great joy in listing all the different peoples and nations– much to the dismay of many readers who have volunteered to read this scripture aloud in the past! The different names and nationalities can be tricky to pronounce, but the author seems to feel that they are important, because he takes a great deal of time listing them: “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs (Acts 2:9-11).”
Instead, I prefer the Old Testament comparison that another colleague of mine drew between Pentecost and the Burning Bush. Moses’s life was forever changed when he heard the voice of God speak from the bush that was not consumed by the fire. From the burning bush, God called Moses and set him on a path of leadership (Exodus 3). After his encounter with the Divine, Moses was never the same again. His life was forever altered. He became a prophet who led his people to freedom.
In the same way, the wind and flame of the Holy Spirit was life-changing for the early followers of Jesus. Fire danced above the heads of the apostles, and they preached the Good News in the all the different languages of the many people who were gathered in the city to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.
Happy Birthday, Church!
Experiencing the Holy Spirit is like experiencing a tornado. When the Holy Spirit blows through our lives, the encounter changes us forever.
It can change who are as human beings–
It can change the church–
And it can change the world.
This Sunday, as we enter worship (either digitally or in person), I encourage us all to seriously ask ourselves: Are we ready to open our hearts to the winds of change? What radical change might the Holy Spirit be ready to kindle in our own lives?
Until Next Week,
This post is part of the series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.”
Now, it’s your turn! What Scripture verse is inspiring you this week? Let me know in the comments below! I’m excited to join with a group of blogging friends in order to offer you a weekly devotional which will be posted every Thursday.
Please be sure to check out the other great bloggers involved in the His Encouragement weekly series!
Andi @ Radiant Light
Leslie @ Words of Hope
Claudia @ By Claudia Moser