"2 a.m. Pentecost Prayer" – Acts 2:1-21
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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 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—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: "In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
It’s 2 o’clock in the morning; do you know where your pastor is?
At 2am Wednesday morning I was lying down on the couch, unable to sleep. It was a frustrating experience, not only because of being so exhausted, but more so because of the thoughts and ideas that were keeping me awake, which I couldn’t shake out of my head.
Something rather insignificant happened earlier that day that made me think of myself as a failure in one particular area of my life. Once that thought pried its way into my mind, it infected my thoughts about parenting, marriage, work, friendship, and many more. My mind was like that scene from Ghostbusters, where the ghosts escaped their containment and terrorized the streets of New York City. You know, like this:
Lying awake at 2am, having listened to the same mental message playing on repeat for three hours, being exhausted and furious at my inability to stop the voice in my mind, I finally decided to pray.
You might like to think that your pastor wouldn’t wade through three hours of emotional frustration before turning to prayer. You might like to think that your pastor wouldn’t engage in prayer only as a last resort. However, in that particular situation, that’s exactly how I handled it.
The prayer was a simple one –something like, “Lord, help me realize I am more than my failures.” And it was in this act of prayer that I was finally able to hear and believe a different mental message – the message that I was a beloved creation of the Holy God and that God had promised to be with me.
It is not always easy to believe or even remember God’s promise to be a part of us, particularly when there are so many voices in our world both “out there” in the world and “in here” in our own minds. It sounds unbelievable to claim that the God who created the heavens and the earth would ever choose to make a home in our bodies.
And yet, the creation stories in Genesis tell of a God who formed human beings in God’s own image and filled them with the divine breath. Scripture begins with a claim on our bodies – that it is God’s own presence that brings each one to life.
Scripture is also filled with story upon story of people choosing to look outside of themselves to feel God. For instance, when the Hebrew people built a temple. “On the day of the dedication of "Solomon's Temple," the glory of Yahweh (as fire and cloud from heaven) descended and filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-13)....[The temple became the residence and visible reminder of God’s presence] for the Jewish people. This naturally made Solomon's Temple both the center and centering place of the whole world, in Jewish thinking.
But in 587 BC, the Babylonians tore down the Temple and took the Jews into exile. As Father Richard Rohr writes, “[This destruction] prompted a crisis of faith. The Temple was where God lived! So Ezra, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah convinced the people that they must go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple so God can be with them again. There is no account of the fire and glory of God ever descending on this rebuilt temple.”
He continues, “The absence of visible glory [of Yahweh] must have been a bit of an embarrassment and worry for the Jewish people. This could explain the growth of Pharisaism, a belief strong in Jesus' time that if they obeyed laws more perfectly--absolute ritual, priesthood, and Sabbath purity--then the Glory of God would return to the Temple. This is the common pattern in moralistic religion: our impurity supposedly keeps Yahweh away. They tried so hard, but the fire never descended. They must have wondered, "Are we really God's favorite and chosen people?”
At 2am earlier this week, I felt a lot like those believers who couldn’t sense God’s presence in their new temple. My hours of frustration and desperation and only being able to think of myself as a failure left no room for God’s presence. I felt alone.
At yet, in my experience of anxiety, something prompted me to pray and connect with the truth that I had been taught so long ago: that God’s love for me overcomes all my mistakes and feelings of failure. God hadn’t abandoned me, and God never would.
And so I prayed, just as Jesus’ followers prayed when they gathered following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension; just as Jesus’ followers prayed when all of the sudden there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and “the fire from heaven descended, not on a building, but on people! And all peoples, not just Jews, were baptized and received the Spirit (Acts 2:38-41).”
The story of the disciples being filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost tells us that the new temple of God is the human person – just as it was in the beginning, when God breathed into the first man.
Gathering on this Day of Pentecost, we hear the stories of fire and prayer and amazement and are challenged to claim these stories as our own. We hear Jesus’ promise to send the Advocate to bear his presence in a world so concerned about labeling people as right and wrong, sinner and righteous, just and unjust.
God is present in this world, actively working in all people, especially those who are consumed with fear and feelings of failure. God’s presence and promises are ultimately the only thing to which we can ever hope to cling And that is enough.
quotes from Richard Rohr, "The Evolution of the Temple" from Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation email dated April 20, 2015.