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Lectionary Living

Not a Pretty Picture

(5/23) Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14  •  Psalm 104:24-34, 35b  •  Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21  •  John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15


Ah Pentecost – that day when the church goes a little crazy. In my congregation, the custom is to dress in red, commemorating a day when flames appeared over the heads of everyone in the room. That was only a sign of the true miracle, as I see it. The true miracle was that people were understanding each other. Folks from many different countries, speaking various languages, were hearing and responding to one another!


In the opposite of this story, today's news headlines are all about the latest conflict in Jerusalem. No one is listening to the other; war is at hand. I'm reminded of the story (in Judges 13-16) of Samson and Delilah – a terrible tale of tribal warfare and the inhumanity of our species. The miracle of Pentecost was not only that people could understand each other; it was that they were interested in doing so.


A lot gets in the way of keeping us from listening to one another. One major barrier is our inability to listen to our own selves. When a person starts down the path of trying to understand what is happening within, the results are… well, at least in my own case, less than hopeful. The inner strands of immaturity come out in a thousand and one tongues. Some are tied to my inability to manage my own emotions; others are tied to my faulty reasoning; the interaction of the two is also noteworthy. It is not a pretty picture.


Before a person can hear another clearly, all this inner turmoil has to be first, understood, and second, mastered. There is a daily or hourly self-emptying, a taking out of the inner trash, necessary to begin to be open to hearing another. Once listening, a second challenge, at least as difficult, follows. The second step is to listen without taking on or somehow absorbing the other's problems or worries. Leaving them with the other is a way of respecting both the other's capacity to manage herself and recognizing one's own incapacity to manage more than one's own self.


I myself am big on this last point. The energy of Pentecost comes when each person is fully alive. It is the opposite of each person spending energy trying to shore up the other, losing herself in the process. The temptation to glom onto another, or to try to get them to glom onto oneself, is always there. But it keeps both the community and the individual from being fully alive – from being in some sense, stuck.


There is always some stuckness to the human predicament. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? The joke is always funny, no matter what the variation, because it is the question about our species. What should take one person to do, somehow turns into two – or more! Each of us fails to mature, to be fully responsible for our own self and our own tasks.


Apparently, at this point in our species' evolution, we humans manage by negotiating away at least some of our individuality. Here, perhaps, the Ezekiel reading may be useful. In the valley of dead, dry bones (37:2), life is restored: not to individuals alone, but to all. They come back to life as a people (v. 12). That each person might exist as a full self while still being part of a family and a larger community is the dream and the challenge for each of us, every day.



Morning: How can I listen to myself today? What might get in the way?

Evening: When did I get stuck in immaturity?

Psalm 104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

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