A Pentecost Reflection by Reverend Linda McDermott, Senior Associate Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth
When I was eight years old, my family and my best friend’s family all took off for a vacation in the Rocky Mountains. We were going to stay at the cabin of one of my friend’s family’s relatives. None of us had ever been there. When we arrived, we discovered that it was not so much a cabin, as four walls and a roof- about 12 x 12- there were 9 of us. And the restroom facilities were up the mountain about 100 feet in an even smaller four walls and a roof.
Now, being 8 years old girls, my friend and I thought it was… perfect! After the initial shock wore off, our parents decided the only thing they could do was laugh- and not stay the full two weeks we had planned. Let me recount some of our adventures: hiding in the outhouse for two hours while the others lured two skunks away from the door, sleeping in the tent that we set up for the five kids and one of us — not me — deciding that there were too many mosquitoes and spraying bug spray all over the tent and basically gassing us out for the rest of the night. Not one of my happier moments.
But one of the things I remember most clearly was on the way up to the mountains, stopping in White Sands, New Mexico. Any of you been there? As far as the eye could see, a gleaming desert of white sand. Hills and hills, with beautiful waves in the sands created by the wind. My friend and I had never seen anything like it and could hardly contain ourselves to get out of that car we’d been in for over 10 hours and running as fast and as far as we could. As we took off, I could hear my mother shouting, “don’t over exert yourselves- you’re not used to the altitude!”
Phffff! Altitude? Right. So we ran, over one hill, down another, up the hill and down, up the….and the sand started spinning and my lungs felt like they weren’t working anymore and we both fell over. I thought we were going to die. Visions of cartoon characters crawling through a desert full of bones went through my mind. It was as if the breath had been knocked right out of us in this beautiful but lifeless desert.
Since then, I had the breath taken out of me several more times. Not so much literally, but you know those times — terrible grief, overwhelming fear, shocking news- those times when we can hardly breathe. When Ezekiel looked out over the desert and saw only dead, dry bones- it is the image of complete and utter hopelessness and despair. And we’ve been to that desert- maybe you are there now. You feel as though your breath has been knocked right out of you.
That leads me to Pentecost Sunday. I know we’re a little afraid of that word, “Pentecost” because it sounds a little like “Pentecostal” and that means we might have to start speaking in tongues — and that’s just a little too much for Methodists! But Pentecost is a birth story — or a re-birth story. And like so many birth stories in the Bible, God brings life, new life, into the world, into us, with breath. In the Hebrew scriptures, the word is Ruah- it means either breath or wind. In the New Testament, it is Pneuma- like pneumonia- pneuma meaning breath or wind or, in most cases, spirit. Wind, breath, spirit- in the Bible, it is the power of God to bring life.
Think of Genesis, chapter one. The first creation story: a wind from God moved across the face of chaos and brought order and life. Wind brought life to creation.
Now, think of the second story of Creation, when the human body lay lifeless, God breathed into its nostrils and brought the Adam, or human, into being. Wind brought life to humanity.
Then skip over to Job, the suffering one whose only request is an audience with God — and God speaks to Job, how? Out of the wind. God speaks about things the human mind simply cannot comprehend. The birth of wisdom.
And Pentecost, the risen Christ leaving his followers with a promise: they would not be left to their own devises but would receive power from the Holy Spirit. And, how did that Spirit of God’s power make itself known? A sound like the rush of a mighty wind. God’s breath blowing in the power of new life and hope. That is the power of Pentecost.