There is the old story of a stubborn old man who refuses to leave his home in the midst of flooding. When the first warning came to evacuate, he refused saying that God would take care of him. When the waters rose and he could no longer stay on the ground floor, he went to the second floor. While on the second floor, a neighbor came by in a row boat and offered to take him to safety, but again he refused, stating the God would save him. Hours later the waters rose so high the man had to climb a latter into the attic. While in the attic a second person came by in a row boat and offered to take him to safety. Again the man refused stating God would save him. The waters continued to rise and the man climbed out and onto his roof. This time a helicopter flew overhead and offered to lift him on board. Again, the man refused stating that God would save him.
Sadly, the waters continued to rise and eventually swept the man off his roof and into the currant where he drowned. When the old man arrived in heaven, he asked God why God did not save him. To this God replied, “ what do you call two rowboats and a helicopter?”
This story seems appropriate on the day of Pentecost as our reading from Acts leaves many of us wondering if God is still active in the word today. How many of us sit back and wonder when the next great theophany will take place? You know those over the top moments when God speaks in unmistakable ways. Perhaps through a burning bush, a miraculous healing, or by thundering from a mountain top.
As I look at today’s reading from Acts, I don’t think the issue is about the lack action by God on earth, but a lack of our ability to recognize the acts of God on earth. In the course of our reading, many in the crowd fail to realize they are witnessing a great theophany. Instead, they ask if the Apostle’s are drunk. Even with tongues of fire and the great wind, many still remained closed to the possibility the Holy Spirit could really be speaking in their midst. And this is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg as our reading does not even take into account the many who probably walked by the crowd, too busy to see what was happening right before them.
I think many of us miss seeing the divine because we don’t expect to see it or are too busy focusing on the wrong thing. In the spring of 1983, I had the opportunity to spend a day in Vatican City. It was the Friday before Palm Sunday. It was pretty obvious something big was about to happen as flowers were being arranged around the feet of the statures of Saints Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Square. As I entered the basilica, barriers were being set up to divide the nave into several sections and tourists were being shooed out of the great church while hundreds of nuns and catholic school children were flooding into the square. What I saw was a thickening crowd that made me uncomfortable, what I did not see was the two rows of barriers that formed the route for the Papal car that was to bring the Pope through the square in a few hours time. And what I did not know was that an outdoor Papal Mass was to be celebrated as the official opening of the Jubilee year. Had I taken the time to process the signs, I could have had a front row seat and participated in a moment of Christian history. Instead, I failed to look at what was in the process of happening and got lost in the overwhelming sea of people entering the square and left.
Most likely, had it been the day Pentecost took place, I would have seen drunken men and not heard the voice of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder how many times we have seen only drunken men and not heard the voice of the divine. It seems this is the common experience for most of us as too often we choose to look for God in the darkness in the same way we ooh and ah at a solar eclipse as the shadow of the moon overtakes the brightness of the sun. It is the darkness that catches our eye, not the light that creates the shadow. And so it is with God. God is not the darkness that is often before us but in the light that creates the shadow.
Anglican theologian John McQuarrie once wrote that God does not appear in the super natural but in the natural. Our problem is that we wait and watch for the supernatural to occur missing the signs of the divine all around us.
Last fall, during my father’s illness it would have been easy to miss the presence of the divine while my father lay in a medically induced coma for several weeks. I don’t believe God is present in our illnesses, often created by the dis-ease of our lives. In many ways looking at and watching for signs of the divine in my sleeping father was akin to watching the moon block the light of the sun. While his illness truly was a black hole from which he had to work his way out, the light of God surrounded him. Since that experience, I have told many if you want to experience the divine, visit an ICU. I have no doubt the ICU nurses along with much of the staff were the physical presence of the divine, not because of their but because of the seemingly limitless compassion and care they offer both the patient and the family.
Pentecost-like events happen every day and in many ways, if we are willing and ready to recognize the Holy Spirit in them.
Two years ago, the country was inspired when a high school basketball coach heard the call of God and fulfilled an autistic youth’s dream by allowing him to play the last few minutes of a game. The light of God did not stop with him. Soon the players on both teams realized they were part of something special and made way for the youth to crown off his dream moment by shooting and scoring two three point shots. This was a Pentecost moment most of the country was able to witness but like those who only saw a handful of drunks many missed seeing the hand of God at work.
It was the voice of God that spoke when the last of our prayer shawls caught my attention a few weeks back. A shawl that has sat in my office unnoticed for a couple of years. A prayer shawl I have held onto because there just didn’t seem to be a right time or right person to give it to. But on this particular day, it caught my attention, and I just knew who it was meant for.
Every week the presence of God is actively surrounds us. As the priest, I literally get a different view of the congregation each week. I can hear God’s voice in the joyous noises very small children make in church, even when they happen during the sermon. I not only hear the voice of God through our children, but I believe as I look into the innocent faces of Brook and Victoria today in so many ways I see the same face looking back at me as I have seen in Annie and Olivia, Nora and Erika, and even young Kevin in suit jacket, vest and shorts, it is the same face I have seen in our children during their pre-school years. For staring back from those innocent faces, is the unmistakably the face of God.
The Pentecost event may have happened many years ago, when the Holy Spirit made its presence undeniably known through the fledgling church. The good news is, the event of Pentecost did not end thar day but continues to this day and we too witness the activity of the Holy Spirit on this earth when we choose to shift our focus from the darkness that covers the light to the ring of divine light that shines around it.