In so many ways, this is one of those communities that people dream about—one of those communities that always takes care of its own.
Neighbor looks after neighbor, sharing both troubles and joys--cooking a meal when a mother is sick or a baby is born; cutting a lawn when a friend is out of town; celebrating a new marriage or a winning team; standing by one another during times of sorrow and loss.
It is one of those communities where people remain year after year, generation after generation; a community where children grow up and raise children who play in the same ball fields, who learn the same fight song, who worship in the same pews, who speak the same language and see the same view.
It is a community where you can fill your days with important work without ever leaving the safety of home or the circle of friends. It is a place where people move from soccer coach to PTO chair to Christ Renews leader to sodality member in a seamless, almost inevitable, procession of life.
It is one of those communities where you can easily forget that there is a church beyond the parish walls.
And yet, year after year, into parishes just like this one, the Feast of Pentecost arrives, hurling bolts of fire into our comfortable world. Gale force winds, open flames and the confusion of many voices are not exactly comfortable, or ordinary, or even very safe--and certainly not what we have come to expect from a well ordered mass. After all, we have been taught that it’s dangerous to play with matches.
Pentecost urges us to look beyond comfort and see beyond the ordinary. It impels us to hear new voices, to see new possibilities, to speak a new language, to remember that in God’s world, the way things are today, are not necessarily the way they are meant to be. Just when we think we have discipleship all figured out, Pentecost breaks into our lives, disrupting our peace and reminding us that there should be something a little dangerous—a little risky—a little unsettling about the Christian message. Episcopal priest Robert Capon asked, “What happened to radical Christianity, What happened to the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the category-smashing, life- threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (at least by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever he went?”
If we are not astonished at the Christian message, it may be that we are no longer really listening, or maybe we have heard the stories so often that their rough edges are worn smooth and their radical surprise has dulled. Pentecost forces us to be amazed. It is a festal reminder that Christianity still carries a sharp edge; that our creedal statements should be accompanied by the sound of wind, the leap of flames, the cacophony of diverse voices and the untamed presence of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the mighty acts of God.
Pentecost shows us the mission field lying just beyond our parish walls--a world that is often confused and afraid; a broken and beautiful world that needs us to look outward as well as inward. It is a world waiting to be surprised by God and by the message of hope that only his hands and feet can bring.
There is nothing wrong with finding comfort in the midst of a parish community. There is nothing wrong with creating a safe space for our children and our families. But lest we get too comfortable, Pentecost returns each year to see if somewhere along the way, our lives have become too small or too tame; too far removed from the fire. At Pentecost, God takes us by the hand and turns our circle inside out—so that we are facing not each other, but the waiting and hungry world.
© Susan Fleming McGurgan
somewhere along the way, our lives have become too small or too tame; too far removed from the fire.