LECTIONARY MONDAY Living a Burnt-Over Life

Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

It is Pentecost Sunday. The birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and filled them, covered them, set them afire with power and faith — trust — to do great things.

I was baptized on Pentecost Sunday in 2005, so this is my “baptism birthday.” My first internship supervisor, who has moved on from his call in rural Wisconsin a time or two or three since our time together, would, for a the first few years afterwards, send me a message — “Happy baptism birthday!”, something he tried to do with all his parishioners when he knew they date of their baptism.

The first couple of times, that greeting made me angry, felt deeply humiliating, a reminder of the terrible thing that happened. But those feelings passed a long time ago. It’s also been a long time since he’s wished me a happy baptism birthday. And I miss it.

I’m feeling disconnected today. Not spirit filled. Not on fire. I’m lonely and isolated. I wonder what my future is. I am not amazed, or astounded, and I’m not dreaming dreams.

It’s the usual complaint of the last few years. My life feels somewhat pointless, purposeless, and empty. I cannot even take comfort in this ministry I do, since I no longer have any idea how much of it was real and how much wasn’t. I feel a little humiliated being lied to, but more importantly, I feel like I’ve wasted my purpose. Like I have none.

In the past, when I have felt this way, it has been mixed with destitution and the despair that induced. But thanks to my father’s recent death, Jennifer and I now no longer face that kind of oblivion. I have work and a place to live I pay rent on, and some other things. We shall not be destitute unless I’m supremely stupid or the stock market ceases to exist tomorrow.

But still … purpose.

It’s a sense of homelessness, a desire to connect, to belong, to part of a people, to know them and be known by them. I picked a lousy place to do that — Central Washington is a place, like the Midwest, of settled people, of people so enmeshed with each other that they don’t welcome strangers very well and don’t really know how to get to know strangers. The upside of knowing people since kindergarten — as one tiny class of seven high school graduates do in one small town high school graduation I covered this weekend — is that is how most people have known each other for most of human history. You are born, live, work, and die in the midst of kin and loved ones. “These are my brothers and sisters,” one student said. And he wasn’t wrong.

The downside is the only way people really enter that group is through birth. They know of no other way to welcome new people into their midst. And so … they don’t really know how.

This is one reason I think Semitic scriptures (Bible and Qur’an) make such a big deal of welcoming strangers. It is so very counter to how we actually live. It is not easy. And that is why so many are not very good at it.

I think the ministry was a way for me to connect, even with someone virtual. (I think Bethany — whoever she really was — wanted that too, was lonely too, which is why she pretended so much, and why she hasn’t hurt me.) I am lonely, and I want to be part of other people’s lives, to matter, to be important. And it’s hard, being a stranger and a wanderer in the land of settled people.

It is, right now, more than I really care to bear.

God feels so … gone. I feel so empty, forgotten, abandoned. I know I cannot rely on my feelings, especially in the empty place. But still, it is all very overwhelming. And it’s not just feelings, either. I am not part of whoever “they” are as they have gathered in that one place. I am not part of them. I am not of them. I have no place.

I was on fire. Once. Now I am ashes. The fire … has gone.

In the LCMS’s The Lutheran Study Bible, there is a prayer in the footnotes to this passage from the Hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”:

Come, holy fire, comfort true, Grant us the will Your work to do And in your service to abide; Let trials turn us not aside.

I have to trust this emptiness is, in fact, a place I have been brought. That this yearning to know and be known, to have a home, is one I have some hope of realizing. Because right now, I do not know. It is hard to trust. Hard to trust God in the emptiness. Hard to trust the fire of the Spirit when there is nothing but cold and ashes and silence.

Jesus spoke to me. Why don’t more people care about that?

Maybe because I don’t care enough about it.

It is an odd place, this place of cold silence. This place of strangeness. This empty place. I’ve had the Spirit descend on me, speak to me — It will not always be this way, so live until it changes. You do not need to be so angry. Things are going exactly as they should be. My love is all that matters and this is who I am. — an intense revelation that when I read it together, still speaks to me.

Still says all I need to know. To believe. To trust

That I am reborn. That I have new life. That I am filled with the Spirit. That I am on fire. That I belong. That I am one of them in that one place. That I have been called and gathered and sent forth.

I trust. In the thing I cannot see, touch, or even feel inside me right now. I trust. It is all I have.

3 thoughts on “LECTIONARY MONDAY Living a Burnt-Over Life

  1. This post dropped my jaw; it explained so completely what I have been living these past few years in Michigan. Which tells me God is here in the dark, still feeding me sips of water in the desert. Please be encouraged that your words were used to help a fellow pilgrim. I’m praying for the same for you. Thank you!

  2. Pingback: Clothed in the Spirit – Charles H. Featherstone

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