When I was growing up Baptist the biggest church days were Mother’s Day, Easter and G.A. Coronation (imagine a royal wedding where Jesus is mentioned constantly). Pentecost was not on the list. We may have skipped Pentecost because my kind of Baptists were a little uncomfortable with the spookiest member of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was a theologically suspect Caspar the Friendly Ghost. When we saw a sign that said “Holy Ghost Revival” we were nervous about what was going on inside.
Some Baptists are still uneasy with snakes, dancing and the banjo music occasionally associated with the Spirit. If TV Guide lists “The Holy Spirit Hour” on the Trinity Broadcast Network, channel 345, at 1:00 a.m., we do not expect Bill Moyers to be the host. The hour is more likely to feature a singing, shouting evangelist with gravity-defying hair slapping people on the forehead while asking for money to pay for his mansion in the Bahamas.
This is not a Baptist preacher.
Pentecost’s color scheme may be a problem. Christians in liturgical churches often wear bright red on Pentecost. Some Baptists do not look good in red. Johnny Cash was never the man in scarlet. Most find it hard to picture Billy Graham in a cherry suit. (Carrie Underwood is an exception—a Baptist who looks good in red.)
The word “Pentecost” may sound too much like “Pentecostal” for some Baptists. The Baptists who moved into town looked down on the Pentecostals like the Methodists looked down on the Baptists. The Presbyterians looked down on the Methodists. The Episcopalians looked down on the Presbyterians. The Pentecostals thought the Episcopalians were in dire need of some Pentecost.
The Pentecost story itself includes another complication. Peter’s sermon begins with a line for which my Baptist mother does not care. Imagine your pastor opening with, “I know what you are thinking, but in spite of the way they look and the sounds that you have been hearing, the choir is not drunk. I can assure you that the choir is not drunk, because it is only eleven o’clock in the morning.”
This painting of Pentecost is by an artist without much imagination.
We should ignore that part and listen to the story again. At the end of chapter one of the Book of Acts, the disciples are getting organized. They choose a new person to fill the vacancy Judas left on the board. They select Matthias by throwing dice—which would usually be a fine way for a church to choose deacons—but in this instance leads to a forgettable choice.
The disciples talk about how best to go about the business of incorporating as a 501(c)3 organization. Peter begins his Power Point presentation: “Listen carefully. Here are three keys to an effective organization.
#1. Competent programs
#2. Solid financial resources
#3. Adequate facilities and parking”
Peter is fiddling with the remote when pandemonium breaks out. Nothing about the preparations they have been making prepares them for what happens. Whatever they thought was coming next turns out to be wrong. Everything comes loose. The Spirit blows their agenda away.
Women hang on to their shawls. Men pull on their coats. The wind sounds like a freight train. Something like fire dances on each person’s face. The storm and the flames push them out of the fellowship hall and into the street. People who have never been to a church business meeting are suddenly in the middle of a doozy.
No one is sure what is happening with the wind, fire and foreign languages. Some jump to the aforementioned peculiar conclusion, though in the midst of chaos, it is not surprising that they thought they smelled another kind of spirit.
God breathes life into the church with a mighty rush of wind because nothing less would do. When they sing “Just As I Am” three thousand walk the aisle. That sounds Baptist.
Pentecost is June 12. Wear red. Light candles. Turn on the fans. Sing. Shout. Dance. Celebrate the Spirit.