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What a ruckus

By Charles Qualls

This past Sunday was Pentecost. Acts 2:1-21 was the Scripture text that was central for us, as that colorful story of God’s Spirit unfolds. The power of God is visited upon the people, and as many like to tell it the Church is born.

In the summers before I started seminary, I was on the faculty of a large youth camp. Every week, 600-700 teenagers and their chaperones would pile off of buses and we would have them for six days. My next-to-last summer of this, I had a fellow staff member named Lance who was there as a backpacking leader. Lance had already completed a year of seminary. He was a creative sort of guy, a deep thinker. Actually, kind of artsy and ethereal too.

Myself, I was at that time in some ways fresh off the farm in almost-rural Georgia. I hadn’t been anywhere, hadn’t seen much. So, you can imagine that my connection with Lance often misfired. We didn’t have any conflict at all. Never did. Just never connected.

The next school year, as I showed up to begin, one day there was Lance on my hallway in the dorm. He was visiting a friend, and stopped by my door to welcome me to school.

As he was leaving, he said, “While you’re in school here, be sure to follow the wind, fire and water. I am working on an art project right now on how to depict those together. They symbolize most of the biblical story.” With that, he disappeared off down the hall and left me silently shaking my head.

I have spent the last 30 years coming to understand how profoundly and helpfully right Lance was. Fire, water and wind always signaled the movement of God into new chapters and new ventures. Fire. Water. Wind. They are powerful forces, each in their own way extremely difficult for humanity to tame, direct or control when they decide to exert their considerable influences. Any time we see even one of those show up in a biblical story, we ought to pay sharp attention. For they each signal God doing something important. Something powerful.

They remind us also that God will guide us, and that the eternal God is a force in itself that will not be stopped, controlled, predicted nor deterred in doing what God will do throughout human history. This week’s story has two of the three. Strong flowing wind and dancing tongues of fire!

What in this world are we to do with this much power swirling around? This was an obvious display of God’s presence. A flowing wind and dancing fire was trying to get everyone’s attention there that day, and still beckons to get our attention too? Maybe this was the time that Christ was referring to when he told the disciples that they would do far greater things than He, but only after He had gone and the power of the Spirit had come to them.

A church fellowship formed that day with a massive response. People were coming and being baptized. Everyone likes that part, and wonders why we can’t have more of that these days.

Then, the thing so many really don’t like happened. They want to ignore it, that thing some few like to try to call “communist” or “socialist.” They shared all they had here in Acts 2. This church the disciples started sold their possessions and distributed them as any had need among them, the story tells us. I don’t know how to make everyone feel good about that. I didn’t make the story up. It’s our sacred Scripture. We say we believe it all.

I do know this. I’ve seen church folks do the same kinds of things. I’ve seen Christians give their precious time to take each other to the doctor. I’ve watched folks see to it that people had ramps for safety coming and going at their homes. I’ve seen people be sure that yard work got done at someone’s home, if that person was ill. I’ve seen people cash in vacation leave to go on mission trips. I’ve seen them donate money to help out when an area floods or gets hit by a storm. I’ve watched them get up dozens of coats, and sets of gloves, and be sure that local high school students didn’t have to be cold in the winter.

That can only be explained by the presence of God’s guiding and holy spirit. Power that is beyond us!

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.