When Simile Takes on Substance
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (Acts 2:1-3)
Pentecost is upon us and preachers everywhere this week will be trying to discover new ways of presenting the Upper Room story from the second chapter of Acts. What really happened that day? Was it a sudden storm, a mass hallucination, or an ecstatic encounter with the Holy Spirit? And what was the meaning, the purpose, and most of all, the fruit of the experience for the disciples and the nascent church?
For the first Pentecost in decades, I am not preaching on Sunday, and (at least for today) I have no ideas to offer concerning the “divided tongues as of fire”. But as a newly retired person who has blissfully spent much of the past two weeks becoming reacquainted with the Cumberland Plateau in South Central Tennessee, I do have something to say about “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.”
From the front porch of our cabin, you can observe the progress of a storm as it climbs the mountain…not by the thunder, but by the dual rush of the wind and rain as they clamor up the rocks and race through the trees. In the space of two minutes, the stillness of the afternoon is overcome by raucous warning calls of pileated woodpeckers and the chatter of brown squirrels running to ground. The branches and trees of oak leaves begin to writhe and the temperature plummets as a wall of rain drives scudding clouds ahead of itself. In an instant, the smell, sound and sight of the the rain stun the senses before downpour begins. It pelts, splashes and drums across the ground in a wild dance of water and wind. While the fury is overhead, the sound is deafening…until you realize that the sound is receding, and the force of the wind and rain overhead are lessening as the storm moves on and away. In the stillness, wildlife emerges from hiding, rays of sunlight sparkle on the leaves as they slip in behind the last of departing clouds, and steam begins to rise from the freshly scoured earth.
To my way of thinking, that’s a Pentecost experience. And as pastors like to say, “that’ll preach!” There are Pentecost moments all around us all the time. The question is, do we notice? And if we notice, what difference does it make?
I also have something to say about hummingbirds…but that is for another day.