By Rev. Greg Porterfield
Pentecost came early for me this year. Twelve days to be exact. Like a lot of religious rites that are based on a calendar, it is the experience we crave. For me, it occurred in recovery at Emory University Hospital, following a five-hour induced slumber from which I was groggily awakening. My physician stood over me, his face still a blur, and said what every cancer patient longs to hear, “I got it all”.
Fumbling with my words, I tried to thank him, but what could I say compared to that which had been done? He stopped short my intended soliloquy by gently saying, “You are like my family”.
Even under anesthesia, I heard and was barely left with breath. Dr. Nour is a world-class physician doing pioneering work in oncology. A native of Cairo, (not the one 70 miles south of the gnat line), he returns every summer to work at a children’s hospital in that teeming metropolis. This day, however, he had taken a needle, and with a laser, extinguished the quarter-size lesion that had nestled all too comfortably in my liver. And now he was calling me family.
Was it Pentecost? You remember that scene in Acts 2. We sometimes focus on all the wrong things -- the violent wind and tongues like fire. However, as Fred Craddock once observed, there is a softer side to that experience of every tribe and nation gathered in Jerusalem for a festival. Sometime refer to an atlas of ancient cities and you will recognize the places that are mentioned form a concentric circle of the then known world. It is Luke’s way of saying people had come from everywhere. Yet in this moment, separate citizens no longer heard in their own voice or held fast to their prior thoughts, for God invited them to participate in a new world order.
I know, I know what you are already thinking. Preacher, don’t start with that polytheism gobbledygook; and I’m not. For I am orthodox to the core and I take scripture to be true. I just don’t know how you can read of creation in Genesis or remember the words of commission by Jesus and not understand that God’s realm always extends far past the perimeters of my own small thoughts.
We make the mistake of categorizing ourselves by description when it is our experiences that inform who we are. If I could diagnosis the present social malaise, I would say it is this. We have preferred to see that which is peculiar in one another rather than what we hold in common. And that’s not Pentecost. Pentecost begins as people gather from everywhere with divisions abounding, but it does not end there.
In our present day we wield our words to bludgeon opponents with blunt force trauma. With so much vile spewed so regularly it is even difficult to identify Eden. This is not Pentecost. Pentecost is when people laid down their prior known identities and aligned themselves with God’s spirit. And when they did, just look what happened. What was realized could not have been imagined and instead became what God had intended.
Lying on my gurney, I couldn’t say all that, of course. I meekly tried to mumble gratitude too small for what I had been privileged to experience this day. My Egyptian-born doctor, who speaks in a neat English accent, not only removed a cancer, but recognized me as family. He could have called me anything, but it must have been Pentecost, for he saw me as family.
Rev. Greg Porterfield is Superintendent of the South East District and pastor of Wesley UMC in Evans.