Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Catching Fire

Today is Pentecost. As a child, I was taught that this was the Birthday of the Church, and I remember birthday cake at coffee hour and red streamers hanging from the tall Ponderosa pine trees at the front of the church building.

Like many of our religious festivals, Pentecost has multiple layers to it. Acts 2 begins by saying, “When the day of Pentecost had come,” which means that it already existed as a festival on that day. Pentecost was originally an Israelite spring harvest festival; the word Pentecost is the Greek term for the Jewish word Shavuot. The Christian church co-opted the name, applying it to remember the day when tongues of fire “rested on” Jesus’ disciples and they began to speak in different languages.DSC_0486e

Remember that these disciples were from the Galilean countryside. The idea that such provincial, uneducated people could suddenly speak multiple languages is part of what made this day stand out for the first generations of Christians. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon them: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can well imagine that they had no clue what this would mean and how the Holy Spirit would manifest to them. Jesus had always been full of surprise and mystery; would the Holy Spirit be any different?

I found myself thinking that, in a sense, this spring harvest festival, this Pentecost, is celebrating the harvest of Jesus’ work with his disciples. His years of teaching, in Galilee and in Jerusalem, bore fruit in the form of tongues of flame that did not burn. (I do wonder if the disciples’ first thoughts were of Moses and the burning bush!) Interestingly, the disciples’ responses were not filled with confusion and questions, as had been the case with so many conversations recorded in the Gospels. Instead, Peter speaks out boldly, proclaiming the message of Jesus’ resurrection and connecting this event with sacred scripture, exactly as Jesus had done, time and time again in his ministry.

“You heard it was said…now I say to you” was a hallmark of Jesus’ teaching. Peter and the other disciples now take on that mantle, spontaneously speaking in the languages of those who need to hear the Good News and seamlessly connecting their message with Hebrew scripture.

The disciples are the fruit of Jesus’ ministry. They are now catching fire—the kind of fire that lights up souls rather than burning bodies. That fiery fruit generates its own harvest on Pentecost: Luke tells us that over 3,000 people were baptized that day, joining the disciples in following Christ.

When in your life have you caught fire? In what ways has the Holy Spirit transformed your life, burned away the confusion, and emboldened you to preach the Good News? How are you the harvest fruit of Jesus’ ministry?


P.S. My proposal was not accepted into the next round of InnovateHER, but I will move forward with hope nonetheless. The Holy Spirit lit a fire in me, and I will do my best to help hope catch fire in our troubled world.


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DSC_1881eDuring Holy Week this year, Henry and I took a turn holding vigil at church after the Maundy Thursday service. This is a tradition of taking turns “staying awake” overnight with Jesus, whose disciples fell asleep while he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–41).

I found myself thinking about the “big three” disciples who fell asleep when Jesus asked them to keep watch: Peter, John, and James. Then I wondered how the other disciples felt, having been left further behind in the garden. What were they doing? Did they fall asleep? Did they feel left out when Jesus took those three and went further into the garden—or were they happy to just be followers, hanging out in an olive garden on a warm spring night and talking about all the events of the past few days?

Andrew in particular came to mind, in part because of two churches named after St. Andrew that have factored into my life. There is one here in Tucson, where I was baptized at about nine months old, and there is one in Albuquerque, where I grew up and was confirmed. So I looked up references to Andrew on my cell phone (yes, I pulled out my cell phone while I was in church, but that’s where the handiest Bible concordance was to be found!). I found thirteen results. These include the usual ones about the listing of the twelve apostles, and that Andrew was Peter’s brother. Mark 3 says Andrew shared a home with Peter and his mother-in-law. Mark 13 has the “big four” (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) asking Jesus privately about when the Temple will be destroyed.

But the Gospel of John has more. John says that Andrew was one of two disciples of John the Baptist, who heard him say “That’s the man!” about Jesus and followed him. Andrew then went to find his brother, telling him they’d found the Messiah. Thus scripture makes clear that Andrew was already searching, seeking, repenting, presumably already baptized, before Jesus’ ministry even started. Andrew was already on the spiritual journey.

Andrew is also the one to point out that there are fish and bread available when Jesus asks Philip how the five thousand will be fed. Andrew notices, he speaks up, he finds a starting place. He forges a path for transformation.

A pivotal scripture passage in my life is John 12:20–22. Some Greeks come to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I encountered that phrase on a pulpit plaque in a church we were visiting when I was fourteen years old, and that idea of pointing the way to Jesus has become emblematic of my vocation. But as I re-read that scripture on Maundy Thursday, I found myself noticing the fact that Philip doesn’t immediately go and tell Jesus. Instead, he goes first to Andrew.

I wonder why. Perhaps it was because both Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida. Perhaps it was because Andrew was one of the “big four.” Perhaps it was because he knew Andrew would know how to handle the fact that these Greek gentiles wanted to speak to a Jewish rabbi.

The Greek Orthodox church names Andrew Prōtoklētos (Πρωτόκλητος), or the First-called—which makes sense if he was initially a follower of John the Baptist. So, if he was already—perhaps always—a seeker, did it bother him that Jesus didn’t include him in the “big three” that night in Gethsemane, or did he recognize that being singled out was not that important? Perhaps he wasn’t looking for a place beside Jesus “in his glory,” like James and John were. Perhaps being a follower was enough.

I’m still pondering Andrew. I think there’s more to learn here, from prayerful pondering on this disciple of Jesus. I invite you to ponder with me. Choose Andrew, or another of the disciples, or one the women who also followed Jesus. Who is speaking to you in this Eastertide, inviting you to dig more deeply into his or her experience with Jesus?