June 4, 2017
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
“Church on Fire!”
Sometimes when we hear the Pentecost story, it sounds like something long ago and far away. But I don’t think it is. In fact, I think we are much like the people who gathered after Jesus ascended. They waited around in a room for their assignment. I’m guessing they were hoping it would be easy. “I’ll do anything. Just don’t ask me to talk to those people. Really, I want to know what you want us to do next. Please don’t ask me to give any of my hard-earned money. We are looking for some direction here, but don’t make us pray out loud.” Suddenly the Spirit blew among them and they were talking to “those” people. They were giving all their money. They were praying out loud.
Is that so different from us? Is it some ancient text? Or is it a story of a group of people gathered in this sanctuary in 2017?
Here we are asking what we should do about our future: Is our future in this building? If so, what does it look like?
What ARE we supposed to do for immigrants? Please don’t make us do something risky.
How do we hire the new staff person? Are we going to have to GIVE more to make that happen?
Does being a good neighbor mean investing MORE of our time?
How do we support our preschool? How do we help our children and youth grow in the faith when we have questions of our own? Can we teach Sunday School if we aren’t sure what we believe?
Pentecost is a beautiful story of followers who WANT to know what is next, but are terrified at having to continue without Jesus around to tell them what to do next. How are they supposed to know what to do? This may be one of those “be careful what you pray for” situations.
Here is something beautiful about Pentecost: EVERYONE is given the power to be God’s people in the world. That is an awesome thing! If you find that unbelievable, look at the Pentecost poster child: Peter. Peter was the eager follower who always asked the wrong question. Peter was the one who said, “You can count on me, Jesus. I am there for you no matter what.” After Jesus was killed, someone asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of the people who followed Jesus?” Peter replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t know anyone named Jesus.” Peter seemed to be the biggest failure of all.
Look at what happened to him. The people gather and the Spirit blows among them and they start speaking AND hearing so that they can understand each other EVEN though they are from different countries and don’t speak the same language. It’s a very confusing scene and the first to speak up are the critics who say they must be drunk.
Who is the one to explain what is happening? Who is the courageous one to respond to the confused and the critical? PETER stands up and says, “This is God’s Spirit poured out on all of you. God’s Spirit is not just for the rich, or the righteous, or the ordained, or the educated. God’s Spirit is for ALL – the young, the old, the respected, the marginalized. God’s Spirit is for ALL – that means YOU!
If Peter can go from being the one who messes up every time to the bold spokesperson for God, WE can go from whatever limitations that hold us back to being God’s courageous followers too…ALL of us. Don’t start making your list of excuses – they don’t work here. Here you receive the get out of the jail of your excuses card. Here you receive EVERYTHING you need to be God’s people in the world. Last week Jesus promised the disciples that they would be given the Spirit’s power. This week, they are. So are YOU!
If I asked you if you have ever experienced the Spirit, some would tell me a story of doing something you never thought you could do. Some would say you have never experienced the Spirit. But if you kept talking, I think I would hear the Spirit at work in your life. The Spirit doesn’t choose some and exclude others. The Spirit is breathing in YOU.
That Spirit is empowering you to live boldly as Jesus’ follower in the world. The Spirit is there when you volunteer to lead something new. The Spirit is there when you give more than you usually do. The Spirit is there when you share your story in a group. The Spirit is there when the group treats your story as a sacred trust. The Spirit is there when you speak on behalf of someone on the margins. The Spirit is there when you show up even though you would rather stay home. The Spirit is there when you pray out loud even though you would rather melt into the floor.
We have these ideas that keep us in little boxes. Only the minister can pray out loud. I would just sound ridiculous if I did it. I can’t share that story. No one would respect me if they knew. I can’t feed a homeless family dinner. What would I say to them? I can’t talk to someone who has been in prison. What if I insult them? I can’t tutor a middle school student. What if they don’t like me? I can’t help at Pride. What do I know about being gay? I can’t stand up for injustice. Someone else can do it better than me.
That’s where Pentecost comes in…you CAN pray out loud. You CAN share that story. You CAN feed a homeless family. You CAN talk to someone who has been in prison. You CAN tutor a middle school student. You CAN help at Pride. You CAN stand up for injustice. You can do these things not because of who you are, but because of who GOD is.
CS Lewis said, “after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God inside them as well: directing them, making them do things they could never do before.” From Mere Christianity p. 127
I went on the Border Immersion trip because I felt called to hear the stories of immigrants. I went because I wanted to understand the obstacles they face. I went because I wanted to know how I could respond and how our Church can help. One of the things I struggle with is that I never learned to speak Spanish. I find myself stepping back in a room where I can’t follow what is being said. I am embarrassed at my inability to communicate. I feel off balance and insecure. It may be that it has taken me years to go on this trip because of my insecurity. But the trip was never about my feeling secure and balanced. It was about touching the pain and vulnerability of the people we met. How am I to do that if I am unwilling to tap into my own vulnerability?
Part of the beauty in that place was relying on people. I didn’t understand the language. I didn’t have any expertise about the border regulations. I learned to listen with everything I had because I didn’t bring anything but an open heart. That is where God works – in our vulnerability. The power that the Spirit gives us isn’t a power to be the expert or to take charge, but to offer ourselves and trust that we will be used in a way that we never could on our own.
God is inside each of us. God is inside our community helping us do things we never thought we could do before. It requires that we show up. It means that we will probably be uncomfortable. It is in those places that God shows up and gives us what we need. It is there that we are enabled to be bold in a way that we never imagined on our own. Today the Spirit moves among our smoldering coals of fear and insecurity and sets us on fire.