Drew’s sermon from May 19th, 2013, Pentecost Sunday. If you want to know more about Pentecost, check out Chuck Knows Church: http://www.chuckknowschurch.com/archive/29-pentecost. The passage for this week’s sermon was Acts 2:1-21. May the light of Christ shine on you this week, and may you reflect it out into the world.
What Are We Waiting For?
They could have gotten started, but they waited. Jesus had given them a mission, he had spent three years walking with them and teaching them, and then sent them out, to tend his flocks, feed his lambs, and bear witness to the Son of God on earth.
But they waited. They waited because they didn’t know what to do, and they were afraid. They waited because going out into the world with this message seemed risky and dangerous. What if no one took them seriously? Or worse, what if someone did?
They waited because they didn’t know how, and because they needed to be absolutely sure that they were doing it right before they got started. They waited because they needed to put procedures in place to make sure everything was done decently and in order.
They waited because in the fifty days since Jesus had risen from the dead, they had gone from understanding to joy to fear to confusion, and they had finally developed a little bit of routine, and it was becoming comfortable.
They were waiting when it happened, gathered together in one house, when the Holy Spirit burst forth into the house, and filled it with wind and flame, and burst forth from their mouths, and filled them with languages and words of praise and proclamation. Before they knew it they were in the street proclaiming and bearing witness and shouting aloud in every tongue of every nation what they had once only whispered behind closed doors.
They were telling strangers, Romans even, what a few moments before they had been afraid to share with their own families. They were emboldened and excited, suddenly unafraid and filled to bursting with praise for the things they had seen, the miracles they had witnessed, the new life they experienced through their encounter with Jesus Christ.
People thought they were lunatics, they said the must be drunk, to be babbling and shouting like that, almost foaming at the mouth to proclaim God’s deeds of power.
But Peter stood and spoke out to those people, saying, “We are not drunk, for it is only 9 o’clock in the morning!” This may be my favorite part of the story. It seems the only thing that prevents them from being drunk is that its early in the day. It makes me wonder what would have happened if the Holy Spirit had decided to show up sometime late that evening.
But I digress. And Peter continues. He reminds them of a passage in the Book of Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;”
For the people gathered together at Pentecost, this is exactly what they need. They are unsure. They are afraid. They are hesitant. They do not know what they are supposed to be doing, and they are slipping into a routine that will protect them from worrying about it. But in this one moment, the Holy Spirit fills their lives and it creates and renews within them a fire for the Gospel, and it comforts and sustains them as they seek to discern where God is calling them, and it guides and encourages them as it sends them into the world to bear witness to the Gospel.
This is what the Holy Spirit does. It creates and renews, it comforts and sustains, it guides and encourages us as we let ourselves be filled with and led by its movement.
In today’s world it can be easy to get stuck in a holding pattern of sorts, waiting on someone or something else to jar us out of our comfortable routines and fill us with passion once more. We want someone to make everything right, some one to fix things. We want a savior. We’ve forgotten that we already have one.
The United Church of Christ did an advertising campaign a few years ago. The theme of it was “God is still speaking,” and it was designed to highlight the reality that revelation did not end 2,000 years ago, and that just as God spoke to the disciples gathered at Pentecost, God speaks to us who are gathered here today.
This is what we’ve forgotten, this is what today’s story reminds us of. The Holy Spirit is not something limited to Bible stories or to charismatic traditions where Pentecost images such as speaking in tongues are enacted.
The whole point of the story is that the Holy Spirit has been sent to us and it is still with us. It has been with us since the beginning, when the Spirit of God moved across the waters and the earth was formless and void. It was with them in the First Temple, in the kingdom of Israel, when they sung the Psalm that we read aloud earlier: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”
And just as the Holy Spirit was sent to the people gathered in the house at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has been sent to be with us and sustain us as we seek to take up our cross and follow the path of our savior. If we go a little further in the Gospel reading for today, we hear Jesus say, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The word John uses in our Gospel reading from today is parakleton, which means Helper, Comforter, Encourager. In other words even though Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh, the Spirit continues to teach us and sustain us as we seek to live in the promise of the resurrection.
And as that ad campaign tells us, it is still speaking, still blowing through our lives, through our communities, sustaining us when we have nowhere to turn, comforting us when fear and hurt overwhelm us, guiding us when we seek paths of righteousness.
The question is how we respond. How do we act in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is still alive and calling us. How do we let ourselves be stirred, challenged, emboldened, and guided by the Holy Spirit in our daily life?
Listening to the Spirit is hard. It involves confronting our fears, leaving our routines, taking bold new risks for our own sakes and for the sake of the Gospel. And because it is so hard, the church has been trying to tame the Spirit for the last 2,000 years. It’s what institutions do, they are designed to keep things the same. We have some incredible experience that we want to hang on to, and so we build walls around it, like Peter at the Transfiguration, seeing Jesus and Moses and Elijah with their faces all lit up and saying let’s set up camp here and stay in this moment forever. But you can’t. You have to go back down the mountain. We ritualize it, we codify it, and before we know it we’re resisting it, trying to preserve something that has been gone for a long time. And when the Spirit blows in another direction, we are dug in too deep to let the breath of God blow us anywhere.
In other words, if we’re ever going to make it to the Promised Land, we have to leave Egypt. It’s not easy to leave Egypt, because even slavery seems better than the unknown. Remember it took an army and an ocean to chase the Hebrews out of Egypt, and once they were out they spent the next forty years begging to be allowed to go back, army and all. It makes you wonder if the only reason the disciples went out and preached at Pentecost was because the house was on fire. But in spite of the fact that they were dragged kicking and screaming into the desert, and the fact that they spent a lot of time talking about how much they wished they were back in Egypt, they were still guided by wind and flame, a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire to guide them through the desert into the Promised land.
This is the promise of Pentecost. The Spirit of God has always moved through God’s people, pulling them and challenging them and supporting them and encouraging them, guiding them to respond to God’s call. And the promise of the story of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit continues that work in us today. God is still speaking, we only have to listen and respond to God’s call in our world and we will find ourselves transformed with the power of the Holy Spirit, sustained and led in ministry and mission. A land of milk and honey awaits. What are we waiting for?