May 19, 2013
Acts 2: 1-21 & John 14: 8-17, 25-27
A few weeks ago we had a birthday cake for the Church when we talked about the Pentecost story in Confirmation. It was chocolate with raspberry filling and we put 20 candles on it, one for every 100 years. The bakery guy at Ray’s was a little confused when I asked him to write “Happy Birthday Dear Church” on it, but he got it right.
We hear this story every year on this day, right? About the wind and the flames and the crowd thinking these country folks were drunk at 9:00 in the morning with all their babble. But their message got through, and people from all around the known world heard their story and believed through the power of the promised Holy Spirit.
Alongside this story we have the story of Jesus saying goodbye to his friends on the night of their last meal together. He’s been telling them that he’s going and that they will be spreading the word when he’s gone. Philip, who must be a guy like me who always feels like I didn’t get what everyone’s talking about, says, “Jesus, just show us the Father and we’ll be happy.” Poor Jesus. “I’ve been telling you about the Father in everything I have said and done, Philip! Even if you don’t get what I’ve been saying, surely you’ve been able to see the Father at work in what I’ve done! And now that I’m going away, and sending my Spirit to be with you, you guys will do even greater things across the world than I have been able to do here in this place at this time.”
To me this is where these two stories connect. Jesus was limited to the work he could do in one specific time and one specific place, but through his teaching and the power of the Spirit he promised to send, the work grew and spread all through the world of the day. Through the writings and traditions of those first believers, the work moved on. There was not just one Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit showed up and created belief and wreaked havoc on the established churches and traditions of the day. There were many. We’ve heard the story of Peter’s astonishing revelation about what to eat and who to eat with and the conversion of Cornelius. We ‘ve heard how Paul was literally knocked out by the Spirit of Jesus calling him to a new work in God’s kingdom. We’ve heard about Lydia and her conversion and sponsorship of the new church in Philippi.
We’ve experienced a few Pentecosts here at Our Savior’s as well: the rescue of this building from Camp Abbot and its construction here; the good old days, when half the town came to the smorgasbords and funds were raised to add on to the building; of Junior Choirs and big confirmation classes and youth directors. And we’ve heard about changes in which big ideas were unsuccessful and people turned on each other instead of asking how to work things out.
And now we face another day in which church language is a foreign language for so many people. The prayers that are so comforting and encouraging to us don’t really make sense to people who haven’t grown up in church. The world doesn’t care about church anymore. The church is seen by so many as a place that is narrow-minded, judgmental, even hateful, and the scandals of sexual abuse and its subsequent cover-up by church authorities have just confirmed for many that the church is full of hypocrites. It isn’t usually seen as a place where people can bring their deepest questions and hurts and be accepted. Or as a place where all of us are just doing the best we can to be faithful to what we say we believe.
What is the language we need to speak to let people know about the love of God in Jesus that heals us and gives us peace? What is the language which will invite people to come and see what it’s like to be part of a praying, singing, hopeful and joyful community? I think it’s our own stories of how we have been healed and how our lives have been changed by having Jesus in them. I think it’s our own stories of why we help at St V’s or read with a first-grader or belong to Rotary or Kiwanis. Those stories tell how our life of faith and the joy we live are gifts from God for which we are grateful. They re about how we’ve come to see the world differently, as if we now have God’s heart to relieve suffering and to lift someone up the way we’ve been lifted. Our stories are personal, but so were the stories of Cornelius and Lydia and Paul and Ananias who put his hands on Paul’s eyes.
Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they needed to believe exactly the right things to be his followers. He didn’t make them recite a creed or swear to believe everything without question. He said if we loved him, we’d keep his commandments and that the Holy Spirit would come and teach us everything we needed to know to become part of a believing community. He said that the Holy Spirit would remind us of what he’d taught, so we would remember God’s love or lift up a friend. It is the language of God’s love to us, shown to us in Jesus life and death that is the language the world needs to hear. It is the new life that comes out of death that we have seen in Jesus’ resurrection that has the power to change hearts from despair to hope. We’re the bearers of that language. And this is the day when we get to celebrate it.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.