The sermon for week June 12, 2011
Pentecost June 12, 2011
I Corinthians 12: 4-13; Acts 2:1-21
It was time to say good-bye. Jesus had told his friends and colleagues that he was leaving, but few of them chose to believe it until now. It seemed unnatural. They had come to depend on him in so many ways. But now the anticipated time had come. He gathered his family and friends together for a final farewell. With words of comfort, he reminded them that he would return-not at a certain time; but at the end of time. Then Jesus made a strange request. He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait…to wait for the "power from on high."
The disciples could not have known what they were waiting for--what that "power from on high" would look or feel like. Yet Jesus had instructed them to wait in Jerusalem, so they gathered together for prayer, and waited, pregnant with fear and hope, for the birth of the church. They waited, because no matter how hard they tried, they could not have become the Church on their own. They just had to wait, to wait for the mysterious "power from on high".
It was now 50 days since Passover and travelers from all over the known world returned to Jerusalem to participate in the agricultural and religious festival know as Pentecost. People from many different nationalities mingled in the market places and a variety of languages and dialects could be heard bargaining with the street vendors in Jerusalem.
In an upper room Peter and a group of about 120 disciples gathered together for prayers as they waited in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded them to do.
When all of a sudden the sound of a violent wind roared through the hushed silence of their prayers, filling the entire house where they were sitting.
This mighty squall of the Spirit was followed by fire. Tongues of fire! Turning ordinary men and women into human torches and fulfilling the prophesy of John the Baptist,
"I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Luke 3:16)
There was such a racket that people from the streets began to push through the doors trying to investigate the cause of the noise. What they heard they could scarcely believe: people of every nationality spoke to one another in languages understood by all.
The Church was born, as Jesus was born, with signs and wonders, ushering in a new age of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave birth to the new Body of Christ at Pentecost, empowering the Church to carry on the work of Christ in the world. And this time the Spirit was poured out on all flesh, not just a select person or group; but sons and daughters, young and old, slaves and free. What a colorful and eclectic group the church was born to be!
The Book of Acts is a chronicle of the events that followed the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost; turning a group of frightened fishermen into apostolic martyrs; but the story doesn't end there. The wind of the Spirit is a prevailing wind, a wind of surging, new possibilities, a wind that fueled the Reformation and brought a determined people to a new land.
When the Pilgrims set sail for the New World in 1620 Pastor John Robinson prophesied to the small gathering of people who were about to set sail saying, “God hath yet still more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word.” That prophecy was realized as the Gospel was preached on the stubborn soil of North America, plowing the fields of the western movement.
Devout Christians founded churches in the fertile prairies, then built their towns around them. When their spirits sagged, and the work of salvation faltered they simply staged a revival and made room for a new gust of the wind of the Spirit to be released among them.
That same wind blew into Toledo under the sails of Billy Sunday when the evangelist brought his “Toledo for Christ” campaign here in 1911. The story goes that Billy looked out over the city and observed the many church steeples reaching skyward along Collingwood Avenue and exclaimed, “Holy Toledo!” It was a branding that was to become as famous as Jeep and Tony Packo’s.
Billy Sunday preached his famous backsliding sermon in Toledo warning the crowd that gathered: “Many start the voyage of the Christian life under sending skies and upon smooth waters, but as they sail out of the harbor the sky becomes dark and the craft of their religion crashes upon the rocks. At first they are careful to obey the command of God, but after the revival they neglect their duties and finally come to wreck."
Billy, in his sermon, borrowed a popular symbolism of the earthly journey as a pilgrimage on which Christians set sail. Many of his listeners were recent immigrants. Like Pentecost in Jerusalem people arrived in Toledo from all over the world, embarking from ships after a long and perilous journey. Eventually they built churches that borrowed architectural elements from those very ships. The Latin term navis means ship. The nave of the church where the people gather for worship often resembles a ship’s keel, providing safety and protection for the spiritual journey. If Billy Sunday took a stroll down Collingwood on a Sunday morning, I believe he would have heard the sounds of many voices through the open windows of the churches…people of God in Toledo making a joyful noise unto the Lord, reminiscent of Pentecost itself.
Each year at this time we revisit the great story of Pentecost, which reminds us of the birth of the church. All it takes is another birthday to remind us of how much we've changed! And the Church, which is the "outward and visible" sign of our common life together, has changed every bit as much as you and I have over the years.
Birthdays offer an opportunity to recall the past. But birthdays also invite us to envision the future. Just when the church has begun to idle down and ease into the promise of a warm and lazy summer, Pentecost comes along; and we are jolted from our comfortable pews with images of wind and fire, visions and voices that are signs of the vitality of the Spirit.
The followers of Jesus were told to wait for the "power from on high"; but the church no longer waits! God's promise to "pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" has already been witnessed and received. The church no longer waits, for it is being carried forward by the prevailing but unpredictable wind of the Spirit.
A Spirit as powerful as this cannot be restrained or domesticated. It blows where it wills at God's creative initiative. By the power of the Holy Spirit, a fearful group of men and women huddled together in Jerusalem became the Church of Jesus Christ. This is the primary lesson of Pentecost as we complete the fifty days of Easter. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave resurrected a dispirited group of disciples to become the Church.
Here in Sylvania we recognize that this summer is different from any in recent memory. The loss of our senior pastor has taken the wind out of our sails and many of us feel adrift at sea. We need time to accommodate so great a loss, time to imagine a future where Bill is unavailable to provide the wise counsel and leadership we came to rely on to secure our future together as a church. We must have time to mourn our loss, and comfort one another.
The transforming power of the Holy Spirit is still available to us, but to catch the mighty wind of the Spirit we will need to tend the sails of worship and prayer and be willing to go where the Spirit leads us.
The power to be the church has already been given. In God's wisdom, it was not entrusted to a single individual; but poured out upon all flesh. The strange and mysterious alchemy of Spirit that gave birth to the Church is the power God uses to change the world…a transformation that begins with you and me.
Most of us get defensive when the preacher tells us how important we are to the work of God’s kingdom. That’s why I enjoy the story a colleague tells about the time he reminded the congregation of Paul’s words describing the work of the church: “Christ in you the hope of glory,” a phrase that took on the significance of a campaign slogan when proclaimed from the pulpit. On the way out of the church that morning one of the women whispered, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be that important.”
We may agree with her sentiment; but the determination is not ours to make. Whether we consider ourselves important; each of us is necessary to the life we share in the community of faith. Each of us matters.
It’s unlikely we will experience the same signs and wonders that identified the Spirit’s presence at Pentecost, yet the Spirit is still moving mysteriously among us. Like the wind, the Spirit is a mystery whose identity is most often revealed in power to effect change…to comfort those who mourn, to bring harmony out of division, to bringing healing and reconciliation, renewal and transformation within and among us.
The Spirit in us is revealed in the power to make a difference. As the Body of Christ ours are the hands that knit the shawl which comforts those who are ill and afraid. Ours are the ears which listen to another’s pain. We speak for those who have lost their voice, shelter and clothe those who have fallen on hard times. Ours is the note of encouragement, the message of hope, the friendship that sustains. We empty our pockets for cause of Christ. We lift our voices in songs of praise and offer our prayers for healing and reconciliation. The presence of Christ makes sacred the life we share, and gives our lives the meaning of a shared purpose. We are “the hope of the world” when we bring the Light of Christ into a dark and threatening world.
None of us has all the gifts; but together all of us do!
The unpredictable wind of the Spirit gathers, pushes, directs and unifies the Church for the changing, but continuous work of Christ's mission in the world. It can be a gentle wind of change or a tornado that rearranges the landscape. Ours is the human, often breathless, attempt to keep up with the movements of the Holy Spirit and the promise of God to "make all things new."
“Go then,” Jesus told his disciples, ”to all people everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 19-20)
This is the commandment we have received. This is the dream we have inherited. The Spirit lives on in us and empowers us to fulfill the dream of God, when we make it our own.
Dreamers see beyond what is by imagining what might be. Dreamers do not say, “We’ve never done it that way before,” they say, “let’s give it a try.” Dreamers are never satisfied with just staying in the harbor, they are always pointing to and longing for the horizon. Dreamers are persons with a simple faith who believe that to see and follow God’s dream means that God will provide the resources and the power to fulfill it.
The Spirit is to the Church what wind is to the sailor. The Holy Spirit provides the power to be the Church. The church is a sea- worthy craft. It was not meant to languish on the shore. It was designed to hoist sail, catch the prevailing wind and soar!
I sense the wind is picking up. Summer is upon us. Let’s get ready to catch the wind of the Spirit, put out to sea and sail!
Thanks be to God!