23 May, 2010
Acts 2: 1-21
John 14: 8-17, 25-27
That Scary Spirit
Here now a reading from the Gospel of John:
Phillip said to him, “Master, show us the father, and we will be content.”
Jesus said to him, “You All have been with me all this time, and you
don’t recognize me, Phillip? You see me and you see the Father. And yet you
say, ‘Show us the father?’ Do you all not believe I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words which I say to you are not from me, but the Father in me works all of his works. Believe me because I am in the Father and the Father is in me. And if not, believe in the works I do. Amen, Amen, I say to you the one who believes in the works I do, they will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
And that which you all ask in my name I will do, in order that the the Father is glorified in the Son. If you all ask in my name, I will do. If you all love me, you will keep my commandments. And also, I will ask the Father and he will send you another Helper, in order that he will be with you into eternity. The Spirit of Truth, the Cosmos will not be able to receive because they did not recognize. You All will recognize, because he will be with you and is in you. These things I say to you while I remain with you. But the Helper, the Holy Sprit, the Father will send in my name. That One will teach you all everything and will remind you all all of what I have said to you.
Peace I leave with You All, Peace I give to you all. I don’t give as the Cosmos gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid.
Let us pray: O God our Help in ages past, and hope for years to come. You who promised a Helper. And delivering on that promise gave the power for the movement to move forward. Be with us today a we gather in your promise, and may the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your purposes of grace. Amen
Imagine you are in the upper room on that night when Jesus was betrayed. Are you gathered around the table with 12 other people facing the painter? Are you there for a ritual meal? Or are you there with many other followers, gathered in the upper room to hear from your teacher? A teacher who has been talking a lot about his impending death. A teacher, whom you have followed through out the countryside. Hearing him preach about being sired from above. Hearing him preach about a spiritually eternal life. Hearing him talk of being the good shepherd. Seeing him heal a blind man. Witnessing him raising his friend from the tomb. You are there around the table with many others, including the one raised from the tomb and his sisters. The woman caught in adultery is there – she who was almost killed. You are sitting next to the person you sat with as you received some of those loaves and fishes. You are there around the table with your Master…your teacher…your friend. You are seated there as he is giving his final discourse. Telling you one in your midst will betray him. One will deny him. And many will not follow him to his death. Then he takes off his robe, tucks a towel into his undergarment and begins to wash your feet. He says this is what you must do. When asked how, he reminds you that he and the Father are one…for in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He tells you he will be leaving you. But you must continue his work, with out him. You must not be afraid. To assist you he speaks of sending a Helper. This Helper, this Spirit of Truth, this Holy Spirit, will always be with you. Teaching you. Reminding you of his words. Others may not recognized this Spirit of Truth, but you will, and you are to proclaim the might works of God.
Now, imagine you are in that same upper room, close to two months later. You are gathered for the Feast of Pentecost. A festival in which you remember the promise of Jubilee. The release of debts. The freeing of captives. The opening of prisons. It is a feast of remembrance and promise that during the Rule of God all will be set right. You are gathered for this feast and you and your friends recall seeing your once dead master come back for the grave! You have broken bread with him. You have had breakfast with him on the sea side, when your friends had brought nets full of fish off their boat. You have partaken in the actual implementation of the Rule of God! You have lived the Jubilee you are remembering during this feast. Then, out of no where this upper room. This sacred space for you and your friends if filled with wind. Now not just a breeze like a lovely afternoon, but a violent rushing wind. Noisy. Loud. Plates are being knocked over. People are pushed to the floor. Pete is pushed against the wall. You are tucked into a corner. Your mind goes to the words of Genesis. The wind of God swept across the oceans. The creator breathing life into a new creation. You begin to see what look like tongues of fire descending upon your friends. One is coming upon you and and as it does you begin to tell the story of all you have witnessed … in Egyptian – though you are from a small town in Galilee. You start to tell of the Good News of all you have witnessed. You begin to share the message of the Rule of God. You are prophesying and proclaiming.
You and your friends are moved by this wind outside. Into the courtyard of the house. Still preaching other people begin to assemble around you. You notice the Egyptian man you saw in temple last Sabbath and he is listening to you. You saw each other before but did not speak, for you were foreign to each other. He gathers his wife and children to hear what you say. He pull over his cousin and niece. Your friends are drawing similar crowds. They are standing there in amazement and confusion. Some of the witnesses are weeping in fear. You are shaking with freight. What is going on? Your friends, many of whom seem just as terrified as you are standing there proclaiming the Rule of God. Those witnesses not in awe are mocking you all, saying you are drunk. You have been imbibing in the fresh wine. All of a sudden Pete stands up and raises his voice – in his native language – still is engulfed in the Spirit – he stands and starts to proclaim that you are not drunk for its only 9 in the morning. It is to early to be tapping the barrels. But rather, you are proclaiming and prophesying, for as it is stated in Joel:
And it will be in the end of days, God says,
I will pour out my Sprit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters will prophesy
and your young men will perceive visions
and your old men will dream dreams
And over my male and female slaves,
in those days,
I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy.
And I will show omens in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and vapors of smoke.
The sun will turn into darkness,
and the moon into blood,
before the great and glorious day of the LORD.
And then, all who call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.
It is with these words you remember what your Master said to you that night in the upper room:
I will ask the Father and he will send you another Helper, in order that he will be with you into eternity. The Spirit of Truth, the Cosmos will not be able to receive because they did not recognize. You All will recognize, because he will be with you and is in you. These things I say to you while I remain with you. But the Helper, the Holy Sprit, the Father will send in my name. That One will teach you all everything and will remind you all all of what I have said to you.
Peace I leave with You All, Peace I give to you all. I don’t give as the Cosmos gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid.
Your fears subside. Your message looses its timidness and becomes the words of your Master. You begin to open yourself to that indwelling of the Spirit of Truth and you prophetically call for the reversal of the status quo. You proclaim the present Rule of God. It is not some far off thing. It is now…the end of days, as Pete said. You preach a radical love for enemy and alien. You declare the law to be fulfilled in the actions of the man from Galilee. You reach out to the brother from Egypt and invite him into this Rule. You offer him a glimpse of this new reality. You care not what happens; for the Holy Spirit…The Spirit of Truth…The Helper from God in the name of the Son has filled you.
Sisters and brothers, this is not some far flung story about a group of people 2,000 years ago. It is our story. It is our history. It is ours to proclaim!
The story of Pentecost is an amazing story on so many levels. First we have the significance of the events we celebrate today taking place during the Jewish festival of Pentecost. A time of remembrance for the promise of Jubilee. This story involves a old and young – men and women – all prophesying of the mighty works of God. They are joining together in a chorus that calls in to being the immediate Rule of God. We have the resurrected body of Christ proclaiming his presence in and among the world.
Friends. This is what Pentecost is about. It is about a community gathering together to proclaim the Rule of God. It is not about individual warm fuzzies of gooiness. It is a story about the nature of community. The story is not about Pete, or any one person. It is about a communal proclamation of the Rule of God. This group of people did not sit around and marvel at the warmth of the Spirit. They moved outside and preached. They, as a group, went out into the world.
The events just prior to the story of Pentecost are centered on the rebuilding of the community. After Judas’ betrayal and death the remaining disciples felt the call to elevate a new one to the inner circle. What makes this interesting is the fact the one who most publicly denied Christ is the one who articulates the call to take this step. There is symbolism for the need of the disciples to be 12 – and that is good Sunday School fodder – but what is important for this moment is the need for the community to rebuild, and reshape the leadership after the loss of one of their own. There was the need for wholeness and healing – and the election of Mathais to the 12 helped to do this. The community needed to be healed and whole before it could move forward into its mission. Not only did the elevation of Mathais do this, but the witnessing of the ascension; the witnessing of the fulfillment of the scriptures. The commissioning and forgiveness by Christ of Peter for his denial. The healing of the community helped to bring about the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is several days after this when the events of Pentecost occur. This newly reshaped community is brought out into the world. Driven out of the upper room by the power of the Holy Spirit. They begin to preach.
What is it they are preaching? They are giving prophetic witness to the power of Christ through the mighty works of God. They do not preach a message of a risen Christ and and empty tomb. Though that is the reason they gather and worship, and is at the core of their existence together; but they are the living proof of the resurrection – they are preaching and interpreting the living word of God to the people. They are interpreting the present time, and using the word of God as a means. They are speaking as this new community of visionaries and dreamers who are filled with God’s Spirit of Truth. They are bringing God’s truth to the world. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the blast of wind into their sails they went out and proclaimed a message that left people asking what must we do to be saved?
Sisters and Brothers this is what we are called to do.
It is not an easy thing to do. For as our brother Paul says:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Daddy!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
To be led by the Spirit of God leads to adoption into God’s family, but also means sharing in the suffering of Christ. If we are to truly be a Pentecost community we need to move beyond the safety and security of the church building and go where the Holy Spirt sends us. The daily Bible reading and pietistic living are not enough. We are to be in the world, and be a witness to the Rule of God. And it might be rough. We may be chastised. We may be maligned. We may be disowned by our families. We may suffer the ultimate price, but it is what we are called to do.
The day of Jubilee is the day of the LORD’s favor, and that is the message we are to preach. We are to preach the immediate release of the captive from their slavery. We are to confront those who are the oppressors and tell them they are the ones oppressed by sin. We are to feed and clothe. We are to take a stand. We are to welcome the alien and the outcast.
Earlier this week the American Baptist Churches – USA released an open letter regarding immigration reform. In it they plead for reform that conforms to the commands of the Gospel. In this letter they proclaim the Rule of God – the day of the LORD’s favor by using the holy texts as their basis. They are doing what Peter did on the day of Pentecost. They are interpreting the present times in the light of Scripture. They are taking an unpopular stand, but they are taking a Gospel stand.
There is a lot of bemoaning of the fact our mainstream churches are shrinking in numbers. [Presently as a community of faith we are actually growing! That does not mean we become complacent.] While the numbers overall seem to be going down, those traveling to pilgrim sites is going up. People are visiting the shrine of Lady of Guadalupe in record numbers. Our Lady of Lourdes continually has pilgrims coming to wash in the water. Taize is a refuge for the young seeking a place of belonging. People are flocking to these places in record numbers. What is it about these places that draws pilgrims? And why are people not flocking to churches, if they are willing pilgrimage to these far away places.
The multitudes in Jerusalem on Pentecost were there for that Feast. They sojourned to this spot because of their faithfulness to Torah. The Feast of Pentecost or Shavut is one the three ordained pilgrimage festivals listed in the Torah. Not only is it a remembrance of Jubilee, but it is also a remembrance of the Law being given to Moses – 50 days after the Exodus. While in Jerusalem for their pilgrimage they encountered the Holy Spirit. They met the risen Christ in the persons of the followers proclaiming his Good News.
They went to a destination in order to follow the rules of the Divine, and in doing so encountered a new message. Are the pilgrims to the places today following a divine law, or they trying to feed a deep spiritual hunger? Many do go as a sign of faith, but there are also those who go seeking to experience … something? What is it they are not experiencing at the church? Why is the church not a pilgrim destination?
The church in years past, the glory years of Christendom in the United States, had become so entrenched into society it has lost its mystery. There are groups who have claimed a false identity for they church. They are those who proclaim a false Gospel, promising faithfulness will result in personal prosperity. The Spirit of Truth of that Pentecost day has been relegated to a troublesome voice. The church can not speak out. It has lost its voice.
But, Sisters and Brothers, the church has to take a Gospel stand. The church has to be counter cultural. The church has to become a pilgrim destination, and that means listening and responding to the push of the Holy Spirit. Friends, we are the gathered in that Upper Room. We are the community gathered to worship the Risen Christ. We are the witnesses to the Rule of God, and the Spirit of Truth is blowing thorough here. The Winds of a New Creation are disturbing the waters. The tongues of fire are burning in our hearts, and we must respond!
We, as a Pentecost community, must move outside and proclaim the present Rule of God. The Day of the LORD’s favor. We must be a living breathing presence of the risen savior.
That means being a community of refuge.
That means being a community of asylum.
That means being a community of release.
That mean taking a stand against injustice.
That means being willing to get out of this building and stand with those who need a neighbor.
That means being willing to stand in faith and be Gospel people in the face of power.
That means taking being assaulted by those in power.
That mean walking with Christ to Calvary.
Friends, that means taking up the Cross and suffering with Christ.
It means being a community living in the resurrection and proclaiming a New Day.
We are not alone in this. We were promised a Helper. We know that Helper. We have been witness to it in the past, and we know we will continue you to receive her as a gift from above. Acting according to the Holy Spirit is scary. It is terrifying because it is so against everything the world expects of us. It is scary because it asks us to do things we may not want to. It is scary because it forces us to speak in love. It forces us to bear witness to the radical love of a God who had the audacity to become flesh and show God’s people what the Rule of God is to be. It is scary. But, sisters and brothers, we are called to respond. We are called to proclaim. We are not alone. For our Resurrected and Ever enduring Savior told us: Peace I leave with You All, Peace I give to you all. I don’t give as the Cosmos gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid. As we go forth, let us never become nostalgic for the past. Let us go forth with the winds of the Holy Spirit filling us. Let us go forth and and Preach the Good News!
[ed. note: All Bible translations by me except for the Romans passage by Paul…that is NRSV]