Its Holy But Its Scary 6-4-17

In this Pentecost sermon, based on Acts 2:1-21, I explore the action of the Holy Spirit empowering the disciples, as well as the invitation to join in God’s action in the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-holy-but-its-scary-6-4-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

The first time my dad got me up on a tractor to actually drive the thing, I was 13. A year later he had me out in the field discing, which is of probably the type of field work least likely to get screwed up. I also got my learners permit that same year. A year later I had my school permit, and the year after that I was licensed to drive all over the place. A quick bit of math reveals that I’ve been behind the wheel of some type of vehicle for the past quarter of a century.

For the most part, its gone just fine. In fact I’ve been driving long enough that its completely second nature and I cruise down the road without much thought of the power in the vehicle that I’m controlling. (pause) But there have been a couple of instances where that wasn’t the case…the most prominent in my memory happened when I was 18, and three of my friends and I were involved in a roll over accident.

A blown tire threw us completely out of control, and after fishtailing back and forth a few times, we rolled sideways 2 times right down the middle of the highway before coming to a stop. (pause) Now its hard to say how long it took for our car to roll over, probably no more than a second or two…but I can still remember it quite vividly…and the sense that there was nothing I could do against the violence of that rollover wreck.

Now to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember what the first words out of my mouth were…knowing me it was probably a 2 word phrase that starts with Holy and ends…well it ends with something I probably shouldn’t say in the pulpit…but I do remember the first words that one of the other guys said from the backseat…WHAT HAPPENED?

Now other than a few bumps and scrapes…all 4 of us were pretty much okay…we were pretty blessed that day…but in remembering the violence of that moment…the same question remains…What happened….or you could ask…what is this?  (pause) Or maybe some would ask, what does this mean? (pause)

Pentecost Sunday…the day when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit…empowering the disciples to do something amazing…and typically when we think of this story…its exciting…everyone’s hanging out in Jerusalem…pilgrims from all over the world are there to celebrate…when suddenly the wind starts blowing, and flames start…flaming…and the disciples start rattling off the message of God’s deeds of power in all kinds of different languages…languages of the countless different nationalities that were present.

But there’s a word in there…one that I’ve never really picked up on until this time around.  Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a VIOLENT wind. (pause) This was no simple breeze…it was violent…and we need only think about the last major thunderstorm that we stood outside watching to recognize the amazing power that is present within a violent wind…so no wonder it attracted a crowd that day in Jerusalem. (pause)
Now of course, Pentecost…this event that we’re talking about today…we recognize it as the work of the Holy Spirit…and while we know that the Spirit of God has been around since the very beginning…this marks the start of something new…and the disciples are empowered to get to work…they are bonded together by something new…in fact…this violent presence of the Spirit in wind and fire creates an event that is impossible to ignore…and these are the exact types of things that have the tendency to bond groups of people together.

But make no mistake…this isn’t the work of the disciples…they aren’t the ones up to something here…this is the work of God…and we see that if we pay attention to the many different things that the Holy Spirit either does or empowers in this story. The Spirit violently comes out of heaven…burning like fire it rests on the men…it fills them and gives them the ability to speak in different dialects…and when the astonished crowd starts to push back a little, the Spirit empowers Peter to get up and speak…and what’s he talk about? The signs of the Spirit’s presence among all flesh in the last days. Dreams, prophecy, visions…disruptions in nature…all of it from the power of the Holy Spirit…of God’s Spirit active in the world. (pause)
Now I bring this up to highlight that yes…the Spirit is really up to something here…and its utter madness…its an upheaval…its not pleasant…and its not well received…the people are either astonished…and not in a good way…or they flat out refuse to believe what they see blaming the disciples linguist achievements on too much booze.

But whatever it is that the Spirit is up to here…I can only imagine just how good of a story it made for those who were there…and as we hear…it was people from all over the place. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Libians, Judeans, Cappocians, Asians and residents of Pontus and Phryrigia and Pamphila and Egypt and Rome and Crete and Arabia…Native Jews and converts…people from literally all over the world at that time were there to see this…and whether they believed it or not…which many did while many did not…you can bet that when the festival was over…they went home with a crazy story to tell…wind and fire and crazy Galileans preaching in all kinds of different languages. (pause)
Now part of me has often gotten stuck on the excuse that the naysayers make about the disciples being drunk…and I can’t help but think that people will go to any length to deny the work that God is up in the world…and while that might be true…thinking on this story reminded me of another story by the same author.

Keep in mind that Luke wrote the book of Acts as well as his gospel…and in his gospel we hear that Jesus empowers his followers, sending 70 of them out in pairs…empowered to cast out demons and heal diseases, some amazing things to be sure…but also to declare that the kingdom has come near…to declare the gospel as they had experienced it to that point…and the kicker…is that Jesus sends them out into the places where he planned to go. The story of Christ went first, and then Christ came along after.

Now with that in mind, think about Pentecost…and those residents of every nation under the heaven…going home with a story of this crazy event…an event that can’t be explained…only that it must have been some act of God…whatever god that might be in their individual culture…the story of God’s action in the world being carried out.

And just as Christ planned to follow after the disciples…the body of Christ here in the world follows after these individuals who carry the story out in the world…because of the countless different things that the Spirit of God is up to in the world…perhaps the single most important aspect is the way that the presence of the Spirit unites individuals together into something bigger than themselves.

Here in the Lutheran church we often tend to think of our spiritual gifts in a very individualistic way…and that’s not a bad thing…but we must also recognize that the power of the Spirit is community building as well…uniting all believers together as the one body of Christ.

Jesus tells his followers that they will be his witnesses…in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth…and the united body of Christ, which is the church throughout the ages that have followed are still in the midst of that task…of being Christ in the world that has heard stories of these crazy things that God is up to. (pause)

Now there’s another aspect of this story that we have recognize as we consider the way that the spirit does unite us together as community…there were nay-sayers in the crowd that day…but there were also 3000 people that believed and were baptized…people from every nationality…every corner of the world…and you can bet that they looked different…that they sounded different…that their day to day lives were different…and yet the Spirit brought them all together.

You can imagine how scary that was…to be in community…to be considered one with people that are different…people that you might even consider to be your cultural enemy…what must that be like to look at the other…and try and see them as your brother or sister….as your equal.

This is what the Holy Spirit is up to…and honestly we see this same story over and over again throughout scripture and throughout history…the action of the Spirit in the world is constantly inviting us forward into something new…and in this case a new sense of community with those that we would not expect…it may be holy…but by God its also scary isn’t it?

But we must recognize that what God is calling us into is not always easy…in fact more often not it’s the opposite of easy…its tough…its difficult…its scary…maybe even dangerous…and who knows what we might have to give up in order for this united community of faith to move forward into the future?

Are we willing to give up the sense that our way is the right way? Are we willing to give up our cultural hold on how to “do church?” Are we willing to take those scary steps forward…to meet the other who looks different than us…or to continue to build the body of Christ to better represent all of humanity, because guess what, that’s who God’s working on reaching.

Are we willing to take those scary steps forward so that the church will be stronger for our children…so that the church that Camden is about to be baptized into will be open to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit which will come upon him with the water and the word. This is the body of Christ…and only together…and I mean completely together…will we one day, truly embody what the body is supposed to look like.

Scary as it is…the Spirit invites us forward into something new…we are never called backwards…because that’s not how God is working in our world…may we have the courage to follow where the Spirit is blowing. Amen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: