Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Day of Pentecost – June 12, 2011
Come, listen! The voice of the Spirit speaks within the whole of life. Hear and know a God whose love for us is as warm as a flame, reaching into every cold place and breathing new life. Amen.
You are driving in a car at a constant speed. On your left side is a valley and on your right side is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you. In front of you is a galloping pig which is the same size as your car and you cannot overtake it. Behind you is a helicopter flying at ground level. Both the giant pig and the helicopter are also traveling at the same speed as you. What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation?
Get off the children’s carousel and, next time, don’t drink so much. Yes, the spirit can make us act in outlandish ways—both the spirits that come in a bottle and the Holy Spirit that is of God.
Have you ever been so animated or excited that someone watching might think you’ve been drinking—at nine in the morning? That’s the reaction that the disciples of Jesus got on that Day of Pentecost more than two thousand years ago. They were gathered together in Jerusalem deep in prayer and, all of a sudden, all holy hell broke loose—a rushing blast of wind blew through the room and visible tongues of fire settled on each of them.
Miraculous things happened immediately. They got up, went out into the streets and boldly and enthusiastically preached the Good News about Jesus Christ. Everyone in the city—and there were many people of different nationalities who spoke different languages—everyone understood every word they said. Never before had the crowds gathered for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost experienced such an astonishing phenomenon so naturally they assumed that the disciples had tied on a good jag.
What God was doing, you see, was giving this new entity that would be known as the “church” its first gift—Sophia, the Holy Spirit, the charisma it would need to gain momentum and turn the lives of its first members upside down with power from on high. Never again would they see things through the same dull, antiquated lens. The Spirit of God totally disrupted their ho-hum lives and with great holy commotion empowered this small group of believers to stir up the hearts of the thousands of people who heard them preach with conviction and passion. Where has that kind of power gone? Is it still with us?
You probably all know that our planet earth is wrapped in the protective commodity we call the atmosphere which separates the air we breathe from cold outer space. Beneath this protective veil is all the air there ever was from the beginning of creation. If that is a scientific truth, then every time we breathe, we breathe the same air that the disciples breathed two thousand years ago. What a great image: that there is a direct life-line connection from the disciples who experienced Pentecost in first century Jerusalem to us who breath the air this morning on this day of Pentecost; that the Holy Spirit, like the air we breathe, is timeless and is as much present in our midst right now as She was two thousand years ago.
The same miraculous, life-transforming events can and do happen when the church claims and recognizes the power with which God has endowed it.
Rubem Alves, who is a liberation theologian from Brazil, says that, “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” Hope,” he says, “is the suspicion that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the present, and that miraculously and surprisingly, life is readying the creative event that will open the way to freedom and resurrection.”
From the very beginning of the church’s life, its dreams and visions have been shaped by the windy whims of the Spirit—the same life-giving Spirit that was not only responsible for the birth of Jesus but also for the birth of the church; the same life-creating Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism and that descended upon us at ours. That Spirit calls us to imagine this world as it should be, to hear the melody of God’s future—and to dance to it.
So this morning I am inviting all of you to the dance floor. I am calling on you to take even a few steps out of your comfort zone and to flirt with the question of how the Spirit may want to disturb you, cause some commotion for you, and allow you to claim and use the gifts that God has given you. It is no coincidence that the Apostle Paul is talking to us on Pentecost about the variety of gifts given to the church, our gifts; nor is the list restricted to those he names in his letter to the early Church in Corinth. God perceives exactly what is needed to serve the entire community.
Every individual is granted specific gifts, but no one has all the gifts nor can anyone boast that any gift is superior to another—all are equal in the eyes of God. It is the unbridled, generous, wholehearted offering of our gifts that continues to pour new life into the church.
The Reverend Buddy Stallings, Vicar of St. Bart’s Church, Park Avenue, New York, offers this poignant reflection about Pentecost: It helps to remember that the Church, this lumbering, perplexing and often maddening entity, began in a burst of enthusiasm that changed the world. Far from the stodgy uptight reputation we have managed to earn and cherish, the church began with some wild and crazy carrying on!
On Pentecost, I don’t think there was one speck of meanness to be found; people were filled with joy and absolutely nothing could stop them from spreading some really, really Good News. Through all the twists and turns of the church, many of which, old and new, make us cringe, the Good News remains an invitation to a new thing, to a new life, to a life of creativity and joy.
The Spirit calls us all to a new thing, a new life, a life of creativity and joy. How and where will you discover that? We come to God’s Table this morning to be fed with Holy Food and Drink—the gifts of God for all the people of God. What gifts can you bring to the table? How might God want you to use your gifts to build up this community, to build up God’s kingdom?
Is there a breeze—maybe even a strong wind—stirring around in you, calling you to something about which you dream, something that may even scare you? Do you put down your giftedness and tell yourself you’re not as talented or smart or young or outgoing enough to be of any value? Do you know that you can ask for a gift in prayer? That God always gives the church all the gifts it will need at any given time?
That God won’t ask you for your resume? That God will empower you if you step out onto the dance floor and take that first step? Talk to us—your clergy—about it. Talk to one another. Share your questions, your excitement—your fears. Let’s do this dance together.
Two thousand years ago on this day the Holy Spirit came to those first, frightened believers as the great surprise of God—kind of like a little old lady who wades into a barroom brawl, shooting her six-guns into the air. And She still surprises us— blowing in and out of this place, stirring us up, even rattling our cages a bit, disturbing us with a power that continues to transform us. The Spirit is calling us. The gifts here this morning in this community are plentiful and diverse. Can’t you just hear it—the melody of God’s future?