June 8, 2014
“Wishing for another Pentecost”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
What is the meaning of Pentecost? That is the question we swing back around to every year, some fifty days after we celebrate Easter. We have been basking in the Easter glow. Jesus is risen, hallelujah!
We thought death and evil had won, we thought the darkness in this world was more powerful than our God. And we were wrong. There is nothing to fear in this world, for there is nothing that God is not more powerful than (check out the double negative).
There is nothing that God is not greater than – so tell that to the powers of darkness, and to the anxiety that won’t let you sleep at night, tell that to the addiction and depression, tell that to the monsters under the bed.
So for fifty days after Easter we danced and rejoiced. And then on Pentecost something else happened. The followers of Jesus were gathered together because they had to be near each other.
And suddenly they heard and saw and felt God moving nearer. God’s intent has always been nearness to us, his beloved. So throughout our history with God we see God drawing nearer and nearer. God says put the house of worship, my tabernacle, my dwelling place, right at the heart of your community, right in the middle of your lives.
And then God came as a human being and told us the story of himself and his love for us and his intention for the world in words that we could understand.
And then God got closer still, as near as the wind our cheeks and the voice in our hearts. And what happens on Pentecost is that God says, you’ve been dancing because of the good news of Jesus Christ, that’s great – now get out of here, and go dance in the world.
There are Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans and Asians, Egyptians, Libyans, Greeks, Romans, Cretans, and Arabs just outside your door.
Go tell them the story, because the gospel is not just for you, the gospel is for the whole world, and the world needs to know.
And so they stepped out the door, and God gave them the tools to tell the story to whoever would listen. And it was so life-giving that the disciples were transformed. People didn’t recognize this kind of abundant life and joy in another human being. They assumed it was chemically induced. But then again, hard hearts often stiffen at the sight of life and grace in another human being.
Would we wish for that to happen again? What if we heard God like that, powerful and sure? What if we felt God like that, like red hot fire against our skin? Would that be the sign we needed to convince us that this whole God business is real and worthwhile?
We have always been a people who have been desperate for a sign, even when God in Jesus Christ walked around in our midst, we wanted more. In every account of Jesus’s Life that we have, the people around him ask him for signs.
We figure if we see a sign, then we can be sure, we can be confident, we will know the truth rather than just believe it. But, faith has never been about being sure or confident, it is about being awed by God, who is knowable and also unknowable.
Another Pentecost won’t answer our questions or make us more sure of what we believe. The first people who witnessed the Pentecost effect were “amazed,” and “astonished,” “perplexed” and extremely doubtful. That is not perhaps the response we were hoping for.
Perhaps another Pentecost would be the thing that would shift the course of our lives, the mountain top experience that changes our entire perspective. Perhaps we long for a moment that changes everything.
In November 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged Honduras. The most modern of all the bridges, The Choluteca Bridge, survived intact but suffered perhaps the greatest indignity, the river moved right out from under it.
Just like that – maybe another Pentecost would change the course of our lives, just like that, or maybe change the course of our church, just like that. Maybe.
But for most of us faith is not like a river that suddenly, miraculously goes in a completely new direction. For most of us faith is more like a river that slowly, over days and months and years, shapes us. For the most part, with Jesus, it was not the miracles that changed lives, it was the relationship.
Those big momentous God-moments, those Pentecost moments, are grand and exciting, but the shaping of our lives happens through a long obedience in the same direction, it happens through friendships, through watching the deeply faithful people around us deal with really hard things, dealing with hard things ourselves, and wrestling with God. Our faith is shaped by stories and by song, and by actions.
On our youth mission trip to Nicaragua, we had spent months preparing. I had gone over God’s mission in the world, and how God calls us to be a part of it, how we serve Jesus Christ when we serve a stranger, how God calls us to seek justice for the widows and orphans and outcasts. And at the end of our time there, one of our kids said, I didn’t understand what it all meant until I did it.
Here is why I think we don’t need to wish for another Pentecost. Wishing for another Pentecost is like saying that we have not been given enough, and in truth, we have been given everything. We don’t have to wait for the Holy Spirit like its gone missing. The Holy Spirit is here among us and within us. God is with us, wild and flaming hot.
The trick is, to stop wishing for a sign, and start listening to God’s voice, and to start moving our feet.
Sometimes God’s Spirit calls us to do hard things, like restoring a relationship even though we were the ones who were hurt (after all that is what God did to us).
Sometimes that means giving something up that is sucking up your time and keeping you away from God and loved ones.
Sometimes that means interacting with a stranger because you know that the Holy Spirit will tell you later that you should have.
Sometimes that means listening to someone we disagree with even though there is almost no common ground between you and them.
New York Times bestselling author Glennon Dolye Melton tells the story of how in 2012 she went on an overnight date with her son to get away from all the girls in the family who will never, ever stop fighting. Flying home after a wonderful time away, she ended up sitting between her son and a stranger, an older, furious, panicked man who began talking at her, obviously needing to get some things off his chest.
And she writes that something told her to close her book and listen. And the man spoke for a full hour before she said a word. He spoke about many things, and in sweeping generalizations about the government and the poor.
He proclaimed all non-profits to be corrupt money grubbers who hire hookers and buy drugs with donations. He talked about politics and he spoke loudly and peppered his sentences with curse words. Every single thing he said was something, Glennon said, that made her fists clench and heart want to jump out of her throat and onto her lap.
But something told her to stay open. And she said she thought, I don’t want to talk politics – there are two things I avoid like the plague, politics and real ticks. Then in the back of her head, she heard. “It has been said to love your friends. But don’t even jerks do that? I say – Love your enemies and those who think differently than you.”
He spoke more about how horrible non-profits are, and she said, I run a non-profit that gives away 100% of every penny we get. And she says that he was silent for a while and then said, “I haven’t given a penny away for fifteen years. I used to. Every Christmas I used to buy ten turkeys and deliver them to the homeless shelter myself. But I don’t do that anymore. I don’t give anything away anymore.”
And she asked him what changed. The scruffy angry man said, “When my daughter was little, we left a candle burning in our house and the whole house burned down. With all of our things. We had nothing. We lived in our car for seven months with our daughter and no one reached out to help us. Not our neighbors, not our families, friends. Not even our church. No one.” Glennon said, “God. That must have been awful.” “It was. But I eventually found work and I pulled us out of there on my own.” And she asked, “But don’t you wish that someone had been there for you?”
There is more to the conversation, but they left the plane as friends, two people from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum, each having learned a little bit about the other one.
And that’s what can happen when we listen to the voice of the Spirit in our lives, even as it leads us to do hard things.
Maybe another Pentecost would light a fire under us. Or maybe we could just pray that God will do that anyway.
God, remind us that your Spirit is already and always with us. We don’t need signs of glory, we need glorious relationships with you and with the people around us. We need to be reminded that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for the whole world, for people who look like us and for people who don’t, and we are the ones who tell the story. Let us hear you when you call us. Let us walk where you lead us, even if it involves doing hard things. Amen.