I love Pentecost. Love it. And Bethany sure celebrates in style–red from head to toe, red and orange and yellow roses from the gardens, candles and fans and banners, the entire experience is one great bursting forth of the Spirit.
I was overwhelmed in worship today. The joy of worshiping with people you love, the wild good news we sang and shouted and whispered, the beauty and the grace–it is well with my soul. I hope you have places of joy like that, times with others to simply rejoice and give thanks, to gather a little food for the journey and refill your canteen.
I’ll be out of the pulpit for the next three weeks, so posting here will be light, if there is any at all. You can join Bethany in worship and hear good food for the soul over at the Bethany website. In the meantime, I’ll be in Montreat, NC, worshiping with thousands of high school students. Not a bad place to be.
Text from this morning is after the jump. The scripture passage was Acts 2:1-21.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. It sounds like an apocalyptic horror story.
Today’s supposed to be a joyful day. Pentecost is the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s continued presence with us. It is a day for bright colors and new songs.
This story makes it sound like a day to go into hiding.
I wonder what it was like for them that day.
They must have been wondering what’s next? Jesus said the Holy Spirit is coming—will we know it when we see it? Did we miss it?
I wonder if some of them breathed a sigh of relief, thinking, at last, all the wildness of the last three years is over. It’s been an amazing ride, but some time hanging out on the family fishing boat sounds pretty good right about now. I bet they were ready for life to get back to normal.
And then—a sound like a violent, rushing wind fills the house. Did their eyes get wide in fear? Did they wonder if it was an earthquake? Or the end of the world?
And then tongues, like fire, hover over each of them.
They stumble out of the building, shouting, and yelling, rubbing their eyes, trying to get some perspective; what on earth is going on?
It sounds incredibly disorienting—this first arrival of the Holy Spirit.
We know what it’s like to be disoriented.
Good stuff can throw us off balance. Falling in love, starting a new job, having a baby, making it to retirement—all wonderful blessings, and big changes. Priorities change overnight and we find ourselves struggling to keep up. When the disciples first met Jesus, it was like this—a whole new world opening up before them.
Just as often, though, it’s the unwanted changes that send us into a tailspin. You wake up, go to work, and at lunch learn that you no longer have a job. When you find the lump in the shower. When the marriage finally disintegrates. When the phone rings at 4 a.m. and the bottom drops out of your world. We find ourselves in an alien landscape. There’s no map, not even any familiar landmarks. The moon might as well turn to blood.
I wonder if that’s how the disciples felt. I wonder if that’s why, as Peter struggled for words to explain what was happening, he turned to this text from Joel.
You know the way bits of scripture, or songs, or poems can come back to us. I wonder if Peter maybe initially remembered the end of this passage, the part about darkness and smoky mist, and the great and glorious day of the Lord. And then, as his memory put those little snippets in context, if the world slowly slid back into focus, giving him the insight and the courage to exclaim in the midst of the confusion—this is it! The Holy Spirit!
God’s Spirit is being poured out. This is happening! It’s real! It is just like Joel said. It’s scary, and bewildering, and disorienting, and, it is the great and glorious day of the of the Lord.
There is new life coming into our midst! The Spirit is washing over us, poured out on our sons and our daughters, on slaves and old men, on everybody, everywhere, the Spirit is being poured out, new life is flowing, God is here!
Peter is reoriented. It’s like he’s put on a new pair of glasses, that are finally the right prescription. When you put on new glasses, for the first few minutes, you’re motion sick, nothing’s quite right, but then it all slides into focus, and it’s clearer than it’s ever been.
This is how it seems to be with the Spirit. We are disoriented, so that we can be reoriented.
We might wish it were easier, that we could skip that first step. I imagine the disciples wished they could have jumped right from being happy fishermen to articulate, courageous, multi-lingual spiritual leaders, but that’s not how it worked.
None of us enjoys being lost. We might for an afternoon on a vacation in an exotic city. But then we’re ready to be found.
We long for times of calm, seasons of stability. This is good and healthy. The longing for home is a compass calling us toward God.
But the road, the road that leads to life, is often a wilderness road, at least when the Spirit is involved.
It started way back with Sarah and Abraham, when God said Go. Pick up, and leave this land you know. Get lost; I’ll show you a new way. It continued with Moses, when God said you and the people will wander lost in the wilderness. During that time I will reorient your hearts. When Mary said yes to the inexplicable, unexpected new life growing within her, she was plunged into a story whose end she did not, could not know. Even Jesus, wandered in the wilderness for forty days, turning away from all that would bind him, turning toward the life he came to live.
It was no different for these disciples on that first Spirit fueled day. They were disoriented, their sight and sound and speech all jumbled, and in that confusion, they were being reoriented, called away from their old patterns, their habits and well worn paths, out into a whole new world, to Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
This is how the Spirit blows. Like a squawking wild goose, the Spirit startles us out of complacency, disorienting us, so that we can be reoriented.
It’s like tilling soil. The farmer turns it over, so that fresh life has room to grow. It’s like kneading bread. The baker stretches and strains the gluten, so that strong bonds will form and the bread will rise. It’s like hard exercise. The athlete’s muscles are sore, because the fibers have been torn, so that in their repairing they may be made stronger.
This is how God turns hearts of stone into hearts of love.
In our daily lives, it doesn’t always seems as neat and poetic. But the Spirit thrives in messiness and confusion.
We have heard stories in this very room over the course of Easter from friends who have testified, I was lost. And now I am found.
When we are disoriented, lost, and confused, it may just be that the Spirit is at work turning our attention in a new direction, reorienting us, and setting us on the path of life.
When the sun goes dark and the moon turns red, when all around us is as scary as blood and fire, this is the time to cry out and take heart—the Spirit is on the move. There may, yet, be new life coming into the world.
When we are lost, we have the chance to be found, to discover that the old ways, the old patterns of disfunction and dis-ease are breaking apart, and something new is being born. When we are lost, we might end up in a new land altogether.
That’s how it was for Peter and the disciples. They were reoriented with the gift of the Holy Spirit, set loose on the world, no longer held captive by fear, but free to share the love and life they’d encountered in Christ. They were free to dream dreams and see visions, to prophesy, and preach.
Friends, the Spirit still moves in this way in our lives.
Sometimes that’s frustrating. We might wish that God would make all roads smooth, fill us with wisdom, and turn us into beacons of calm enlightenment. That’s not how the Spirit moves, though.
The good news, though, is that the Spirit does move, blows through, ruffles feathers, sometimes our own, and brings fresh life to dull, dry corners. The Spirit is accompanied, always, always by new life.
If you are lost today, if you feel disoriented, or find yourself in a foreign land, hear this: the Spirit is on the move. If light has turned to darkness, and day has turned to night, hear this: the Spirit is blowing through. The storm is passing over, and though it may rage, it will not rage forever.
The one who made us, loves us. The one who calls us, equips us. This is the one who saves us, who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, who pours rivers of new life over our heads, claims us, and sends us out as light for the world.
The God who called Sarah and Abraham to Go, who fed Moses and the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wandered, who came to us as a child born to a young, poor mother, this God, is still blowing, like the wind, wild and free.
The Spirit that was poured out on that Pentecost day is still being poured out.
We are invited to open our lives, to the disorienting, unpredictable, uncontrollable movements of the Spirit.
We may get lost. But we will be found. We may even discover, along the way, to our utter surprise, that we are speaking new languages, words of peace, cadences of hope, whispers of love, to a weary world hungry for life.
We might even dream dreams and see visions. If Peter and Joel got it right, we’d better watch out—God intends to pour out the Spirit on all flesh, all flesh, you, and me, and everybody else.
It is wild, disorienting news. And it is the best thing we could hope to hear. Like freshly tilled soil, like well kneaded bread, the Spirit molds us, and shapes us, creating in us new life, turning our minds, and our hearts, and our feet onto kingdom roads, calling us ever deeper into the heart of God.
May it so be.by Sarah W. Wiles May 27, 2012 Bethany Presbyterian Church Tacoma, WA