a Homily for The Day of Pentecost
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Into the Unknown
There are those moments when we read scripture that, if you’re anything like me, you are saying
“Yeah…I’m not sure I would’ve done that.”
Last week, we read about how Jesus left the disciples, disappearing behind a cloud. The disciples went back to the city, collected family and friends, and prayed. I’m guessing there’s a spot right there in the middle of all of this, before they walk away, in which they don’t move yet. Where they’re kind of stuck in the mud, head turned toward the sky, watching and waiting–and their eyes start looking around. Thinking Is it time? Am I the only one hoping we’ll stop for a sandwich on the way back? That total mind-wander.
Then, when they catch someone else looking around, they both know its time and they get the OK to move on. But there had to be this moment right there when someone asked someone else:
“What are we going to do with the rest of our lives?”
They gave up their fishing businesses and moved away and left most of their family back home and they are in the big city and it is now time to be responsible. Jesus told them they were ready. But He never asked them if they felt ready.
When we pick up the story this morning, we do so after they’ve gone back to Jerusalem, found their friends and they have been praying. To be honest, the next part is hard to stage, because the Spirit arrives in a great noise and it fills the house in which they are staying. And somehow there are people around them who can hear them and Peter can speak to them, so I’m not sure if they are on a porch or if they move to a city street here or what, but the power of this moment transcends the physical structures: the building, the walls, the doors and windows, the streets and becomes entirely about these disciples, these crowds from all over the known world, and the Spirit, who certainly knows how to make an entrance!
Here they are in their capital city with people from all over, from a wide variety of cultures, and they are all in this one place together.
When I imagine the scene, I put them in Times Square or better, the Mall in Washington D.C., in which people come from all over the world to see the monuments and the museums: the Smithsonian. And we have French and German and Chinese and Mungh and Spanish and Australian and people can’t understand one another without hand gestures; including the international sign for “will you take our picture?”
And then BOOM! The wind! The fire! And this house is ground zero for the Spirit event, like a comet that has crash-landed in our midst. And the people suddenly hear these voices of other people talking. These lowlands, country people. Poor people from the sticks. And they’re speaking languages and everybody can understand them in their own language.
Imagine going to Berlin and these country people are speaking perfect English? Not a good example, since the Germans are pretty much bilingual now. How about Beijing or Seoul and suddenly these peasant farmers are in your midst and they are speaking their native language, but you’re hearing it as this northern Midwest / Michigan dialect of English, and they are talking about the amazing things GOD is doing. That is what we’re talking about today.
These people saying something and these people hearing something. We normally call this communication. But there’s a struggle here that we would overlook if we did. These disciples didn’t learn the languages of the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, but the people who knew those languages heard it in their language.
And I recently heard this crazy thing. One of those languages listed, I’m not sure which one, was a dead language. It wasn’t being spoken in that time period. So these languages, the story these Galileans were telling, isn’t just for us, for the now, but it is for all time: past, present, future. And it transcends the very means by which we communicate.
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
So these people are hearing this craziness and they can’t figure it out and they ask each other
And how is it that we hear, each of us…in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power…What does this mean?
They are looking for meaning. They want to know how this happened and why. What is this about. And we normally hear Peter’s statement as an answer to those questions: this is what it means.
Peter doesn’t answer their questions. He responds to their confusion by telling them the gospel.
Defining the parameters of their experience is not what the disciples do. They are to tell the good news. They are to speak about GOD’s work. Not only the story of Jesus, not only through tracts that they could pass out on street corners and leave in public bathrooms, or the passing out of Bibles with the words “this book will save your life”, but through communicating the gospel. Sharing our story. Our big story. The story that begins with GOD creating everything and calling all of creation good. The story that gives us our work. That gives us our patriarchs, our prophets, our leaders. That gives us our liberator and our apostles. That continues through the millenia and continues still through the 168 years of stories our predecessors have been telling in this St. Clair community. Through the stories we tell each other and to our children. The stories that they will tell their children.
The Pentecost is about communicating. More accurately, it is about storytelling. A people asking for answers and receiving stories. How Jesus is that? A crowd confused by the sound and the wind and the sudden miraculous moment of speaking and understanding. But it is a promise realized. A promise of support and inspiration. A promise of prayer and hope. A promise that will empower the apostles to do work that surpasses Jesus’s work. As He promised they would.
We are their inheritors. The bearers of the fire. The tongues alight with the Spirit. It is our time. It is not about how ready you think you are, it is that GOD deems you ready now. There is no too young to do this work of telling stories, believe me. Nor too old. There is no education requirement. No moment in which we can measure one another’s aptitude or merit for advancement. We are all made one in this great moment of storytelling.
Telling the Story
The Gospel, the center of our faith, the center of the faith that Jesus proclaims is about this divine truth that cannot be captured in a particular form of English that speaks to a particular time that, let’s face it, was more than 350 years ago. The Gospel isn’t about you, but it speaks to each of us in the way that we can hear it. Not in that you get the warm fuzzies when you hear thous and thees in a church, but you are witness to the transformative power of GOD and you know deep down in your belly that GOD isn’t all that happy that your mind is wandering off topic and wondering if you’ve paid the electric bill or when you’ll get another chance to play the balloon game or Call of Duty, but still GOD is not going to condemn you for it.
There is that moment when your mind is in that space and you are being called back to the here and now and maybe you are feeling guilty and you are thinking I need to get my stuff together, right? Listen! He’s preaching! I’m guessing he’s almost ready to stop. Just a few more minutes. And you are sitting there thinking about how you need to not be thinking of other stuff and you begin to think that Jesus would be mad at you for not thinking about Him at that moment. Dang it, I didn’t mean “would”, I meant “is”. Jesus is mad at me. These thoughts are going through our minds and then in a moment of clarity, we realize that Jesus never gets mad at the screw-ups. He never calls out the mess-ups and the powerless and makes them feel bad about themselves. He saves that for the know-betters and the Judgey-judgers.
So we sit back and we realize that Jesus forgives us and we begin to forgive ourselves. And in that moment, we hear something else. Not the sermon. That’s long gone. Not sure where the preacher’s at, anyway. But we hear the noise of whispering or butts that can’t get comfortable or the rustling papers or clearing of throats, sneezes, and coughs, and in that moment, when we hear all of these sounds and only 5 minutes ago, we would have growld in anger at all of these distractions, we find ourselves instead at peace. These noises aren’t just human, they are divine.
That’s the Gospel coming alive in us. That is the sacred story we share. A story that is not the words on the page, but transcends any words we hope to use. A story that is more about hope and the future than conflict and the past. It is a story of commitment and change.
Today, we celebrate the moment when the world changed again. Not the beginning of the story, or the beginning of a new story, but a new chapter in a much bigger story. A story we all live in. A story which empowers us all. A story we all share in telling.
We enter the unknown, the great next step in our lives, in our ministries, in our families, in our church, and what we have, the greatest treasure among all of these priceless artifacts is the story we tell. The story that isn’t locked in our minds, but born through our hearts; shared through our lips and hands; passed between one another like the peace. This isn’t just the moment everything changed for our faith, but a marker that with the Spirit, we are, thank GOD, always given the words to tell our story. This story.