Sermon 5 31 20 Pentecost
Happy Birthday to us! Happy Birthday to us! Happy Birthday Christianity! Happy Birthday to us!
Pentecost! Today is the birthday of Christianity. When the Holy Spirit came and landed like flames on the heads of the disciples, making them look like so many birthday cake candles. That’s when the Christian church took off, when we really began.
I am especially grateful for our readings this year because these readings are about new beginnings. And if there was ever a time we need to think about new beginnings, it is now.
I pray and I believe that we are approaching the end of this phase of the pandemic. It’s not nearly over, but we are approaching a next phase – hopefully the beginnings of a recovery phase. We have no idea what our world is going to be like, but it will be changed, and we will need to adapt and change with it. It’s going to be different.
We are entering a period of time that can easily be compared to the very beginnings of the Christian Church. There’s a lot of unknown ahead of us and it can look very scary and we need our faith.
It was in just such a time as this that a ragtag little group of men, and yes, women too, were gathering in a dark shuttered room, petrified by fear. They had gone through the joy and heady optimism of Palm Sunday when it seemed as if anything was possible. Jesus was going to take over! Rome was gonna be done! It was gonna be a new world! Oh, how young and joyous and naive those young men and women were.
All it took was an arrest in the middle of the night and a charge of sedition and it was all over. Possibly one disciple attended the execution. The rest ran away. Jesus hung on a cross and died, not from blood loss – no – the crucified died from the weight of their own bodies crushing their hearts.
And they all thought they were next. They all thought they were going to be hunted down and executed too!
And then he was buried and the rumors started. The body was missing! Never mind that they walled up the tomb and posted guards. And then there were sightings! He was seen in a roadside inn. He started popping up all over the place! He showed off the holes in his hands and the gash in his side. What was going on!?!
I love how, after the excitement of Easter, of resurrection, our readings accelerate and build to the mystery and power of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is when Christianity takes off. This is the birth day of Christianity.
Immediately after the resurrection all of Jesus’ disciples and friends huddled together in a small attic room, with the doors closed, the windows shuttered, afraid to face the world, not knowing what to do. What was next?
And then, the Holy Spirit happened.
Jesus had promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and illuminate them and comfort them and bring them gifts. And it did.
In our first lesson from Acts we hear of a violent wind and divided tongues of fire resting on each of the disciples, and they felt filled. Now remember, for the most part, these were uneducated, unsophisticated people – most unable to read or write. But that didn’t matter to God. They were gifted enough to be useful. We all are. In some ways I wonder if the disciples weren’t more useful to Jesus as the “tabula rasa” or “blank slates,” they were, ready to be written upon by God.
And then the Holy Spirit brought gifts. It was like Christmas!After the Holy Spirit came, in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem anybody who heard the disciples speaking began to hear them in their own native language. That right there was a gift! Of course the usual naysayers and skeptics assumed the disciples were drunk. But Peter set them straight (“it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning!”) Beware those who sneer! Peter reminded the people that the prophet Joel had foreseen this and that everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved. All they had to do was believe-that-it-was-possible.
And then along came Paul. One minute he’s observing the stoning of Stephen, holding the stoners’ cloaks (how nice of him!). And then he’s blinded on the road so that he could see more clearly and he converted and climbed aboard the Holy Spirit express, reminding all those who heard him that no one could say “Jesus is Lord” except by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Both Peter and Paul remind us that everything we do is by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the Holy Spirit we can’t do anything. We forget that. We think, “Here God, I’m going to do this wonderful thing for you. I’m going to do you a favor.” NO. Paul makes this very clear when he talks of the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everything we are able to do is because of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us as the Holy Spirit chooses when we give ourselves to God.
Paul listed these gifts. “There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates them all in everyone.” We might receive the gift of speaking wisdom or teaching. We might receive the gift of manifesting our faith with healing or miracles so that others can see it. Some people receive the prophetic voice, and remember, the prophetic voice isn’t necessarily about telling the future. It might be about telling the truth at a time when people don’t want to hear the truth. Another gift can be discerning the presence of spirits, both good and evil. Some people receive the gift of languages. Others receive the gift of interpretation. But what Paul tells us is that all of these gifts are activated by the Holy Spirit.
For just as the human body has many parts but is still one body, so we are the many parts of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit joins us together in the Body of Christ.
Never forget. That ragtag little group of frightened people started out scared and petrified in a dark room – too afraid to walk down the street, to even show their faces.
The Holy Spirit showed up, and transformed them. No more fear. That’s what we need now. To know that we need not fear the future. We have the love of God.