May 27, 2007 Westminster Pres., Santa Fe
Today is Pentecost! Are you ready! No really, Today is Pentecost: Are you ready!!!
On the count of three. One…two…three…(Look Up)
Bueno, a lo major, Dios solo habla espanol (como sugere Gerzain): Uno dos tres…(Look up)
Well, that didn’t work either. Just trying to call on the Holy Spirit. Here we are again, from our 21st century perspective trying to make sense of another strange tale in the Bible. Pentecost is what today is. Right. Lump that in with other words—Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and now Pentecost. Does it make any sense to any of us? (probably a few). Just as a side, what did you do for Ascension—the day Christ ascended into heaven? Sander and Christel were hoping for a long bike ride from village to village as is their tradition in Holland—next year, who’s up for it?
Pentecost—what our beloved Marilyn and many others describe as the birth of the Church—is this just another Sunday? Is this weekend going to be remembered as a relaxing three days, giving us an opportunity to run a few errands we’d put been putting off, sleep in an extra morning, go on a hike, or cook out with friends and family, maybe remembering for a moment those who have fought and died in any of this country’s brutal wars.
How bout this year we make this a memorable Pentecost; we capture the true spirit of Pentecost. So let’s try it again: Are you ready! An deu tua.
Do you ever wonder what it must have been like to be one of these early disciples? Think about how strange their experiences are. Luke tells this story of rushing wind, fire that enables new speech, exotic, wild poetry about bloody moons and darkened suns, prophesy and visions.
The disciples, party animals that they are, are at big festival—the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus has ascended up into heaven, so maybe now, it will be a relief for them if things just return to normal, what better place than at a good party. The Feast of Pentecost. AKA, The Feast of Weeks in the OT. You’ve read about it before in Lev. 23:15-21 (remember). The Jewish faithful have come from far and wide for a great feast that marks the end of the spring harvest—the turnips, broccoli, radishes, and mustard, celery; vegetables worth celebrating are beginning to petter out. But anyone whose anyone has been getting ready for the wonderful mouthwatering tastes of summer: ripe red tomatoes, great green watermelons sure to wet your shirt, crunchy yellow corn, Okra perfect for pickling, and summer squash ready to be simmered on a smoking grill: Pentecost celebrates the first-fruits of these crops—and everyone knows that the first fruits are always offered to God. Summer crops have arrived and it is not accidental, of course, that the birth of the church, this great “harvest” of souls, should occur on the day of this important festival.1
The disciples had come a day early, and had such a good time wandering around in the plaza, seeing everyone hanging out, children running between parents’ legs, payasos walking on stilts, birds and balloons flying all around. And on this morning of Pentecost they’ve been slow to get out of bed. It’s before noon, still plenty of time to get there. This is the way things should be. All that Jesus stuff was nice, but here in the familiar we can just kind of wander around, mind our own business without worrying about what people may think of us or what we’re to do next.
BOOOM! WOOSSSHHH! Just as I was beginning to write these words yesterday, a might gust of wind started shaking the trees, diverting birds in flight, and blowing around the bits of trash Trasie wishes I would pick up in our yard.
For these disciples, not only was there a tornado like wind, but also fire upon each one of them. The multitude around the corner from the house of the disciples runs to see about all the commotion, like an explosion nearby. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were speaking in other languages, yet, speaking in such a way that everyone could understand everyone. United Nations summit with no interpreters, and everyone understood everything. People who saw this were scared. “What do we do?” shouted some. “They must be drunk!” shouted others, trying to make sense out of the freakiness.
I2 wonder if Peter, the voice of the church, really knew what to say either. On this strange occasion, he quotes one of the stranger books in the Hebrew Scriptures: Joel’s exotic, outrageous poetry:
There will be portents in the heavens above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, fire, and smoky midst. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. (Are we back in Revelation?)
Huh! This weird poetry suggests the whole world is under threat. Things of this world are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Is that what Peter wanted to say about the coming of the Holy Spirit?
Why not? Doesn’t every generation feel that the world is soon coming to an end? That in spite of our best efforts at progress, things are getting worse! Where a poet talks about moons turning to blood, we see domestic violence, drug wars, and brutality. Where a poet speaks of the sun turning to darkness, we see bewilderment and greed, global warming and extinction. We live in a time when thousands are displaced by economic systems and systems of war. In a society where fear is used to control masses, anxiety paralyzes—things are not as they used to be, things are not as they should be.
And given the messiness of things reasonable responses may be:
“Well, things aren’t that bad really. I’m tired of hearing about all that stuff, like wars, and famines. It’s probably just the media exaggerating things again.
Or what about this one:
While Trasie and I were in Chile, we discovered Parque Pumulin, the largest privately owned park in South America. The former owner of Espree sold all of his shares and bought this giant piece of precious property…why there, because it is the least likely to be affected significantly in the event of nuclear war.
One more way to respond to the chaos of the world:
Back in my day things weren’t so bad. Kids these days just need a good spankin on the backside. Why can’t we just live like we used to, things just made sense, and everyone was content.
People tend to deal with the messiness of the decaying world Peter reaffirms in different ways. But we haven’t heard all that Peter has to say:
God declares: I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, sons and daughters prophesy, young men have visions, old men dream dreams. Slaves, both men and women, will receive my Spirit and prophesy.
Can you see this image Peter is trying to create? Well, you have to look very carefully.
Along with images of despair and unreal chaos is the gift of God’s sweeping Spirit—God’s spirit of freedom and courage and truth. These are the principles upon which the earliest church is founded. This spirit does not drive people to denial, escape, or a longing for yesteryear. The community born of the spirit is free, bold, and filled with unspeakable hope. Hope in the face of terrible illness. Freedom in the face of societal pressures and norms. Boldness in the face of otherwise frightening situations. The spirit comforts us in our pain and reminds us of Jesus’ words: do not let your hearts be troubled. The spirit gathers us together as men and women, boys and girls, as a socially, economically, and ethnically diverse people who otherwise may have noting to do with one another, so that we might pray for one another, visit with one another, laugh and cry with one another; dream of God’s liberating future together.
On Thursday I got a call from Carly Brugger, Dira’s sister. We were talking about the up coming plans for the summer. I was awkwardly fumbling for what to talk about with a 10 year-old. How about what I did earlier in the week. So, you know what Trasie and I did Wednesday? Nope, we planted a garden full of squash, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and okra. Cool. Yeah, do you like gardening? Yeah, it’s pretty neat. Well, what do you think about one summer, us starting a garden up at the church outside the sanctuary. “That’d been fun.”
And maybe we could grow stuff and then give the food away to a local food bank or to some of the homeless who come by the church.
“That would be really cool.”
This is the power of the Holy Spirit, are you ready to receive the gift? In the midst of a society paralyzed by fear, preoccupied by commodity, mesmerized by wealth, seeking endless power, and terribly frightened the spirit empowers us to:
Dream Dreams about the way of peace among people;
Envision visions about justice between the haves and have-nots;
Boldly Prophesy about an ordered earth, which respects the needs of the environment;
And openly welcome those not like us, like the two guys who are sleeping out on the church portal. Like Brother Mohamud, his wife Luna, and their family. Like the person sitting next to you.
Today is Pentecost. Are you ready to experience the Holy Spirit? One Two three.
1 Charlie Cousar, et. al., Texts for Preaching, Pentecost, Year C,
2 For the remainder of this sermon, I draw heavily upon ideas found in: Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, “Dreaming with Freedom midst Chaos,” 113-119. Ed. Anna Carter Florence.