Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 15, 2016

2016.05.15 “Praying for Another Pentecost” – Acts 2: 1 – 21

Central United Methodist Church
Praying for Another Pentecost
Pastor David L. Haley
Acts 2: 1 – 21
Pentecost Sunday
May 15th, 2016
mosaic-pentecost1

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
      and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above

and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
’”

– Acts 2: 1 – 21, New Revised Standard Version

 

It was Wednesday – the 3rd day of General Conference -when it happened. For those new to United Methodism, General Conference – which meets every four years – is the primary legislative body of the United Methodist Church, and the only body that can re-structure or speak for the United Methodist Church. It is meeting this week, May 10 through 20th, in Portland, Oregon.

So as I said, it was Wednesday at General Conference, as words were spoken and prayers offered and motions made, when suddenly there was the sound as of a mighty wind which filled the Oregon Convention Center in which they were sitting, and tongues as of fire, rested over each person. Everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak – in all the languages of the United Methodism Church – of the praise of God. Thus inspired and unified by the Spirit, suddenly all were in agreement, and immediately began to make the changes needed for United Methodism to continue the message and ministry of Jesus in the modern world  – including the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the Church – as well as a radical restructuring of the church to fit the new realities in which we find ourselves.

Don’t we wish? This is fantasy, but if only it were true! Although General Conference continues another 5 days, it looks as though the chances of any real change – the changes many of us hope and pray for – are slim to none, about as likely as a Pentecostal revival at a church Trustee meeting. The final epitaph of the United Methodist Church may well be: “Death by Committee.”

Given this, I found myself much in agreement this week with Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt’s article, entitled, “Praying for Another Pentecost,” from which the title for this sermon is borrowed. Rev. Hunt is the pastor of First Lutheran Church in DeKalb, IL.

Being Lutheran, she wasn’t talking about General Conference, but about her experience of sharing an article from Crain’s Chicago Business on Facebook, about 64 human and social service agencies who are suing the Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, for breach of contract, for non-payment for the services these agencies have rendered on behalf of the state. The only commentary Rev. Hunt added to her post was one word: “Wow.” “Within the hour,” Rev. Hunt said, “people I care about and respect from different ends of the political spectrum chimed in, each blaming those on the other side of the political aisle for this unprecedented impasse. As a wise pastor navigating the political minefields of Facebook, she chose not to join in, and observed that others stepped away quickly, too. Personally, that I may stay friends with ALL my friends, I am seriously considering fasting from Facebook until this year’s election is past. (You may read Rev. Dr. Hunt’s comments at her Blog, Dancing With the Word, here)

The point is, we are seriously divided these days, in many ways: politically, religiously, racially, socially, and personally. There are those among us like Rev. Hunt – I would include myself – who are hoping and praying for another Pentecost – if not to unite us and make us all hold hands and agree with one other – at least to make us more sensitive and considerate and respectful of each other under God’s gracious rule, despite our differences.

If I seem overly cynical on the one hand and overly hopeful on the other, I find inspiration in the story we read today – on Pentecost Sunday – in Acts, chapter 2. It is that church and life changing event we call Pentecost, when the Spirit of God descended upon the followers of Jesus, changing everything. I doubt that’s how they had planned their day, so it just goes to show you when the Spirit shows up you never know what’s going to happen. Even at General Conference.

And yet I confess that even though I’ve read about, thought about, and preached about what happened on the Day of Pentecost for over forty years, I’m still not sure I understand what happened. Does Luke really want us to believe that the Spirit of God came like a mighty wind, or that flames of real fire danced over people’s heads, like some kind of spontaneous combustion? Or is Luke only using well-known symbols, of wind as Spirit and breath of life, of fire as a symbol of the presence and glory of God, and of language as the reverse of the curse of the Tower of Babel, to signify that something happened that day before description and comprehension. And if the Spirit of God was present in a powerful way on the Day of Pentecost, how is that different from the Spirit’s presence in all creation every day, or – for that matter – in every human being, as the Breath of Life breathed into us by God?

But if none of this is clear, what is clear is this: Luke wants us to understand that despite their diversity, all those present – regardless of who they were, where they were from, or what language they spoke – were united in praise of God, and pushed out into public to witness and to serve. Whereas up to this point the followers of Jesus had been a kind of Perpetual Adoration Society of Jesus – as the Church is still tempted to be today – the most significant consequence of Pentecost is that they were pushed out into the streets for public witness and service, to speak as Jesus had speak and to do as Jesus had done, preaching, teaching, and healing in the name of Jesus.

Do you realize that with our celebration of the Day of Pentecost in the Christian year, we have come full circle? We began with Advent, longing for and anticipating the presence of God: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down.” We celebrated Christmas, and the birth of Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us.” In Epiphany, we beheld the glory of God in Jesus, by the Magi, at his baptism, in his teaching and calling of disciples, and in his transfiguration on the mountain. During Lent, we walked the way of the cross with Jesus, beholding and experiencing the mystery of suffering and sacrificial love. During the Easter season (and it is a season and not a day) we have celebrated the victory of Jesus’ life and his love, and – last Sunday – Christ’s Ascension into heaven, to be with God and part of God. Now, at Pentecost – in Jesus’ absence – we who are Jesus’ followers now, continue the work he began with his life and ministry. In other words, we begin the Christian year longing for the presence and power of God; with Pentecost, we end up empowered by the Spirit to do the work of God ourselves.

How do we do that today? Would it take another Pentecost, kind of like a fireworks display followed by a parade? And exactly where would we go, to go public? Should we do like some, and become street preachers in downtown Chicago? Should we do it now through social media like Facebook? Isn’t this what we do when we supply food to the Food Pantry, and work at the Food Depository, and give donations to Promise of the Rainbow? Don’t we do it through the way we treat our co-workers at work, and our classmates at school, the people we live with and work with and encounter everyday? As your Pastor, I firmly believe that our most important and most public witness as Christians and the people of Central is not what happens when we gather here on Sunday, but how we live when we go from here, from Monday through Saturday.

Our Bishop, Bishop Sally Dyck, preached to General Conference last Tuesday, and told this story. She said:

“When I was a DS in Ohio, I lived in a town that had a daily newspaper. You could read it in about 5 minutes. One night I came home and flipped through the paper. There was an article on the front page about an event at one of the churches in town. The article was about the First Church of God. But they left “d” off of God. So the headline was: The First Church of Go. When I’ve told that story I’ve told it with a sense of it being a rallying cry: I want to be a part of the First Church of Go!

And so – ever since Pentecost, indeed we are, members of the First Church of Go. The question is, how do we do this, while maintaining receptivity to the Spirit’s leading.

The answer is, by listening. Not for the rush of a mighty wind, but to that still small voice that speaks within, if we will but only listen. We must listen in silence and solitude, but also in congregation and community. Sometimes the Spirit will remind us of the established ways of the past, but more often to call us to creative and innovative ways that we have never thought or trod before. As my former professor, Martin E. Marty once said, “We are more creative than we allow ourselves to be.” So – in the long history of the Church – whether that means allowing Gentiles like us to be Christian or slaves to be free or women to be clergy or lay people to do ministry or welcoming LGBTQ people of faith into the church in every way, I believe the Spirit is still calling us to think new thoughts and act in new ways.

I believe the Spirit is calling each of us, to review our lives and let go of the past, to listen to the voice of the authentic self the Spirit is calling us to be, that indeed God were created to be. As the saying goes, “Don’t try to be someone else, because that job is already taken.” I believe the Spirit of God is ALWAYS calling and leading us along, if we will but listen.

Not long ago I was walking up James Street from the parsonage to the Educational Building, and I began to hear the music of Ludwig van Beethoven; “Fur Elise,” that piece that every piano student has played, including me. “Where is that coming from,” I thought? Is it one of Pat Heineman’s piano students, playing in the Educational Building? I tried to catch the direction, but no, it wasn’t coming from that way. The music continued to grow louder, until – with great disappointment – around the corner comes an ice cream truck, playing, yes, Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” The world is even filled with the music of Beethoven, if we will but only listen.

I believe the world is also filled with the music and presence and power of God’s Spirit, if only we will listen. I believe God’s Spirit wants to lead God’s Church, and the United Methodist Church, including Central United Methodist Church – and every one of us – in the way we should go, if only we will listen. On this Pentecost Sunday, don’t you believe that too?

Will you join me – not only on Pentecost Sunday but every day – in listening for the Spirit’s voice, in our church and in our lives?

 

 

 

 

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