Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 4, 2017

2017.06.04 “Pentecost: Our Church Family Story” – Acts 2: 1 – 21

Central United Methodist Church
Pentecost: Our Church Family Story
Pastor David L. Haley
Acts 2: 1 – 21
Pentecost Sunday
June 4th, 2017

Pentecost

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force — no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk — it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
          When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit on those who serve me,
men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.
          I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below,
          Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
          Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous;
          And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

– Acts 2: 1 – 21, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Every Pentecost Sunday, I feel like I am repeating a family story, which we all know well.

You know family stories? Family stories are those stories every family has, about some pivotal event that happened, perhaps even a long time ago, that has shaped our family ever since. It is a story passed down to generations, about such things as how grandpa sailed from Europe living in a tent on the deck of ship, or how Grandpa and Grandma met, beginning the family of which we are a part. Family stories can be about something good, or something bad, like when someone who was an orphan was adopted, or the day that father left and never came back. Such stories become like family DNA, passed down from generation to generation. Every one of us has such family stories.

Even organizations and institutions, including churches, have “family stories.” Ford Motor Company or Bell Telephone have stories about Henry Ford or Alexander Graham Bell, which become almost mythological. Our church has a “family story” you know well: the one about the Log Cabin where our church began. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told it; I’ve got it down to a script, or shall we say: sacred narrative.

Pentecost Sunday is a day in the church when we tell a church family story, not about how our church began, but how THE CHURCH began: it is the story of what happened on the Day of Pentecost. It is a family story that has been passed down from generation to generation, partially because it was a pivotal event in the life of the Church; but – in all honesty – partially out of the hope that it might happen again, especially at those times when we are out of answers and have lost the wind in our sails, like now.

Pentecost was that day 50 days after Easter when the church received the promise of the Spirit that Jesus had promised, turning them from a Memorial Society of Jesus into a Spirit-filled Church, such that by the power of the Holy Spirit they stopped waiting around for something to happen and made things happen, doing the things that Jesus had done. As you heard in the story, The Day of Pentecost was full of sight and sound: the sound of a mighty wind and the sight of flames as of fire, people speaking in multiple languages the praise of God and being understood.

As most of us know, many people now believe Pentecost is still manifested in Church by speaking in tongues, these days more often gibberish than actual languages, as was the case on Pentecost. Actually, the modern Pentecostal movement had a relatively recent beginning, in the Azuza Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. Why should it not surprise us that all crazy things – even in religion – come from California?

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced Pentecostalism; I have. When I was in college I had a friend who was Pentecostal. She used to accompany me when I preached in rural churches, so how could I refuse when she asked me to accompany her to a Pentecostal church? Things quickly got out of hand: people shouting, praying out loud at the same time, even speaking in tongues. It was a too much for me, Methodist born and bred, whose liturgical tastes are more Episcopal than Pentecostal, God’s frozen chosen. I’m sorry to report my heart was not strangely warmed but strangely confused. I always hope that by sharing this story someday I’ll remember her name, which so far has failed to happen.

In Methodist circles, failing Pentecost, failing speaking in tongues, we do our best to recreate it. Preacher Thomas Long once told about visiting a church on Pentecost Sunday, where the pastor decided to add a little drama. So when they read the part about the rushing wind, someone turned on a tape recorder at full volume with the sound of hurricane wind. When they read the part about flames of fire, people in the congregation pulled out flashy red pompoms, and started waving them over their heads. When they got to the part about people speaking in different languages, people who spoke different languages got up and spoke. By that time, said Long, his kids – who had been bored and coloring – were practically standing up in the pews. The choir began to sing, “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,” and just when they thought the sermon was about to begin, a man stood up in the balcony and yelled, “They must be drunk on new wine!” Long said, “My children, far from being bored, were beside themselves with excitement.” When they left, his son, who was still a little boy, said: “Wow, Dad! That was really church.” And so some people still believe. (Thomas G. Long, “What’s the Gift?”, Day 1, May 27, 2012)

Don’t worry, you’re safe, that is not going to happen here today, you can go back to your coloring. Unfortunately, such staged events are the closest we come in our modern churches to what happened on Pentecost.  And what exactly did happen? I’ll tell you; I don’t know.

Even though I have been preaching Pentecost for 43 years, I still have questions; maybe you do too. Let me raise some of my questions, and see if they are your questions too?

Here’s one: how is the Spirit of God who descended upon Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost, different from the Spirit of God who is everywhere, including in us? Do you remember, in Genesis 1, in the Bible’s creation account, it says God breathed into human beings the breath of life? Both in Hebrew (“ruach”) and Greek (“pneuma”), the same word can be translated as “wind,” “spirit,” or “breath.” What that says, theologically speaking, is that it is the Breath or Spirit of God that gives us life. Have you ever seen someone die? Though not a scientific explanation, I would say one of the ways to describe what happens is that the Breath of Life leaves our bodies, leaving a lifeless body. If you have witnessed this, you know it is one of the awesome, sacred moments in human life. In this sense, every living human being is endowed with the Breath or Spirit of God, giving us life. How was Pentecost different?

Here’s the second question: What happened at Pentecost? Did the Breath of God or Spirit of God come in some new or different way, than in the way the Spirit is always present? Obviously, it was a miracle, but was it a miracle of speaking or hearing?

Some might say the miracle of Pentecost, the miracle of speaking and hearing, still happens every day, though in non-miraculous ways, when people who are different understand each other, whenever and however that happens. Whether it is people who speak different languages, whether it is people of different political or religious beliefs, whether it is when parents understand teenagers and teenagers understand parents, even when it is two people married a long time who understand each other.

Did you hear the story about the man asked by his doctor about his hearing, and the man told his doctor that his major concern was that his wife was losing her hearing? When he got home, his wife was standing at the sink with her back turned, so he decided to test it. He asked, “What’s for dinner?” She didn’t turn around. He asked again, louder, “What’s for dinner?” Still nothing. The third time he yelled, “What’s for dinner? She finally turned around and said, “I’ve told you three times it’s chicken; how many times are you going to ask?”

And what exactly what did the Spirit do for Jesus disciples at Pentecost? Did the Spirit make them smarter or bolder, did it give them gifts they didn’t already have? Or did the Spirit simply empower them to use the personalities, the gifts, and the knowledge they already had? Isn’t that what the Spirit still does today, use the personalities, the gifts, and the knowledge that we already have, to serve God’s purposes in the world. In other words, we don’t have to wait for some supernatural event to happen, through the empowerment of the Spirit – who is always present – we already have what we need to serve God’s purposes in the world.

The final question I want to ask is this: what does Pentecost and God’s Spirit have to do with me? How can I draw on God’s omnipresent Spirit from day to day?

Back in 2006, Rev. Shannon Kirshner, who is now Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, preached on Day 1, and she used an analogy of “spiritual breathing” as a form of Spirit appropriation, that is the perfect illustration of how we do this. Hear how she describes her experience, and see if it does not describe your experience also:

“I know, at first it sounds strange, even a bit silly, but has anyone ever told you, “Now, just take a deep breath”…?  When I was in my final semester of seminary, I became entangled in a web of thick chaos. My father heard the cancer diagnosis that January. My husband and I were graduating in May. I had just accepted a call to be an associate pastor at my first church. And seminary classes were still ongoing and professors were still demanding.  I’m out of breath just thinking about it all.

During that time of thick chaos, I began to sigh a lot-loud, dramatic sighs. People noticed. “Shannon, do you know how much you do that?” a friend asked me.  Well, no. I had no idea …. At the same time of my heavy sighing, I was enrolled in a “Women’s Health and Wholeness” seminar.  One day, we learned about the cost of stress and chaos on your body. Apparently, when you feel deep stress, you breathe very shallow breaths. And, so, your body compensates for the lack of oxygen by making you sigh. Your body forces you to take a deep breath.

I share this story with you because I have imagined some of you might find yourselves doing the same thing -forgetting to breathe, let alone breathe deeply. We go from task to task, from stress to stress, from activity to activity, from need to need. And before we know it, we are simply breathless. Life has socked us in the gut, the web of chaos winds around our throat, and we cannot breathe.”

Says Rev. Kershner, this is the point of the Pentecost story:

“While it is a lovely story, a meaningful story, a powerful story, we simply cannot keep it contained in the past. God’s Spirit still works this way. The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, is at work, here and now. Through Scripture and prayers, through music and proclamation, through experience and relationships, God’s holy breath challenges us, comforts us, scares us, clarifies things for us. The story of Pentecost tells us if we are open to breathing it in, if we dare to pray “Come Holy Spirit,” we will find our own lungs filled to the gills with a courage, a reserve of strength, a passion of faith we did not even know we had. (The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, “Breathing Deeply”, Day 1 (www.day1.net), June 4, 2006)

So there it is: today on Pentecost as we tell again this church family story, a story which still shapes our lives, we affirm its powerful and also comforting message for ourselves: The Spirit of God is with us, the Spirit of God uses us, the Spirit of God still fills us day-by-day with a courage, a reserve of strength, a passion of faith we did not even know we have. And so on Pentecost Sunday, with the whole Church on earth we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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