Last week I was talking to a colleague of mine who has stepped in to be the supply preacher for a congregation that is without a regular pastor this summer. Her first sermon there was a last week, which you may know, was Ascension Sunday, the day we remember Jesus ascension into heaven after his resurrection. My friend, Susan, learned as soon as she started at this church that they had scheduled Youth Sunday for this week, June 12, which is Pentecost. The youth, of course, were not forced to follow a specific calendar, so, as she said it, the church had “cancelled Pentecost.”
I wonder at what point in the day the apostles wanted to cancel Pentecost, because I think they probably did, at least at first. As soon as they were gathered all together in one house there came from heaven the sound of a rushing wind. It blew among them violently. This was no spirit, spirit of gentleness. This was a wind storm that came up out of nowhere, and came up right in the middle of the room where they were sitting. It filled the house where they were, and, I bet, it terrified them like the people we have seen in shaky home movies that were shot in the recent tornadoes. This wind was no calm breeze stirring the grasses on a beautiful day; this was the powerful Spirit of God who was stirring up trouble!
The violent wind and the divided tongues of fire that accompanied them were signs both wonderful and terrible at the same time. They were so dramatic that they brought to mind in those who experienced them to prophecy of Joel who spoke of what it would be like when the Lord would come with blood and fire and smoky mist. This was more than a simple puff of the wind and a tiny flickering light. This was enough to be compared to a day when the sun would turn to darkness and the moon to blood. This, this…was trouble.
The Spirit of God descended on the apostles of Jesus, those who were commissioned and sent out to speak for him and minister in his name. The Spirit of God came into their very room and dramatically equipped them for a very important ministry, a very specific ministry. The Spirit of God blew violently among them, knocking the old wind out of them and filling them with a new wind, a new breath, with new words in a new language so that they could go out of that place and speak to anyone and everyone about the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ their Lord. The Spirit of God joined with them that day, so that they could open their circle to include others.
And that’s why people thought they were drunk. The Spirit of God, she can stir up trouble. The reaction from the crowd that witnessed what was going on was mixed. There were Jews from nations all over the known world who could suddenly hear these Galileans speaking in their native tongues. Some were amazed at what they heard, but others were less than impressed. “They’re DRUNK!” they accuse, sneering and mocking the apostles.
They dismissed what they heard, apparently confusing it with babble, nonsense, the slurred, indistinguishable speech of those who have indulged themselves beyond their limit. They disregarded the apostles’ words and uninhibited behavior as those of people who had no control over what they were saying or what they were doing. If they weren’t wishing they had cancelled Pentecost before, I bet they were wishing it now. Moses got the gift of laws on stone tablets on the day they gathered to remember, but the apostles got the gift of trouble.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, the sign of God’s presence in the world that moves God’s people to action and to ministry, apparently, brings trouble. Those who are “blessed” in receiving the Holy Spirit are blessed with this holy trouble. It’s not an easy gift. It’s not a gift you get, you smile at, and you stick on your shelf to look at every once in a while. It’s a gift that is counter-cultural. It’s a gift that demands action. It’s a gift that causes you, forces you, drives you to do something that looks irrational, sloppy, and completely, unabashedly uninhibited. It makes you include others.
Before the Holy Spirit blew through the apostles on the Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection his followers and his apostles were a relatively homogenous bunch. Sure some were fisherman and at least one was a tax collector. Among the wider circle, those whose names we don’t necessarily know, there were men and women, but for the most part they were the same. They were all from Galilee. They were all Jewish. They all spoke Aramaic. They had the same or at least similar experiences and expectations. They ate their food with the same spices. They played the same games. They wore the same fashions. They valued the same things. They worshiped God the same way. Birds of a feather, they flocked together.
We can’t help it, right? It’s just the way it happens. I like this one kind of music so I naturally gravitate towards others who do, too. I enjoy these kinds of sports so I tend to find others who do, too. I speak this way, value these things, believe those, worship like this, therefore I naturally want to get together with people just like me. It’s not on purpose; it’s just the way it happens. It’s not because I think other ways are wrong; it’s just that those ways don’t appeal to me. They just don’t make me comfortable. I just don’t feel myself, at home, if we’re not doing things the way I’m used to doing them.
But from what I can tell, from the very beginning the Spirit had precious little to do with making the people of God feel comfortable. The Spirit of God led the Israelites around a DESERT. Not so comfortable. The Spirit of God went with people who were exile. Not so comfortable. The Spirit of God brought a baby to an unwed teenage mother. DEFINITELY not comfortable. The Spirit of God has a lot more to do with stretching our understanding of what it means to be the people of God, with leading the people of God into difficult situations, with expanding the circles of our community beyond those who look just like us and speak our same language than making us feel comfortable. The Spirit of God sure can stir up trouble.
For the apostles gathered in a house on Pentecost that meant they spoke new languages to include those who weren’t among their numbers. For us may mean something different. Look around. No really. Look around. Who is missing among our community? Who do we block from being a part of God’s community in this way, even unintentionally? Who can’t hear the good news because we only speak it in the language WE know? Who is left out because we set up spoken or unspoken expectations that bar them from speaking their own language? Who doesn’t even drive, bike, walk , crawl, run, or wheel up to our front doors on Sunday morning because they see our hesitancy or fear in including them? Who do we hesitate to go out and invite in because we fear that our ways will be changed if we let them in?
I see in this church an impulse toward shaking some of these hesitancies. I see the Holy Spirit little by little being allowed to blow through and among us. We may not yet be at gale force winds or anything, but our windows are opening, the breeze is coming through. Our mission with the Bridge for Youth with Disabilities is moving from the fundraising stage to the action stage. Things are getting visible. Our mission can be seen as the land has been leveled, the path has been laid, the garden boxes have been built. Soon our children will be over their working with our Bridge friends to dig in the dirt, work side-by-side and get plants in the ground, speaking the language of growth and cooperation and learning and nurture.
We are also changing the way we work together even within the church, so that we can include as many as possible in our mission and fellowship. It may be a bumpy road at times, but we are opening up opportunities for new people to serve however they are able in our outreach and our fellowship activities. We are learning a new language, a new way to express God’s grace, and new way to include all who are called as disciples and apostles in the name of Christ.
But at the same time, we still have work to do. The neighbors haven’t yet wondered what has gotten into us. People aren’t peering into our windows disbelieving what they’re seeing, hearing a message of love and welcome so dramatic that they think we’re out of minds. There are still times that we cringe when kids are playing on the grass we care for so meticulously. We wonder if the paint that got on the sidewalk will clean up. There are times we get frustrated about doing things a new way. We hesitate speak privately in our friendships and our relationships about God’s grace in Jesus, and don’t even think about doing it publically in our community. We miss opportunities to welcome those who are shunned in society and especially by the Christian community because we are scared to speak a new language and be judged by people watching us.
But this is what Pentecost is about - - letting the Holy Spirit so dramatically cover us, so dangerously fill this room and our lives that we can’t HELP but let people, any people, ALL people, know about God’s love. Pentecost is about reaching out with the languages of the world around us - - the language of children playing on the grass, the language of food for families that are hungry, the language of volunteerism for people who want to serve, the language of accessibility for those who are differently-abled, the language of exuberance for those who interest and excitement can’t be contained. Pentecost is about speaking the message of God’s grace and inclusion in languages that may be new to us to people who may be different from us, which may just be uncomfortable for us. It may even earn us a raised eyebrow from the neighbors who watch us. Are they drunk? Are they serious? Do they really mean what they are doing?
But the Spirit of God, if the Spirit does ANYTHING, the Spirit of God stirs up trouble. The Spirit of God raises more than eyebrows. The Spirit of God raises up missionaries, evangelists, and prophets; servants, disciples, and apostles from among the people of God, even from among us to speak recklessly of God’s power, to dream without inhibitions dreams of God’s justice, to see without blinders visions of God’s welcome. The Spirit of God stirs up trouble, and by the grace of God we should find ourselves right in the middle of it.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!