Sermon–Day of Pentecost–May 15, 2016



May 15, 2015

William Bradbury


Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:14-17, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Someone once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. And that’s true: for instance everyone you meet is carrying the burden of having to die.  Everyone you meet struggles with the quest for relationships that heal more than hurt. The disciples have all these and more. Their leader was executed by the Empire, and they are not far behind, and they struggle with what it means to be a community of  disciples of the one who tells parables of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son? But in the midst of these burdens the Risen Jesus pushes them even harder:

He says, “I want you to get out of your warm and safe locked up church, leave behind your comfortable pew, and go out into the highways and byways and tell people through your words and your actions, about my unconditional love for them and to invite them to join you in your community that lives for others.

Now how in the world do 120 mostly uneducated peasants living in the backwater of the Roman Empire do this? I mean whose going to pay for all that travel? And how will they make disciples with their strange message that a crucified Jew raised from the dead is Messiah and Lord, God’s Only Son, and savior of all sinners and saints? Who in their right mind will think this is good news and will want to be baptized into Jesus Christ, to clothe themselves with Christ as Paul puts it?

I did my seminary field work at Saint John’s Church in Georgetown in DC—a large prosperous parish filled with business leaders and members of the diplomatic corps, including Cyrus Vance who was Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State. Coming from middle class Atlanta I was in awe of these sophisticated people and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why super-successful people bothered going to church. Why did they serve on the vestry and teach church school, when they could have been just as happy staying in bed reading the Washington Post. I didn’t get it. I knew why people like me who weren’t overly successful and had all sorts of other issues they couldn’t solve came to church but why these people living in multi-million dollar homes in one of the great cities of the world.

How in the world are the disciples supposed to go into the rich neighborhoods of Rome and convince the intelligentsia and the power brokers to give their lives over to a crucified Jew who never owned a thing and died an abject failure at the age of 33?

Tough sell, don’t you think? It is, in fact, impossible!

 Jesus of course knew it is impossible, so he told them to stay together and wait for the promise of the Father.  So, 120 of them hang together for 10 days after the ascension and wait for the promise of the Father, whatever that might be.

We are not so good at waiting. We well-educated women and men are trained to get stuff done ASAP. We label waiting as procrastination which we think is a psychological illness that must be overcome. So when we get what we think is an order from on high, we don’t wait, we form committees, make to do lists, create a plan of attack.   

But the disciples were up against something impossible so all they could do was wait and then, while they are waiting and praying all heaven breaks loose. The wind and the fire are signs that God, the Holy Spirit has broken out among them.

Being overwhelmed by God is a shattering event. Holy Spirit shatters their sense of who they are— Holy Spirit shatters their sense of their purpose on earth–

 Willimon and Hauerwas wrote: “To believe in the Holy Spirit is to believe in God. To have had an experience of the Holy Spirit is to have had an experience of something other than yourself.See their new book Holy Spirit

 On Pentecost the disciples are transformed into willing human radios that receive God’s frequency and then the vibrations of the Holy Spirit are converted to sound through their voices. They begin to speak God’s words with a power that comes from God. They speak to foreign strangers about the mighty acts of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and unbelievably, these strangers understand what the disciples say, so that 3000 believe in the Jesus and are baptized into his death and resurrection on that day—and today we baptize three more!

Of course not everyone understood. Some said, They’re drunk! To which Peter responds, they’re not drunk—yet, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 

The focus of our celebration this day is not on ourselves—how special, smart, and talented we are, how we can do great things for God. That’s all nonsense. Our focus is on the power of Christ’s Spirit that does the impossible through communities like All Saints Church.

Karl Barth calls the reality of the gospel itself and the proclaiming of the gospel as the impossible possibility. This phrase reminds us of the end of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man when who had just refused to sell everything he had and follow Jesus, and Jesus laments how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

The disciples are stunned and say, well, then who can be saved? And Jesus says, with us it is impossible but with God all things are possible.

My experience is that we don’t understand the gospel until we run out of our resources and run into the impossible. Many of you have been to the hard place called impossible and know this is true.

 The call of God at Pentecost is for the church to go public with the good news of Jesus Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit is not just about me having my private warm bath in the love of God. It is about living our faith in public in ways that other people know they are being loved.

Steve McVey reminds us that “There is no such thing as Christianity turned inward.” He says, “Empty religion seeks to preserve itself and focuses on gathering.” That’s why we must be careful when we sing our last hymn today: There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place. Because if all the Spirit does for us is make us feel good in our fellowship then we are not dealing with the Holy Spirit.

So we must listen to the end of the refrain that goes:

Without a doubt we know
That we’ll have been revived
When we shall leave this place.

 The proof of the presence of Holy Spirit is not how warm we feel toward our friends, but how willing we are to love those who are different from us. The only way we’ll know we have been set upon by the Spirit of Jesus is when Jesus goes public through us. McVey says, “New Testament Christianity purposes to pour itself out in ministry to others.” Grace Walk p.150

That’s why after we recite the creed in a few minutes we’ll promise “to seek and serve Christ in all persons”. That phrase is in our Statement of Inclusion you can find in your insert today.

That’s impossible too because there are some people who are so different and difficult, and others who we just don’t like, so we can’t bring ourselves to seek and serve Christ in them.

And we say we don’t know enough about Jesus and the Bible and we don’t have enough time, and we’re reserved New Englanders, and, well, it’s just impossible.

Exactly—thanks be to God.