Christ is Risen
Christ is risen indeed.
And indeed the spirit of the living Christ is with us here in this space today, animating our worship, inspiring where we are inspired and acting as intercessor and comforter.
This is the celebration of Pentecost, a Christian celebration of the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the church. But let me tell you about Pentecost 2000 years ago and why there was such a crowd gathered for the Holy Spirit to light upon. Pentecost was called Pentecost because if was 50 days after Passover. It was also known as the Feast of Weeks because it is a week of weeks (7×7) after Passover. This was an agricultural festival in which the community celebrated the gathering of the first harvest (wheat) and offered thanks to God for nature’s bounty.
Around the period of this particular Pentecost, in Judaism, the celebration was beginning to lose its association with agriculture, as attention was shifting to concern for preserving the religious heritage of the Hebrew people, who were by now scattered around the ancient world. By the first century C.E ., the Day of Pentecost had become primarily a celebration of God’s gift of the law of Moses to Israel. Jews from all nations were gathered to celebrate the law, to worship, and to celebrate both their faith and their heritage.
In this context, Jesus’ disciples were gathered inside the house, out of this public gathering, when this sound, like a rush of wind – I imagine maybe like a huge fan whirring, like a jet engine starting up – and they began babbling in different languages. And it must have been so dramatic and so loud that the wind drove them out of the house and into the street. And not only that but it seemed as if a fire was literally burning on each of them. Luke, who is the writer of Acts, has a wonderful way of describing this as he talks about the glw/ssa ( glossa ) or tongue of flame and the many tongues (languages) that are spoken. Because all of these odd events, devout pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean gathered in this place, curious to discover that they could understand what the disciples were saying. And they were ‘bewildered.’ But here, too, the translation doesn’t do the language justice. It might be better said accurately said that this blew their minds!
Blew their minds indeed. Can you imagine such a ruckus here in this sanctuary. As we calmly read our scripture and sing serenely or even when we shake our keys. Instead of that beautiful red representation of the Spirit draping to the floor, out of that cavernous space of ceiling comes a violent and rushing tornado like wind that literally blows us back, through the doors and all the while we begin speaking in other languages. But not like we heard just now, each person reading from a paper, but proclaiming loudly what Christ has done in our midst. And all of our Ethiopian neighbours, and our Korean and Vietnamese neighbours and our Mexican and Guatemalan neighbours would stop and wonder and think, who are these crazy, drunken Mennonites and what kind of weird rituals to they do in that church?
This is what we are celebrating. This story of crazy and drunk-acting Jews who babbled about Jesus. Yet this is not a reality of how we experience the Spirit in our midst in 2008. Should it be?
William Willimon says that we should be examining this story not for facticity – did the wind actually blow, did the flames actually light the disciples like birthday candles? as I have pictured it since I was a small child. We should be looking for the truth in what is claimed. With the youth, we’ve talk some about the difference between fact and truth – what actually happened versus the truth in the story. I don’t know for sure if this is what Willimon is getting at, but for Luke, who recorded the story of Acts, narrative is a tool to speak the truth of the Gospel. He uses literary allusions back to the Gospel of Luke, his first volume, and to the Old Testament – especially to the prophets – to reinforce the purposefulness of events and the underlying message of Jesus Christ for all people.
One of the places when Luke alludes to his previous writing is when he puts us in the minds of the crowd who say ‘these people are only filled with new wine.’ The last reference to ‘new wine’ in Luke’s writing is in a parable from Jesus who talks about cutting up new clothes to patch the old and putting new wine in old wineskins. (Luke 5: 35ff) Never would happen. He is describing the old guard who are unadventurous and content with the old and those who are willing to be filled with the ‘new wine.’ The disciples are drunk on a new wine. Not on spirits, but on the Spirit (credit goes to Marsha for that groaner of a pun.)
Luke writes both references to new wine a new church who is struggling to be open to new ways of being God’s. This story of Pentecost speaks some truths about how it is to be that have farther reaching meaning for living in the Spirit’s power than for the 1 st Century church.
The Spirit’s completely changes our imagination of what is possible for ourselves. So for us it might not be speaking in tongues, but what will it allow us to speak. It might not mean prophesy, but how will it allow us to speak truth and envision a new future. We heard what Paul has named gifts of the Spirit.
” 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor 12)
No, speaking in tongues and the discernment of spirits may not be a familiar way of exercising the Spirit’s gifts but speaking God’s word certainly is. No one, says Paul, can say that Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the spirit that gives us the power of proclamation.
The youth Sunday school series right now is about a Christian approach to conflict. In one lesson we talked about the different types of personal approaches categorized by animals. The shark is the assertive my way or the highway type, the teddy bear the opposite – giving in to accommodate others’ wishes. The turtle avoids the conflicts altogether and the fox compromises in a win some/lose some way. The owl is the collaborator. She has a balance of assertiveness and cooperation. The solutions of collaborators are spirit-filled and outside-the-box workers. The resolutions of problems are new ways that go beyond what either side wanted or intended.
Not only is it a gift of the Spirit to have an ability to be an owl-type, this is a model for how the Spirit works among us. It is she who gives birth to the never-before-thought-of and makes the unimaginable imaginable. The Spirit brings the God of scripture to life.
The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective says this in its commentary about the article on the Spirit.
“the Holy Spirit gives us power to proclaim the word with boldness, to love enemies, to suffer in hope, to remain faithful in trials, and to rejoice in everything. As we walk by the Spirit, the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control ( Gal. 5:22-23 ).”
The power to proclaim the word with boldness – I said something about being bold a few weeks ago. I made a challenge to boldness, and I will make my confession that since then I have had opportunities to share more about my faith than I did. I need to call on the Spirit’s power for this boldness. I take comfort that even though Peter denied Jesus in the heat of a difficult moment, he is the first to speak after the crazy Jesus-followers spill out of the house in what looks like loud and drunken.
Peter used the time of the morning – nine o’clock – as proof that they were not drunk and I don’t think this is tongue in cheek but I think we all know that time of day really has nothing to do with it. In any case, he goes on to call on the prophesy of the Joel about the Spirit of God being poured out onto all people without discrimination. Here is God at work.
I heard a comedian talk about heckling recently. This comedian, who was of Indian descent and used this as part of his routine recalled a particular heckler who was quite drunk and commenting loudly and slurring-ly about how disgusting Indians were. The comic was able to use this drunken interchange to humorous advantage and to turn her slurs into material. I relate this by way of saying that we need to have the boldness of the drunk heckler (with a more positive content perhaps) and the presence of mind of the comedian, who engaged the young women on her prejudiced assertions.
This kind of ability to engage in the moment is also a gift of the Spirit. But we need to pay attention to where the Spirit is at work as well. Where in our lives, where in others, in what moments of time.
“To those in the church today who regard the Spirit as an exotic phenomenon of mainly interior and purely personal significance, the story of the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost offers a rebuke. Luke goes to great pains to insist that this outpouring of the Spirit is anything but interior. Everything is by wind and fire, loud talk, buzzing confusion, and public debate. The Spirit is the power which enables the church to “go public” with its good news, to attract a crowd and…to have something to say worth hearing.”
The spirit both calls us out – which can be scary, but it gives us ability and power.
One more story – when I was a seminary student I took a class in Chigaco’s west side and I was taking the bus to class one morning with my friend Joel, also a student. We waited at a transfer and at the same stop were two men, one who ignored us, and one who started to talk to me – not rude, but kind of hitting on me – what’s my name, where am I from etc. I was wary but not feeling endangered – especially because I had a male friend right there. And when he asked me what do I do I told him I was training to be a pastor and his demeanor immediately changed. He began spilling out a story about drug use, rehabilitation followed by relapse, being short of money. He continued to talk as well all got on the bus and then he asked us – me and Joel – to pray for him. The bus was crowded. Eduardo was under the power of something and I think, now, so were we. We prayed there on the bus for Eduardo, for his friend, who he made come back from the back of the bus, for his girlfriend from whom he was estranged because of his drug problem. This is not something that I could have ever done on my own.
We will have the opportunity to think more about the ways that the Spirit has gifted and empowered us and what gifts we would like to call on later in worship. The children will invite us to be lit by the power of the Spirit. Peter quotes from Joel. The gifts are poured out for all of us – male and female, old and young of every class. We are all privileged by it and we can’t get out of it. Let us pray that the Spirit of God makes us all public drunkards. Drunk on power of the Spirit.