John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
If you’ve been to worship here in the last 7 weeks you might have arrived this morning and notice that our worship space looks a little different! On Easter morning, and for these 7 weeks since we have had these sweeping, dramatic pieces of fabric that have spanned the length of the sanctuary and been draped behind the cross – bold, brilliant reminders of the season of life and promise. But they came down because today is Pentecost Sunday – did you know? Did you plan your Memorial Day weekend around the fact that today is the day often referred to as the birthday of the church? It’s alright if you didn’t, Pentecost does not show up on a secular calendar and this day of celebration often falls on Memorial Day weekend. Whether you were prepared for it, or not, today we hear about the gift of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised to leave his followers after he ascended to God. The Holy Spirit would be the glue that holds churches together, the wisdom that moves us forward in God’s mission and so today we consider how, as Christ’s church, we are supposed to carry on in our lives as Jesus people.
The coming of the Spirit is this crazy, odd story told throughout the Bible – she doesn’t just show up once with the tongues of fire and people speaking different languages! The Spirit of God first moved across the waters of creation in Genesis, she blew through the mass grave of Ezekiel and the dry bones. Jesus gifted the Spirit to the terrified disciples hiding in a locked room after the crucifixion and, in her most famous scene; the Spirit fell on those first Jesus people in the book of Acts. The Spirit creates, breathes life, gives courage and empowers the people of God.
This all sounds pretty good, right? You haven’t heard anything too out of the ordinary – other than bones rising from their graves to dance and a group of people randomly blathering on in languages they have never spoken before. Maybe it’s a lot out of the ordinary. And maybe that is why Lutherans are, generally speaking, so very neglectful of this element of the Divine! Pentecostal isn’t exactly the first adjective that springs to mind when describing the Lutheran denomination – stories of speaking in tongues and breathing life into graves – this is not about us, right? Seeing vision and dreaming dreams? It’s all a little out there!
And so the Holy Spirit gets this one day that we hear the crazy stories and consider what it means to be moved and inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit, but won’t be all be much more comfortable when we get back to the parables and stories that we can understand and rationalize! Lutherans are, generally speaking, notorious for squirming their way far away from all this Pentecostal bewilderment.
What is God up to?
What we are really good at, excellent at really, is asking questions. There is one question that I have heard Lutheran ministries in all sorts of forms and places ask over and over again that tells me maybe we are willing to wonder, in logical and reasonable approaches, about this whole Holy Spirit thing. The question I have heard over and over again and I know it is asked here at Westwood, rightfully so, is “What is God up to in this place?” “What is God up to?” I am grateful to be serving in a place that engages this question and I hope you’ve heard that question around here too or maybe you’ve looked at your family life, your personal life, your work life, you community and asked that same question, “What is God up to here?”
And in asking that question we get to share and tell about God’s work in our lives, we believe God is up to saving us and redeem our scars, we believe God is up to healing and nourishing us – body and soul. We believe in God’s mercy and promise so fully that we share this belief not only on Sunday mornings in worship, but also as we serve up community meals on Wednesday nights, as we rehearse music to proclaim good news, as we take time to raise our children well in the stories of the faith and gather food for hungry neighbors and in all the ways we move as a church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ we are again and again responding to the ever intriguing question, “What is God up to in this place?”
And there are tangible events and marks and stuff to point to as we try to live entire lives that respond to that question. Today, on this crazy day of Pentecost, let us consider a nuanced take on that question. As mysterious and baffling and inspiring as the Holy Spirit can be, could she also be pushing us to ask this question, “How is God up to all that God is up to here?” How is God saving and redeeming and feeding and inspiring and pushing and challenging and transforming us into God’s people? How?
This question, I fear, makes me uncomfortable – because it isn’t so tidy or tangible, the logic doesn’t quite cut it as we consider the HOW ofiit all. Now, we have to feel it, in our hearts and our guts, could we pause on this Pentecost day and consider how all this Godly talk feels in our very being? Isn’t that the way of the Holy Spirit as she breathed over the waters of creation can you feel it like that ever refreshing breeze off a Minnesota lake? Or when the breath made those bones dance, can you remembers times of such wild celebration and elation in your life? Or when the disciples of Jesus were able to do the unthinkable, can you remember what it feels like to be brave and even out of control? Do these feelings and experiences have a place in our stories of faith? Isn’t this the Holy Spirit among us, making us dance with new life and bringing us to deeper understanding of the ways of God, far beyond logic and reason and tangible evidence?
Because, let’s name it, there is an unexplainable, irrational, crazy component to this whole faith in God thing. We talk a lot about faith and love and hope and having a sense of call on our lives – but we cannot measure or qualify or contain any of it. Yet, here we are. I know I can remember, during the most poignant points of my life what faith and love and hope and purpose felt like…can you? I’m not simply talking about an emotional high, that would be a dangerous thing to pin our faith to, but instead it is those times and experiences when a grounded-ness swells beneath you and a certainty of grace covers you. Our faith is in things unseen, like the Holy Spirit moving among us and within us – a feeling we feel.
Could that be, in part, how God is up to what God is up to in our lives and in this place?
And this is the day we remember that the Holy Spirit is the one who breathes words of life into our otherwise cranky mouths, and it is the Holy Spirit that spurs on a very real, spiritual response to all that gospel goodness. Maybe even Lutherans can be Pentecostal, too!
Logic vs. Feeling: Atheist guy.
A few years ago, while I was doing my pastoral internship in Oregon I had a young man, in his early 20s, walk into my office saying he wanted to learn about what we do here at the church. I began to talk about worship, the community of faith and he interrupted me. He plainly said, “I am with the Atheist Alliance of America and I want to know how you do what you do all day and then sleep at night.” He went on to tell me that the all the church does is take people’s money and then cripple them so they cannot emotionally deal with their own lives. In a very respectful way he asked me to provide him with scientific proof of creation and with historical proof for scripture and all the happenings it accounts for.
He had a list of 52 questions he wanted to ask me, or as I saw it, 52 ways to poke at my faith in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This man, passionate and full of conviction for his viewpoint continued to talk about evidence and historical inaccuracies, he casually discounted a few bible stories based on their lack of scientific probability.
During this odd exchange, I found myself distracted by the only piece of jewelry he was wearing, a wedding ring. At first I thought, does your wife know what you’re doing right now? But then I told him that I could no more prove to him the validity of my faith in God than he can prove to me the validity of his new marriage.
And so I began to ask for proof of his very-new bride’s faithfulness, were their documents that could measure and justify her love for him? Was the total sum of their financial assets greater or lesser than their commitment to one another? Could he produce a 5 or 10 year plan for their relationship and future ventures based on their certainly of what gains and losses would befall them? I wasn’t all that clever in coming up with these questions, they were simple spins on the questions he had already asked me of the church.
He wanted to talk science and history and proof. I told him the church had been given the language of relationship and love and life. I was no smooth talkin’ pastor-lady just sitting in my office that day, by the end of our lengthy conversation I had raised my voice and was shaking for much of the day after he left. But I took that shaking as a sign that I had a very real reaction to someone poking holes at my faith, a faith I had been given by the Holy Spirit in my baptism, a faith handed to me by a wide community of saints and a faith I had experienced as true and life-giving and lasting. Not an emotional high, but a soul-resounding gift.
There is a holy, uncontrollable mystery to this faith life, it is the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us in the baptismal waters -- it is how God is up to all that God is up to in our lives.
So when we hear the words from the book of Acts, that our young people will see visions and our old will dream dreams we need not squirm away or fear being too Pentecostal. Because seeing visions and dreaming dreams isn’t just for the Pentecostals anymore, it never really was, and it’s not about predicting the future or knowing what’s on the horizon – because that is simply another attempt to control the uncontrollable.
Seeing the vision of God and dreaming the dreams of God is to be brave enough to ask the question, What is God up to in my life? And it is being brazen enough to live lives that tell others how God is up to all that God is up to in your life.
As the temperature rises this spring and summer we will open our windows and feel the breeze as we drive or in our homes and offices, a perfect image for the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot control her temperature or power, but we can open the window and be moved by this Holy presence.
You are God’s beautiful creation and the Holy Spirit hovered over you at your making.
You have been given the breath of Ezekiel to call out to mass graves and dead bones, “Come alive, come alive.”
You, children of God, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit, not to prove anything, but to announce the gift of life to the world.
What is God up to here?
How is God up to what God is up to? Through the power of the Holy Spirit moving in each and every one of us. May we fall into this holy, uncontrollable, crazy mystery of God for the sake of the whole world. Amen.