This is a sermon from 2008. A few funny things to ponder follow.
NEW WINE ACTS 2 MAY 11, 2008
THE CHURCH AND POWER
The preacher wanted to use a real attention getting gimmick on Pentecost. So he had the custodian hide up in the rafters above the pulpit. On the cue, “Then the Holy Spirit descended like a dove” the custodian was to release a white dove that would descend. So the time came and the minister said, “Then the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.” Nothing. He said it again a little louder. “Then the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.” Then he heard the custodian up in the rafters say, “Rev. The cat ate the Holy Spirit. Do you want me to throw the cat down?”
I don’t have any gimmicks today. But I understand how difficult it is to explain the power that was present at that first Pentecost. Luke tries to explain it. He says it sounded like the rush of a mighty wind. He says it was almost like flames were landing on the apostles heads. He doesn’t have words to express what happened in that upper room. What we know is that it was frightening and challenging and exciting. All of a sudden, these terrified, cowardly, weak Galilean fishermen were filled with power from above. Sportscaster Dan Patrick likes to say that a player who is on a hot streak is “en fuego!”
Inflamed with power is not how WE usually think of the church. We think of the church as being polite and nice and calm and predictable. My friend from an Assembly of God church asked me “Why do Presbyterians need a Book of Order? It would take several sticks of dynamite to disrupt order in your church. And why would you want to put the Holy Spirit in order anyway?” Well, he really didn’t understand our heritage and our system. And I like nice and calm and polite and predictable. But he made me think about what happens when the Holy Spirit shows up.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Prudy and I watch a lot of movies. Sometimes you get a bad one. We watched Cloverfield a week or so ago. It was one of the worst movies ever made. The premise is that a monster comes and destroys New York City. The story is told from the perspective of a group of Gen Xers who are so annoying in their self-absorption that I was actually anxious for the monster to eat them and shut them up. One of the young women just kept screaming “What is happening? What is happening?”
What was happening in Jerusalem that first Pentecost was not that a monster was destroying the city. Instead a Spirit from God was empowering the followers of Jesus Christ. What was happening was that they had no more fear of what might happen to them. What was happening was that they were now making sense of the teachings of Jesus. What was happening was that they were able to communicate the great truth of Jesus without barriers. It must have been like the U.N. with no translators needed. What was happening was not an internal good feeling about self. They were compelled to go into the streets and share the good news which for them had now come alive.
One more movie reference. This one from about 6 years ago. It was called “Chocolat.” The scene I remember is when the young priest is preaching in the stuffy old church. And just as he begins to talk about the fresh Spirit of God being alive, the wind blows the doors of the church open. Wouldn’t it have been great if I had rigged up a way to have the doors blow open just then? But with my track record with gimmicks the wind probably would have dislodged someone’s wig and scattered by notes. What matters most perhaps is not what was happening at the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. But what is happening THIS Pentecost in New Vernon. Are we ready to let the wind blow the doors of the church open?
The followers of Jesus are left with the task of living out the gospel. The Spirit doesn’t do it for them. It just gives them the power to see their own potential when they are empowered from above. Today is Mother’s Day as well as I love the connection. It is about potential. Moms give birth and see the potential in their children even when they are tiny and helpless. Moms can always see the potential in their young children. One Mom had her two little sons at the park. A woman asked, “How old are the boys?” And she said, “The doctor is 5 and the ambassador is 2.”
The confirmation class is no different. Parents saw in you when you were tiny babies, the potential that you are now fulfilling. They believe in you. They always have and they always will. That belief is not based only on what you have accomplished so far. It is based on the potential for what you can accomplish in the years to come. My prayer is that you continue to grow into your spiritual potential. It is not enough for you to feel some inner connection with God. Like the first disciples you have to take it out into the streets. You have to allow the Spirit to give you courage to live out your faith in the world out there. We, your church family, believe you will.
That infant church in Jerusalem was filled with raw potential. And we know the story as it unfolds over time. The church of Jesus Christ grows into the world changing force that it is. The church has made plenty of mistakes along the way. But the Spirit filled faith of 11 men changed the world. That same unlimited potential to change the world is now ours. Pentecost must not become the anniversary of something that happened long ago. We must make sure it remains current events.
DRUNK ON GOD
How does Luke explain the existence of the church? He uses terms like fire and wind and power. People don’t usually associate the church with power. Some of the people on the streets that day tried to explain away the miracle of speech exhibited by the disciples. “These men are drunk on new wine.” I don’t know how that would explain anything. When you are drunk, you may think you are more articulate and witty. But the reality is that you are not. But in a way, in a strange way, in a way they never intended, they were right.
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says that it would be silly to put new wine into old wineskins. They will not hold the new wine and they will break and the wine will be lost. The new wine is a way of talking about the new spirit that Jesus brings. Wine is then used as the symbol of the saving blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The apostle’s were drunk on new wine, but they had not been drinking. The new wine that filled them to bursting was the presence of God in Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit. Fredrick Beuchner said, “They were drunk on God.” And it was that intoxication with the Spirit that led to proclamation. They went out into the world to make a difference because they were directed and empowered by the Spirit.
Will Willomon said once, “The way to tell if you are worshipping an idol, a god made in your image, or a living God in whose image you are created is that the Living God can still surprise you.” Wow! Imagine the church saying Come Holy Spirit and the Spirit showed up. It would be frightening and challenging and exciting and unpredictable. We need to be careful what we ask for. The Spirit might just blow the doors open without a gimmick. Pass the new wine, and stand back.
THINGS TO PONDER
Why are there interstates in Hawaii?
If corn oil is from corn and peanut oil is from peanuts, where does baby oil come from?
Is there another word for Thesaurus?
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
If a cow laughs hard, does milk come out of its nose?
Why isn’t the word phonetic spelled the way it sounds?
If con is the opposite of pro, then is congress the opposite of progress?
If a man says something in the middle of the forest and there is no woman around to hear it, is he still wrong?
Friday a little sample of my book And See All the People.