Saturday, September 6, 2008

Whitsunday, 2007

May 27, 2007 Whitsunday (C) Acts 2: 1-21; John 14: 8-17

It was Shavuot, the ancient festival, fifty days after Passover, commemorating the moment when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Tablets of the Law, one of the classic and critical moments of covenant relationship between God and his Chosen People. Forever after, a day to celebrate renewal, the promise of abundance in the springtime planting of crops in the fields, a sense of hopefulness in God’s good intentions and loving purposes.

But the themes of the day perhaps rang a little hollow in the ears of the disciples. The signs and symbols of the past not quite what they had been, anymore, yet the present and certainly the future still a jumble. The past weeks have been for them a season of the lowest of all possible lows, followed by the highest of all possible highs, Good Friday and Easter Morning. Yet the parting on the mountaintop on Ascension Thursday—and we look again at our Clara Miller Burd window illustrating that scene—the parting on that day left them both energized and confused, exalted and frightened.

What are they supposed to do now? Wait? For what? Jesus had told them they would know what to do, and the Messengers at the Mount of the Ascension had told them to hold on, until the Spirit arrived. But what would that mean? What would it be like? Would they recognize it? Would it really happen? And how to fit it all together, the past, the present, and the future?

Day passed after day, and anxiety began to fill in the empty places of their hearts. They retreated to the safety of that Upper Room, where they could close the windows and lock the doors and bask in the memories of that Last Supper they had shared together there with him, and of his miraculous Easter evening appearance. A place where they would be safe and secure.

And then it happens. As we’ve read in Acts. Whatever it was: the rush of wind, the Spirit like tongues of fire, the rushing headlong into the streets with an overflowing energy, enthusiasm, vitality, announcing the good news with words never before spoken, a new language, the new language of heaven, somehow understood immediately and by everyone. And at once the themes of Shavuot are transformed, the descent from Sinai of Moses and the Two Tablets of Torah now accompanied by the sweeping down of God’s Holy Spirit to fill the hearts and minds and lives of his new people. And as it had happened in the Wilderness, so now in the center of the Holy City: a covenant and an identity and a sense of purpose.

This Second Chapter of Acts now opening the door to the rest of the story, the preaching of the gospel first out on the farthest margins, in Jerusalem and then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth, rolling out over years and continents. All the way to Acts 28, where the closing verses show us Paul preaching the Good News in Rome—the very center of the world. And some have said that the most significant chapter of the Acts is Acts 29. The next chapter, the one after the last chapter, the one that reaches out over centuries and across mountains and oceans, to us, here today.

The Holy Spirit still swooping around here in this place, in your lives and my life, and the reality of Christ being represented and lifted up in so many ways, day after day, all around us. Come down, O Love Divine.

Can you think of someone who has had a major impact in your life? A friend, a spouse, a parent, a child, a teacher, a colleague, a mentor, a neighbor, perhaps someone who was in the wider frame not much more than a casual acquaintance, but who with a word, of advice, warning, encouragement, with a smile, the offer of a shoulder to cry on, of a safe harbor in a storm, or with a swift kick on the backside to push us out into the stream—someone who has changed your life, made you who you are today, set you on your path at a critical moment. Without him, without her, I would have been on the wrong track in so many ways.

To think of that person. One who has been able to pray for us when we weren’t able even to pray for our selves, who could be faithful for us, with us, even when we were lost in despair. To be Christ, for us. I know there are a hundred stories just here this morning. And what I know too, as we would pause to picture that person—that each one here, and certainly in the wider world of our families and among the circles of work and friendship, each one of you, would be pictured by someone, when that question is asked. I’m sure it’s happening right here in this room this morning. So many of you have been that for me, that much I know for sure.

It’s something to think about, as in that Mitch Albom best-seller, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. We may have no idea, most of the time we have no idea, how God is using our lives, how the Spirit works in us and through us. Sometimes we know, but most of the time, maybe not. Sometimes with bells and whistles and fireworks and bright trumpets, but most of the time, quietly, secretly even, working in us and through us. Holy Spirit.

That multi-lingual chorus of readers of the Acts lesson catches me every year. I know it’s going to happen, but it’s always more than I expected. And the voices of our choir, week by week. That's heavenly language, to be sure. And what happens when we are here together. What God does for us, and with us. In prayer. Breaking bread. Sharing our lives. And even more what happens when we go out those front doors and into the wide world.

Blessings to you on this Whitsunday, Feast of Pentecost, and always. It’s a great story and an inspiring story, and one that never ends: wherever you are, and every day.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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