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Spirit-Ability

Sermon - 5/31/09
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Acts 2:1-8, 12-13

The first part of the Pentecost story is told in the 2nd chapter of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

 

I'd like to continue on with what Peter said to that crowd gathered there:

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
 

A lot of spirit in the Church this morning.  This is a spirit-filled church.  If someone came walking in right during that scripture reading [where several members of the congregation read simultaneously in a variety of foreign languages] I think they would have said 'I think I'm in the wrong church' and turned around and walked out J.

We may not normally do a lot of speaking in tongues here, but every once in awhile we may get filled with the spirit.  Great reaction from folks [to our simultaneous readers] -- I think people started to understand why they thought they were filled with wine.

So, we do have spirit.  And I now have proof that we have spirit.  May I have the photo please:

 

And there you have it (above) -- tongues of flame descending upon members of the church as they were moved by the spirit!

I complained a Sunday or two ago that nobody makes a Pentecost card, and I'll be darned if Robin Cushman didn't make me a Pentecost card with that picture on it J.

Well, I've always struggled with a way to picture Pentecost.  It is a bit of an odd story, isn't it?  So it's not surprising that people there thought they were drunk.  This morning I want to give you an image for Pentecost, but not that image.  And it comes from the font of all modern spirituality and wisdom:  YouTube.  It's a video that probably at least half of you (or better) have already seen.  When I first saw it, I said immediately "well, there's a sermon illustration just waiting to be told".  I didn't know what the sermon was yet, but I knew it was going to be one.  And this week it suddenly hit me -- it's a Pentecost story.

Now, when I mention it and show it, some of you may say "huh?", how is that a Pentecost story?  It's the audition of Susan Boyle for the British equivalent of the talent show American Idol.  How many have already seen it?  That's what I thought -- it's been viewed something like 100 million times, I don't even have to show it.  But I'm going to, so let me play it, and then I'll explain (if it's not obvious) of why I consider it to be a Pentecost story:

Click here to view the Susan Boyle audition video

 

Wow, huh.  Probably several sermons in there, no doubt.  But why Pentecost?

Well, as those of you who have been following the Susan Boyle phenomenon know, Susan Boyle is an unemployed single woman from a small Scottish village.  Lives alone with her cat, took care of her aging mother for many years, sang in her church choir.  She was born with a learning disability, often ridiculed as a child for being odd, slow, different.  When she came onto that stage, you saw the reactions of the judges and the crowd, rolling their eyes, smirking, making snide comments to the people next to them.  Judging Susan solely on her appearance. 

But when she began to sing, something happened, didn't it?  Pure magic.  Jaws dropped.  Eyebrows raised.  Jeers became cheers, as the odd duckling transformed into a beautiful swan right before our eyes.  Within Susan Boyle was this God-give ability, waiting, all those years, for the right moment to come out.

Well, yesterday was the season finale, and if you read your paper in the back, you may have found it -- Susan Boyle was one of 10 finalists.  She made it to the final 2 before she lost to a very talented teen of young dancers who took the show.  And true to her character, she was very gracious in her concession to them, congratulating them.

So, now, here's the connection:  when you think of Pentecost, and you think of Peter, this uneducated fisherman from a small village in Galilee, standing in front of that Pentecost crowd with all kinds of people -- the eyes of the world, so to speak -- and picture that outpouring of the spirit that wowed the crowd, put a lump in people's throats, brought tears to their eyes, moved people to jump to their feet, clapping and shouting. 

That's the spirit of Pentecost.  Something totally unexpected, something incredible, something wonderfully glorious and exciting.  So what was it?

Luke says there was a sound like a rush of a powerful wind, "tongues of fire" that descended upon the Disciples, gave them the ability to speak in all kinds of languages.  Now remember this is Luke the gospel writer, Luke the theologian who is telling this story.  And he's not just telling us about some over-excited disciples on one particular morning 50 days after Easter.  He is telling us something about God. 

For those who are in our Tuesday Bible class, remember that question that Marcus Borg asks:  why did the Biblical authors tell the story in this way?

When Luke emphasizes the sound of the mighty wind, he wants us to remember the creation story.  The wind that moved across the face of the deep.  He wants us to remember that Ezekiel story, the wind that called those bones together and brought new life to them.  It's a way of saying the same God who was at work in creation, the same God who restored Israel from a valley of dry bones, that is the God who gives birth to the church.

Just as the creation stories are not written to give us all kinds of details of creation like a science textbook, so too the story of Pentecost is not written to give us all the historical details about the birth of the church (like we might find in a news article).  The point of the story is to show how the church was born of the spirit of God lest anyone thing otherwise.  So regardless if this story is about one morning in Jerusalem on the 50th day after Easter, or of many mornings in many towns and cities across the Mediterranean world, wherever the amazing story of Jesus was told the point is the same:  it is the spirit of God that moves people, that speaks to them in languages they can understand, that gives them the ability to speak boldly of the good news of a crucified Lord and Savior.  In direct contrast to the Lord and Savior who sat on the throne in Rome who thought he had all the power.

There's one more point about the Pentecost story we should note:  like the stories of Jesus' healing and feeding people, calming storms, changing water into wine, this is a miracle story.  And the point of miracle stories is not the miracle.  The miracle is always something that points to something else.  Otherwise, the feeding of the 5,000 would be about how Jesus is the greatest short-order cook that ever was.  Instead of being the Bread of Life.

The point of the Pentecost story is not just that the birth of the church is the work of the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Jesus, but also it's about the ones who are called to do this work.  Who receive that outpouring of the spirit.  Who come from all corners of the earth.  Instead of concentrating power in the hands of the few (as was the case in the Roman Empire, as is the case in all empires) the power of the spirit, you see, is given to all people.

Why else would they wait 50 long days after the incredible news of Easter?  This was the moment of opportunity.  Like Susan Boyle, this is the ideal crowd to receive such a message.  Now, we skipped over in the scripture reading the long list of names (I was trying to spare our readers of all those different countries and peoples that you can find there in Acts 2), but there are people gathered from all areas of the Mediterranean world.  So that when they went home, they literally were taking the message of the good news to all corners of what was then the known world.

For 50 days, the Disciples remained out of sight for fear they might be the next victim of crucifixion.  And now is there chance to go public in a big way.  Would they continue to keep a low profile, or would they dare to challenge the powers that be by declaring that the powers that had crucified Jesus as a fraud, that now that he had risen, he has taken the right hand at the seat of God?

You see, the story of Pentecost is not just about the outpouring of the spirit on that day, it is about the outpouring of the message of God's reversal that transforms death into life, despair into hope, torture into redemption.  It's about the kingdom of heaven taking on the kingdoms of earth, then and now.  It's about the power of love overcoming the love of power.  It's about a whole new world as God envisions it to be, where the young and the old, sons and daughters, the free and the slaves can share equally in God's vision of this world.

No wonder they were excited.  This was a vision of radical equality which soon would also include the Gentiles as well.  And that would change everything in the world as they knew it.  It is indeed good news.

So, what about us?  Do we have that spirit? 

How long will we live in fear instead of by hope? 

How long will we keep our tongues of fire to ourselves?

When we see God's message of hope and peace crucified, how long will we keep silent?

When we see people ridiculed because of their looks or their abilities or their sexual identity or their age or their immigration status, how long will we keep silent?

When we see families and schools shattered by violence, how long will we keep silent?

When we see basic human rights violated and basic human needs ignored, how long will we keep silent?

When we see children homeless or hungry or abused, how long will we keep silent?

When we see that everything we need in life has already been given to us, how can we keep silent?

Pentecost is the day when the followers of Jesus could not remain silent any longer.  Their message so powerful, their news so incredible, not even the might of the Roman Empire could silence it by nailing it to the cross.

The spirit of Pentecost is the audacity to go onto that world stage and to sing out our hearts of the passion God has given to us through the love of Christ.

I call that "spirit-ability".  Spirit-ability is the courage to proclaim, even now 2,000 years later, that Jesus Christ is still Lord and Savior of the world.

Spirit-ability is not only the willingness to believe that the power of forgiveness and reconciliation is greater than any sin, but to actually do it (as Bishop Tutu dared to do in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa).

Spirit-ability is not just a belief that God loves all people, it is a conviction lived out in our actions, even in our love for our enemies.

Spirit-ability is an attitude of inclusion that makes us a welcoming congregation for all kinds of people.  Like Noah's Ark -- two of every kind will find shelter here.

Spirit-ability isn't a lot of talk about love and peace, it is action that demonstrates that love truly is the strongest force in the universe and that proactive non-violence like that of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi is the way of peace that will change the world.

Spirit-ability is more than a belief that there are enough resources to feed, clothe, and house all people, it is what we do to open our church to those in our community who need food and housing and clothing.  To open our hearts to be more responsive to the needs of others, as Jesus taught us when he said "I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink".

Spirit-ability is the confidence to say that we have found a better way to live in the teachings and the examples of Jesus Christ, crucified by humanity and raised by God.

Spirit-ability.

Do we truly have the ability to say and to do these things?

The story of Pentecost says we do.

[Editor's Note:  After the service on this day, the congregation at First Christian Church voted to call a full-time Associate Pastor to join our church.  April Oristano will begin her ministry with us on July 1, 2009]


April Oristano and Dan Bryant, May 31st, 2009.

 


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