Archive for June 2012

Pentecost

June 1, 2012

Acts 2:1-21

 

            When I first looked at this text for Pentecost Sunday, I thought to myself, “Man, where do I GO with this?” There is SO much to talk about here! The text tells us that the Apostles are at a confusing time of their lives. Jesus had just left them for a second time by ascending into heaven. Matthias was just added to the group after Judas’s departure and he was just a newbie – he had no idea what was going on. It should also be noted that the Apostles are scared out of their minds. They have no idea where to go from here. I cannot stress to you how scared these people actually were!

We also have the Holy Spirit, in the form of a violent wind, filling the whole house where the eleven apostles were seated. Then, we have divided tongues, in the shape of fire, coming down and resting on each of the eleven apostles. Then, each of the eleven disciples was able to speak in other languages that, as far as we know, had been unbeknownst to them before this moment. Naturally, these spectacular events drew a crowd. Further than that, it gave the Apostles, most notably Peter, the ability to conquer their fears and start spreading the Word again.

 If a violent wind came rushing into this sanctuary filling up the whole room, tongues of fire came down on top of each of us, and we all started speaking Czech or Arabic or Portuguese or Farsi or some other language we virtually have no use for, and you all had the courage and know-how to do what Jesus taught us to do without any guidance, I would throw my hands up in the air and yell, “I’m done here! No one ever has to preach from this pulpit ever again!” Maybe the word would spread and we would have a bit more attendance in this congregation as well.

So what do I do here? What do I do with this text of the Spirit coming down in the form of a violent wind, flames of fire, and a multitude of languages?

            Where can I go with the Pentecost scripture? What element of this text is going to be most effective in reaching you, a modern congregation? And it came to me. It’s so obvious. You all – every one of you – can relate best to the tongues of fire coming down from above and resting on you – you can relate to this best in moments when you’ve been scared. Every one of you has felt the Holy Spirit come down, in the form of fire, and rest upon you. This happens every day to millions of people around the planet. Some days it happens more than others. Sometimes, this fire is so intense that we can’t put it out. It sets our whole self on fire and obliterates any fear that we have, just like it did for Peter. Our heart, mind, soul, and body are ablaze and we can do nothing to stop it.  I really want to say that we are literally on fire with the Holy Spirit when we feel this, but I can’t say that. By saying “literally” on fire, I am implying that when the Holy Spirit lights you up, then it is the same as if someone had doused you in gasoline, lit a match, and thrown that match on you, setting you ablaze. That is not what I mean. And hopefully, that would never actually happen to any of you.

            I want to say literally, because when that fire of the Holy Spirit comes down on you, it is really, really hard to hide it. It’s that moment when you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before. If you’ve ever been in the outfield of a baseball diamond and find yourself staring down a fly ball frozen in your tracks, and you catch it anyway because you have to, you’ve been set on fire. If you find someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with and love them more than anything and somehow muster up the courage to tell them that, you’ve been set on fire. If you have beat alcoholism or drug addiction and get clean even in the face of temptation, then you’ve been set on fire. And the best part of these situations is that these flames are infectious. They spread, often like wildfire, to the people in your lives and the ones around you. When someone is set on fire, it is easy to spread that fire to the next soul.

             That is the Holy Spirit coming down and settling upon you. This has happened every day since the beginning of time. The Holy Spirit has always been coming down and lighting people on fire. We know it happened in the time of the Old and New Testaments when the Prophets and Apostles were spreading the Word of God throughout their world, but it has been happening for centuries since then. We don’t even have to go back more than a hundred years to see how the Holy Spirit came back and lit people on fire. Heck, we only have to go back about 50 years.

            Think about your US history. What was going on 50 years ago? What was happening in Little Rock? Birmingham? What happened in Washington, D.C. on April 18th, 1963? The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and was rocking the world. We had scared students that were previously denied equal education integrating schools here in our own capitol. We had scared people of all creeds and nationalities marching for equality in the face of violent policemen, dogs, and fire hoses. We had hundreds of thousands of people march into the middle of the capitol of the United States of America and demand that they be treated as equally as the white-majority of their country – and they were scared that they were going to fail. This was a movement that had people so lit up and Spirit-filled that they were willing to risk their jobs, families, and lives to make a difference, despite their fear – because the Spirit was moving them.

The Spirit was moving in a very public way through the likes of Ernest Green, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, and Whitney M. Young, Jr. They were the apostles, scared and not knowing what to do, but the Holy Spirit lit them on fire and WOW were those crowds coming to see what was happening! They were speaking the universal language of truth and love and justice and everyone could understand it! Nations all over the world understood it, even though they didn’t speak the same language. This movement was spoken in a way that it reached everyone – so much so that Martin Luther King, Jr. was given the Nobel Peace Prize. These apostles of the Word were on fire and were able to make themselves known throughout the world when their movement blew the windows, doors, and roof off of conventional society!

            The Spirit is even alive now in so many places. And it amazes me every time I see Her move. There’s this stand-up comic I follow on Twitter. His name is Rob Delaney. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of him, because he’s not very popular outside of Twitter. His shows sell out in some places, but the stand-up scene isn’t what it used to be. Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams aren’t making their names doing shows around the nation. Anyway, this guy, Rob Delaney, has been voted in numerous polls the “funniest man on Twitter.” To those of you who are not as familiar with the Twitterverse, that probably doesn’t sound like such a big deal. However, on Twitter, over 9 million people follow the President of the United States and over 14 million follow Kim Kardashian, there’s a lot going on. Mr. Delaney only has about 419 thousand followers, but his impact is growing.

            Part of that growing impact is Mr. Delaney’s column, “Take a Stroll… with Rob Delaney” on vice.com. Vice is a British online magazine focused on an audience that might have more of a younger, alternative lifestyle than others. Just go to their website, you’ll see what I mean. In his column, Rob Delaney often focuses on a lot of social issues. He’s written two articles, that I know of, about treatment of the LGBT community.

In the first article that came to my attention, Mr. Delaney wrote a response to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s now infamous ad where Mr. Perry denounces gays and lesbians in the military and says he will defend the American people from President Obama’s attack on Christianity. This was an ad that scared a good deal of people. What would happen if Governor Perry were to become president? What kind of discrimination would the LGBT community face? In this article, Mr. Delaney is very vulgar, because he’s a modern comedian and that’s the kind of language a lot of modern comedians use, so I cannot quote everything I want to quote. But he is also extremely eloquent. I will give you a clean bit of what he wrote when he said, “People who concern themselves with the rights of other adults who engage in consensual acts involving sex, love, and/or eating croissants together are damaged and in pain. Hating them won’t work. That doesn’t fix anything.” This article moved me the first time I had the chance to read it. I have felt Mr. Delaney’s passion every time that I have revisited this article. As far as I know, Rob Delaney is an atheist, or at best an agnostic, but when he writes these articles, the Spirit is setting him on fire, and in turn setting others on fire. The Spirit is using Rob Delaney to let others know they have supporters out there and they don’t have to be afraid. I don’t know if he would like to admit that, but if he would deny it, it wouldn’t do him much good, because I feel the Spirit in his writing – and so do many others.

Maybe you’ve heard of the organization called Invisible Children. This organization is a non-profit organization that became concerned with the amount of children that were being abducted and forced to fight in what started as the Ugandan civil war. These children were primarily captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. Since 1987, Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, is believed to have recruited between 60 and 100 thousand child soldiers and displaced over 2 million people in Uganda and surrounding countries. Invisible Children gained quite a bit of notice in the press earlier this year when they started their KONY 2012 campaign. Invisible Children drew a large amount of attention to these atrocities and the man behind them with the release of two films that were focused on this subject. Both of the videos went viral and have over a combined 92 million views on YouTube.

These videos were filled with a passion that I cannot describe. If you haven’t seen them yet, then you should. They were so powerful they brought me to tears at times. With these movies, Invisible Children sparked a worldwide phenomenon that inspired millions of people to put up posters, hand out stickers and informational leaflets, write their representatives in government, wear t-shirts, and much more, all in the name of the KONY 2012 campaign. It was a conscious effort to bring light to what Joseph Kony has done and is continuing to do. Moreover, it was a movement aimed at stopping Joseph Kony through combined voice – a movement with a goal that says people don’t have to be scared of Joseph Kony anymore. And it spread to millions of others around the world. I can’t tell you whether Invisible Children is a Christian organization or whether or not they have a religious purpose behind them, but they sure do have the Spirit moving within their purpose.

The Spirit is alive. We can’t see it come down like it did in Acts and literally rest above our heads as a tongue of fire. We can’t literally see it blowing the windows, doors, and roofs off of houses. It’s not literally helping you speak a multitude of languages so you can communicate ideas with other people instantaneously. But make no mistake; it is actually doing those things. The Spirit is coming down every day and setting our hearts and souls on fire and that spreads to other people. When that fire is present, we are able to communicate the Spirit’s ideas to others without even using a common language. When the Spirit comes down, the windows, doors, and roofs of injustice and hate are blown off of their hinges and the world is changed. We are about to see the Holy Spirit come down in this very congregation as we fill these bags with food, juice, and other items for hungry people on the street. We’ll feel it again when we hand out those bags. We’ll feel it every time equality is achieved for all people. We’ll feel it every time that a child soldier is rehabilitated and returned to a loving home. We’ll feel it every time someone makes it off the street and into a warm home. And every time one of those things happens, it’s God touching us with the flame of the Holy Spirit. And what’s the best thing that we can do when we’re set on fire? The best thing to do is to acknowledge that fire and say that we don’t have to be scared any more.