June 9, 2019
Hello everyone! Sunday was so special. After service we shared a special meal in the Fellowship Hall to mark my time with you. It has been such an honor and privilege to be your pastor for the last year. Thank you for embracing me and loving me from the beginning despite my insecurities and inexperience. It is only because of your love and support that I have grown in the role I have had. You all have taught me so much about what it means to be in community with one another. On Sunday, during the meal blessing, I said I plan on taking your love of one another everywhere I go in ministry and I mean that! Thank you thank you!
Unfortunately, today I am going to cut and paste my sermon. You all know I don't like doing that!! However, I find myself this week at Annual Conference and they have us busy. Not only are we busy in sessions but I keep running into friends and you all know me - I must talk to everyone!!!!
Acts 2:1-21 NRSV
Pentecost. We have arrived at one of the most interesting events in Scripture. A day that was marked by rushing violent winds and tongues of fire. The disciples, who only recently had elected a new 12thmember of the group, Matthias, are suddenly able to speak in other languages. A crowd came together at the sound of the wind and suddenly they could hear everyone around them speaking their own language.
Can you even imagine this?
I read this fantastic story this week. This woman, Debie, is from India. Her native language is Malayalam, one of India’s 22 official languages. While she was an infant, her parents immigrated to the United States but her parents insisted they speak Malayalam at home. Debie grew up bilingual and was –naturally-- defensive about her identity. In her mind brown people spoke Malayalam and white people spoke English. Debie knew she would cross the language divide and master English but she assumed no one would ever cross the divide going the other way and learn her language. After all, she had never met an American that could speak her language even though 38 million people in the world speak it.
When Debie was 9 years old her aunt and uncle called a family meeting because they had a new friend they wanted to introduce to the family. The uncle introduced Sarah, a blonde haired blue eyed American young woman who had spent her childhood in Delhi. Well, Sarah began to speak and to everyone’s astonishment, she spoke in careful but convincing Malayalam. Debie says thirty jaws crashed to the carpet. Sarah had been touched by the culture she encountered in Delhi and had made it her mission in life to learn everything she could about the language and people. She immersed herself in the land.
This experience had two effects on Debie. First of all, when the family experienced the pleasure of hearing an American speak their language, they realized that the language barrier was not uncrossable. Sarah, the stranger, had taken a risk and entered their world. The other affect for Debie was pretty profound – because no longer could she hang onto her stingy, self-protective narrative about identity. Sarah had bulldozed her way through barriers Debie perceived to be uncrossable by Americans.
I am not suggesting we all go out and learn a new language. That’s not possible for many of us. The Spirit however acts in very similar ways – breaking down barriers and forming relationships were there none before.
Pentecost was a Jewish festival celebrating the revelation of the law at Mount Sinai. The covenant. The law given to Moses is about relationship. It says God loves us, we are his people, and this is how we should behave. Pentecost comes and takes that covenant and expands it. Pentecost pushes that covenant outside our walls of safety and breaks down barriers between groups.
Moses came down Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments. Moses who with his speech impediment and reluctance to lead was still chosen nonetheless to the be the bearer of the word of God. And today we see hundreds given the gift of speech and of hearing by the Holy Spirit.
Y’all this is what the Spirit does. The Spirit can scare us, it’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. In the beginning, God breathed. With breath, the Creator made the stars, parted the ocean and birthed us. When God led his people through the wilderness, the Spirit blazed in a fire over the tabernacle each night. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. And Jesus gives us the spirit as a blessing in the farewell discourse to teach, lead, provide wisdom and comfort. And today – the Spirit brings gifts and inspires awe.
Today when the crowd is listening and perplexed, Peter uses this moment to preach to them. And we need to talk about what Peter says because it answers the question “What does this mean?”
Peter answers the question hanging in the air by turning towards Joel. Chapter 2 verses 28-32. But, he doesn’t quote it, he reshapes it, he reinterprets the text for the current occasion. Peter does three things with the Joel text. The first thing he does is alter “After these things” to “In the last days.” Peter is essentially moving the time line up. He’s saying NOW. He’s announcing a culminating ere in history. Times have changed.
He inserts the word “My” before slaves. So now it reads 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit... Peter broadens the definition of the group and is calling all who are listening God’s slaves.
And then he adds “and they shall prophesy” He does this because the Spirit in Acts is a Spirit of Prophecy.
Peter isn’t claiming to be an interpreter of the Torah for this gathered crowd. He’s an interpreter of the present time. He’s using Scripture to make sense of their reality.
And he’s using Joel to do three things. He’s using the text to say something new in human history has started, times have changed. He’s using Joel to say the Spirit has come to mark the church and every person in it as belonging to God. He says we are God’s slaves. He also says the work of the Spirit is to engage in prophesy. The community of faith is a community of prophets.
Now, what is prophecy? Well, for starters I’m not talking about Nostradamus. Peter is not saying we are seers and can predict future events. Sorry, but this gift of the Holy Spirit does not come with crystal balls or the ability to read tea leaves. That is not prophecy. Prophecy is truth-telling about God. Matt Skinner says “It is naming the places and ways where God intervenes or initiates in the world. It is a component of proclaiming the word of God and identifying God’s salvation at work.”
When we prophesy we are a very real hope in present times. Just like Peter situated the listeners of the new church all those years ago, when we share our stories about God at work in our lives, we foster hope and love of the church. And when we link our situation to the text, like Peter does with Joel, we are aligning ourselves with God’s story and with God’s purposes. We link ourselves with the broader church community when we tell the truth about God. When we tell the truth about God at work we point beyond ourselves to the work of Jesus Christ, we point to God’s salvation as a present thing.
And to go back to Debie’s story I shared at the beginning. When Debie heard Sarah speak her native language she learned barriers are not uncrossable and she learned she was not alone in her story. Walls came down in a split second and Debie aligned herself with a broader story, one that incorporated Sarah. This is what happens when we share our stories about God at work. At the Holy Spirit’s ushering we are made to feel simultaneously uncomfortable and enlarged. Our stories begin linking to one another in the cosmic space that unites us. This is the Holy Spirit at work.
As you all know, Bobby, has been called to serve God and is pursuing his call by attending Candler in the Fall. Bobby came to me months ago about wanting to speak in front of you all. And of course, I wanted to give him that chance. Well, when I looked at the calendar a month ago, I could see no better day for him to do that than Pentecost.
Peace and grace, siblings in Christ. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday.