May 23, 2021
Today is Pentecost… so without further ado let’s read the story from Acts chapter 2.
READ Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost Sunday… the birth of the church. That’s often how this day gets celebrated. Some congregations have celebrated Pentecost by bringing in regular birthday celebrations. You know… a cake is made and often the children and congregation are led in a singing of “Happy Birthday”. Trying to have a little fun… making the celebration of Pentecost relatable to everyone. Although… I don’t know quite what to make of the symbolism when we blow out the birthday candles. That seems a bit antithetical to the whole flaming tongues of fire scene… one of those great theological Freudian slips the church often makes, I suppose.
Because the birth of the church… if that’s how we want to approach this day… the birth of the church is not just the faithful gathered together. That alone does not the church make. In the story from Luke, they’ve been gathered for awhile now. In our Ascension story from last week… the apostles and other disciples have been told to wait there in Jerusalem. And while they’ve been waiting they’ve taken care of some group business. Matthias… who I always feel the need to mention… Matthias replaces Judas as one of the twelve. But being gathered together… even devoting themselves to prayer as the story is told… that doesn’t make this group the church yet. They’re missing that crucial spark.
Jesus had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Without the Spirit among us, we are not the church. And Saints, the Spirit is more than Carson laying down some funky groove on the organ that makes us want to wiggle about in our seats. Although that would be fun to witness. What I always love about the Pentecost story is how when the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles and the disciples… it first equips them in a way that is gloriously practical… giving them the ability to speak other languages… and then it drives them out into the streets to use that gift in the service of telling others the good news of Christ in a language that they are able to understand. And boom… the church is born.
Not only is the church born… but there is the model for the church to be reborn again and again. With the Holy Spirit, the apostles and the disciples go from waiting to be the church to being the church. I feel like… especially with Pentecost this year as we’re coming out of the pandemic with all of its necessary restrictions… we now have the opportunity to again move from waiting to being. We had to put so much on hold these last fifteen months because we couldn’t follow the Spirit as it blew us out into the streets. We had to restrict ourselves because it was more important in the moment for us to love our neighbors by holding back than to risk spreading the virus. As the conditions shifted, so too did we in how we approached our ministry together. But over time… as the months have mounted… that long pause with prayer and the addition of Matthias… that long pause began to feel like we had fallen back into waiting.
And really its this illusive line between waiting and being… that as I keep thinking about it is hard to put into sharp contrast. Maybe its routine… getting stuck in the ever-deepening ruts of routine. Maybe there’s an element of comfort that sends us back into waiting to be the church. During the pandemic although we adjusted… we eventually adjusted ourselves into a new routine. It’s like if the next week after Pentecost the Spirit came and gave the apostles and the disciples the same gift of language. And then the week after that… and the week after that… and on and on… the same thing over and over again. The amazingness of the gift doesn’t change. It’s still wild to be able to speak to people in their own languages even if it happens week after week. The good news they are sharing is still good. The Spirit is still present with the gathered church giving the gift. That hasn’t changed. But is there a moment when what was a time of birth falls back into a time of waiting again? There’s always an excitement when the fire is lit… when that single flame catches and it roars into existence. That excitement wanes over time as you move into tending the fire and keeping it going. But the fire that burns keeps giving off warmth and light.
How easy is it to relate the Holy Spirit to only times of newness and innovation? Just like we would equate the wiggle of pew dancing from a funky organ bassline into an experience of the Spirit being present. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum from comfortable, deep-rut routine. New and different! The Madison Avenue tag line… the new Parkway Presbyterian Church now with 50% more Holy Spirit. Now… I don’t want to undersell the value of new and innovative. The Spirit is surprising and the Spirit consistently challenges us to go beyond our comfort… to deny that would be to deny an important quality that is found in the scriptures. In our Bible study on Luke, we keep bumping up against that quality as Jesus especially has run-ins with the Pharisees of the day. The Pharisees knew and maintained the law. They knew and maintained the traditions of the faith. They taught and tended to the faith… kept the faith going for generations. But the criticisms leveled against them… the quality that they were missing was the animating Spirit that would help them to see the new and innovative… that there were times when a strict adherence to the letter of the law would get in the way of their seeing God right in front of them. The spark had gone out. Sabbath rules were now more important than someone being miraculously healed. Other idols and loves replaced God being at the center of their lives of faith. So when Jesus comes and there is a more reckless spark of love and empathy and forgiveness… to steal from the hymn… when he comes dancing in a way that is more improvisational to the established melody… all they can do is stick with their safe, pre-approved two step shuffle with lip bite. But all it would take is one turn of the Spirit and the fire would ignite within and that two step shuffle with lip bite could become a slow burn of a Spirit filled faith. Even the Pharisees in their ruts of rules were not far from the kingdom of God… the Spirit could take them from waiting into being.
Somehow I’ve gotten back to dancing again. Some part of me from the 1970’s must want to find a copy of Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar. If I had any musical talent this is the moment I would burst into song… my guitar suddenly appearing from behind the pulpit.
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. Maybe I find myself coming back around to dancing today because it shares something with what I’m seeing in this verse. Dance can be very technical and exact in its precision. It can be a set of established moves that becomes something more through the movements of the dancer. It can be a three-year doing their thing cause the beat there… even if sometimes there’s no music playing that anyone else can hear. I feel like in order to dance… to really dance… there has to be this thing that happens inside… there has to be this spirit that comes over you that allows you the let go and embrace that moment with whatever dancing gift is there… to get to that fusion where it’s not just you dancing… following the steps… but you’re dancing. Otherwise, you’re the wallflower still over there waiting… with the fear that takes away dreams and visions… and the chance that something might happen… that you might get caught up in the dance. Wallflowers wait… but the Spirit can sweep them out onto the dance floor. Even if they’re the worst dancer out there… usually those are the ones having the most fun because they’ve let go and embraced the moment.
From wallflower to dancer. From waiting to being. The difference between the two… is that small spark… that ignites the flame. Amen.