Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost Sermon 2014

Acts 2:1-11 Pentecost

            It’s been a rough week. This week we lost a member and had a service of celebration of the resurrection and remembrance of his life. The passing of this member marked the 5th death in our congregation in the past 13 months. There has been a lot of grieving, a lot of sorrow, and a lot of work. It hasn’t been exactly what you all hoped for in the first year of a new pastor being here, it’s not what I had planned for my first year as your pastor, but it has happened none the less, and we find ourselves wondering “where do we go from here?”

            In this regard we are very much like the disciples at the opening of chapter 2 of Acts. They have gathered together again in the upper room, after having witnessed the death of Christ and celebrated his magnificent resurrection. Now they gather and wonder, what’s next.

            They knew that their lives had been changed forever by the risen Christ. They knew that things must change in order for his work to continue, they knew that the world outside of their walls was often hostile to their faith and Christ’s teachings. But they sat and waited on the presence of God to tell them where to go next.

            I imagine these Christ followers gathered together, some in fervent prayer, others muttering to one another about how much longer they could afford to stay put. I imagine them looking around waiting for someone to step up and take the initiative. There is a sense of fear of the unknown, but also a sense of anticipation. They don’t know what’s ahead, but given what they have just come through they trust that God will lead them, somehow.

            They sit there together and they pray, they talk, they remember and they dream. They dream of what could be, what might be, what has been. Some no doubt still held dreams of Christ returning to them to lead them on a march against the powers that be; other’s dreamed about this comforter that Christ had promised, who could it be, what would they look like, how would they recognize that person?; other’s dreamed of the good old days of the sermon on the mount, the feeding of the 5,000, the raising of the dead son of the widow of Nain.

Dreams are a funny thing. Sometimes your wishes, hopes, goals or dreams are so clear you have no doubt as to what direction to take and which steps to take to get those dreams accomplished. Other times dreams change, messily, right in the middle and you find yourself doing everything you can just to keep your head above water. Dreams open us up to the hope of success and the very real possibility of failure.

They dream their separate dreams, perhaps occasionally shared, for 50 days.  It would have been easier on them to return back to their lives pre-Jesus. After all, most of them were skilled workers, they could have returned to their trades with some great stories to tell their families and children one day. They could have left that gathering of waiters and continued with their lives, occasionally speaking a good word about Jesus, remembering him when they went to the temple, putting those memories into a file marked “best days of my life.”

But something unites them together, something stronger than friendship or common experience, and they wait.

            As they are waiting a rushing wind enters their locked room, God once again showing that God won’t be kept out of our locked lives, locked hearts, and the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what they have been waiting for, the comforter whom they have waited upon. Something like tongues of flames come and rest upon them and they each begin telling the story of Jesus, the good news of the gospel. They begin to make such a ruckus that others in the community are drawn to them. And here’s where things get really weird, they can understand them. These people from all over the known world are hearing the good news in their native language from uneducated Galileans.

            This is it, the great thing we’ve been waiting for! This is the moment we are all taught is the birthday of the church, the victorious moment with bells ringing, angel choirs singing, right? That’s what we celebrate, isn’t it? And yet, and yet the first words we hear from the crowd are not ecstatic yells of joy, they are not choruses of amens, or pledges of financial support.

            No, the first words we hear from outsiders is “These guys must be wasted!”

            That doesn’t sound like instant success to me. That doesn’t sound like someone ready to jump on this Jesus bandwagon. In fact, it sounds like someone who thinks this is a bunch of hogwash and is ready to have the disciples tossed into the drunk tank.

            SO how can this be celebrated as the birthday of the church when the first response is failure?

            Because they didn’t let that failure stop them. Peter and the others did not turn around and tuck their tails because of one or two jeering members of the crowd. They did not give up because they were not instantly followed. Peter instead makes himself even more vulnerable and addresses the crowd head on telling them their assumptions are wrong and then telling them the story of Jesus and how Jesus had changed his life and theirs forever. And when the dust clears at the end of the day at least 3,000 people are baptized, and are welcomed into the faith.

            This is where we like to close the story, on a high note, on a note of victory. And it is good and it is a victory and it is worth celebrating together.

            But it can also set us up for disappointment if we look at it the wrong way. This passage does not tell us that if we believe, then everything we do as the body of Christ will be a huge success by the world’s standards.

            It does not mean that if we are faithful we will always be blessed with crowds of people with fistfuls of cash.

            The disciples all met horrific ends at the hands of the crowds they had come to witness to and share Christ with.

            Not exactly what we want to hear is it?

            But, as most stories, it doesn’t end here. Because even though they failed in the eyes of the world, they were faithful in the eyes of their God.

            Success doesn’t always look like success. Death on a cross doesn’t look like a victory. Turning the other cheek doesn’t look like strength. The Lord’s Supper, remembering Jesus’ death, doesn’t look like a celebration, and yet it is.

            God’s ways are not our ways, God’s victories are found in places that we least expect them.

            So as we gather here in this room, awaiting a might rushing wind, in the throes of grief ourselves I ask, what are you dreaming?

            What is it that you feel God wants you to do? This church to do? Where are your hopes leading you?

            Don’t focus on success in the eyes of the world. We will fail. It’s a given. Not everything we do or try to do will be an immediate success, some things will be colossal failures, and that’s okay. Because ultimately it’s not about what we do, it’s about what God is doing. Where God is working, the seeds God is planting and bringing into bud and preparing for harvest. We have to trust that no matter the immediate response to our efforts, our hopes and our future are not secured by what we can do, but rather by God’s promises. As a wise man once said “Resurrection only comes after crucifixion.”

            People of Christ Church, dream, Dream big this Pentecost. Dream of wonderful things, dream of daring initiatives, dream of a bright future. Dream and dream and dream some more. Then be pulled to your feet by the leading of the Holy Spirit, the flames of Pentecost, letting the Lord guide your steps and trusting that God has your back too!



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