Sermon from May 23, 2010

May 24, 2010

Blown Away – Again
Acts 2:1-21

I called Karl the other day and told him I was having trouble starting the church lawn mower. I’m sorry if you don’t know Karl because Karl not only knows how everything of a mechanical nature works he’ll also have something to say that you usually want to hear – not always, but usually. So when I told him I was having trouble starting the mower he told me I needed to give it a good cussing. I said, Karl, I’ve been a preacher for 25 years now, I don’t even remember how to cuss. And with that Karl said, Well just keep pulling that rope, it’ll come back to you.

So this isn’t exactly true, but there’s some fact involved – I’ll leave it up to you to decide what’s what.

I like a good surprise – whether it be a good line from someone or a remarkable turn of events of some sort. The interesting thing is that you never quite know what to make of a surprise when it first happens. I’ve had surprises that I thought were nice take a turn for the worse.

Like the time I got called by the secretary of the Dean of the Divinity School to see if I would come by for a visit. I was honestly excited about going to see him and I remember wondering what he wanted to know about me. I went in with no anxiety what-so-ever only to discover that I was on the list of people who needed to improve their grades. He was kind and I assured him I would, and I did, but it really wasn’t the conversation I had anticipated. Hey, it was the 70’s, I didn’t think I was supposed to be concerned about grades. The whole thing sort of blew me away so to speak.

So there are surprises that seem good but turn bad, and there are surprises that are bad from the start. You’ll get the full story of my head-wound in the next edition of The View, but the short version of the story is that I was surprised to find a tree growing in my front yard – right there where I was intending to walk the other night. That sort of blew me away as well in a really bad way.

But what I like is for a surprising situation to turn out better than I expect. I’m guessing we all like those kinds of surprises – at least most of the time. I’m reminded of when I was working for Camp Aldersgate as the coordinator of the Camp Aldersgate Mission Experience. Youth groups would come stay at the camp and we would go out and work on homes here in Little Rock. Actually I brought a group to this church one time to do some cleaning around here. I think Anne helped me find some things for some unskilled laborers to do.

It was one of those interesting summer occupations that nearly did me in. We got involved in a lot of different projects, and I got overly-ambitious in a few cases. We took on some painting and roofing projects that stretched our capabilities, and I was the one who got stretched the most. By the end of most workdays I was worn out, and it was always such a relief to be headed back to camp at the end of a day.

So I was heading down I-630 near the Baptist Hospital exit around 4:30 in the afternoon when I heard a terrible rumble on the roof of the small bus I was driving, which jarred me out of my complacent driving zone, and I was terrified to see an airborne ladder in the rear view mirror.

Miraculously the ladder hit and slid on to the shoulder of the interstate where it was run over by a car who also pulled over to the shoulder. The ladder was made of fiberglass, and it was destroyed by the car that ran over it, but there was no damage to the man’s car nor to anyone else.

In my defense, I was not the one who had tied the ladder to the rack, but I was the one who was in charge of the operation. I was also the one driving the van, and I must say that this was one of the most nightmarish moments of my adult life, but as one of my co-workers pointed out to me in one of my many debriefing sessions – I had experienced a profound blessing. You can call something like this fate when it happens to someone other than yourself, but it felt like the grace of God to me.

Now barely escaping from a horrible disaster isn’t my favorite kind of surprise, but it’s not a bad thing to have experiences that generate absolute gratitude.

And I’m thinking this is how the disciples felt when they realized that the violent wind that swept through their house was not a natural or man-made disaster of some sort, but the very presence of God sweeping into their lives and bringing them into connection with people they had no idea they would ever love or understand.

Of course sometimes the sound of a violent wind turns out to actually be a natural or man-made disaster, and nightmarish situations do occur, but this isn’t due to a lack of attention from God. It’s important for us to remember that these disciples who had gathered for worship on this first day of the week had recently experienced the cosmic level tragedy of Christ’s crucifixion, and it was in the wake of that experience that this profound experience with the Holy Spirit occurred.

I like my surprises to come in comfortable packages, and I’m grateful when they do, but I also know that God works in ways that are outside of our comfort zones. It’s probably an overused phrase to say that we need to get out of our comfort zones, but it’s an under-utilized exercise. The truth is that most of us don’t choose to get far off the paths that we are most comfortable walking until something happens that blows us off our intended courses and we end up in a place we would never have chosen or expected to be – and it turns out to be a blessing. This is what we are celebrating on this Day of Pentecost.

It’s easy for us to keep our minds shut off from new possibilities, but God isn’t content to leave us alone, so God sent this wild and world changing entity that we call the Holy Spirit to stir things up and move us to see ourselves, our neighbors, and our God in a whole new way. The Holy Spirit is not a calm breeze that makes things a little nicer for us. It comes blowing in like a violent wind to blow us out of the spiritual ruts we find ourselves occupying.

The original disciples had no idea they would become as liberated from their conventional thinking as they found themselves experiencing. They couldn’t think of associating with people who were so far outside of the Jewish community until the Holy Spirit arrived and moved them to recognize the validity of other people’s experience with God and other people’s hunger to know God.

I can’t help but think we still suffer from really limited thinking about the way God is present in our midst and to whom God would have us find and serve. While the church is not oppressed in our nation it is depressed to some extent. In some ways the church hardly gets out of bed in the morning. I’m not wanting to be overly critical of us, but I have this sense that we don’t even realize the extent of our opportunity to be messengers of hope to people who have little sense of God’s love for them.

We can’t re-conjure up the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our private and corporate lives, but we can do a better job of letting go of the things that keep us distracted from God’s moving presence in our midst. I have no doubt that God’s Holy Spirit continues to break into people’s lives in remarkable ways, but as people who profess openness to this life giving presence, we can also be the ones who function as an unbounded source of life in world that is killing people in so many different ways.

I don’t know about you, but I have been blown away by the grace of God often enough to know that there is a better way to live than in pursuit of self-serving accumulation. It’s tempting to wait for God to blow into the room in an obvious manner before we boldly go where Jesus would have us be, but there’s some chance God will find others to work with while we are waiting for more direction.

It isn’t clear to me exactly what we need to be doing, but I do believe that we have all the evidence we need to know that God is near and God desires for us to extend the kind of grace that we have experienced. It’s a powerful thing that has touched us. Let’s not water it down and put it to rest. Let’s be a community that is on the move in that same wild way that the Holy Spirit originally rushed into the room of the gathered disciples.

It would not be such a bad thing for us to become so generous of spirit & material that others suspect us to be drunk.

This is the word of God – thanks be to God!


5 Responses to “Sermon from May 23, 2010”

  1. Joe Roitz Says:

    Great column, Thompson!

    • Anonymous Says:

      It’s really stretching me to participate in blog-world. Cyber things are not intuitive to me, but I know that this is where people live so I’m trying to play along. Maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee sometime and pick your brain. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. anne Says:

    Hey! I think this works! Way to go!

    • Anonymous Says:

      I feel like I’m in the 1st grade and I’m trying to read. Actually I remember that making more sense.

  3. Jeff Says:


    Sorry about the ladder. Those days were too long and hot for something not too go wrong like that. I still think about that every time I take the baptist hospital exit.

    Thanks for an awesome summer.

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