Pentecost C, May 15, 2016

May 16, 2016

Blown Away – Again

Acts 2:1-21


2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that 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. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


It’s been interesting for me to be in touch with the leaders of the youth mission group that will be staying at our church in June. It brought back to mind my own experiences with youth on mission trips. I’ve participated in a number of such camps over the years. In fact, for four summers while I was in campus ministry I coordinated the Camp Aldersgate Mission Experience, which was a program where youth groups came from different places to stay for a week at Camp Aldersgate in order to go out and work on people’s homes. It was an exhausting routine to keep those groups supplied and busy, but not overwhelmed by the work. Of course it was also very gratifying.


I had money to hire three college students each summer, and they were very helpful, but they weren’t particularly skilled at construction or at handling construction materials and tools. And I apparently wasn’t much of a teacher. I’ll never forget the afternoon I was driving back to Camp Aldersgate in the small bus we had that we used to transport work groups and tools. There was a rack on the top of the bus that enabled us to carry ladders, and one of my assistants had secured a ladder on that rack. I was heading west on I-630 around 4:30 in the afternoon near the Baptist Hospital exit when I heard a mighty rumble on the roof of the bus. I looked in the rear view mirror just in time to see an air-born extension ladder, and it landed in front of a car that was a short distance behind us.


I won’t tell you what I said, but it’s probably seared in to the memories of the kids that were on the bus with me. It was one of the most frightening situations I had ever encountered, but it resolved in the most remarkable way. The ladder hit the road and immediately slid over on to the shoulder of the road. Unfortunately the driver right behind me had also pulled over on to the shoulder, and he proceeded to run over the ladder, but it was made of fiberglass and it just shattered the ladder. I quickly exited and pulled back around to the scene of the accident, and the car was still there. We looked over everything and remarkably there wasn’t any damage to his car, so we all just went on our way.


It was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had. I had all of these conflicting emotions. I felt both lucky and unlucky all at the same time. I felt like a victim of something because I wasn’t the one who had tied the ladder to the roof, but I was the person driving the van, and in fact I was in charge of the situation. Ultimately, I was incredibly grateful that nobody had gotten hurt, and it sure felt like that could have happened. It was one of those situations that sort of blew me away. It was traumatic, but I also felt saved. It felt like a powerful encounter with the grace of God.


Barely escaping from a horrible disaster isn’t my favorite kind of surprise, but it’s never a bad thing to have an experience that generates absolute gratitude.


And I’m thinking this is sort of 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. We think of the Pentecost experience of those first disciples as being a beautiful thing, but I’m guessing it began with some fear. God didn’t slip quietly in to the room. God erupted in to the room. It was a beautiful experience, but it was foreign – they didn’t know what it was at first. God swept into their lives and brought them into connection with people they had no idea they would ever love or understand.


And the Pentecost experience didn’t seem like a good thing to everyone even as it was going on. Some people considered all of the commotion to have been the result of people drinking. I think we always assume close encounters with God to be something that everyone would want to have, but this isn’t the case.


And sometimes we create situations where the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a chance to burst in to the room. That’s what seems to be the case with the United Methodist General Conference that’s currently happening in Portland, Oregon. There are 845 voting delegates from around the world at that meeting, and it almost seems like the antithesis Pentecost. We aren’t of one mind about anything. They spent 2 days debating the rules for procedures. I guess I’m grateful that there are people willing to give themselves to this endeavor of trying to guide our denomination in to the future, but it seems like an incredibly spirit-quenching experience.


I don’t know what needs to happen to breathe some life back in to our denomination. I don’t know how to read the times or to how to position ourselves to remain relevant for the future. I want our denomination and our particular church to experience new growth, but I’m more interested in being faithful than I am in being large.


I told you last week of my aspirations to fly. I think what I actually have is a fixation on the power of wind because I’m also a person who likes to sail. I learned to sail on an antique sail-board that a friend loaned me. I didn’t learn how to operate it quickly, but I kept messing with it for short periods of time over the course of a few years, and I eventually figured it out. I grew to love the feeling of being carried back and forth across the lake by the wind.


That sail-board finally deteriorated, but I now have my very own sailboat, and I love this boat. I wish I could invite you to join me sometime on my sailboat, but what I have is an 8 foot plastic rowboat with a sail. It’s only big enough for one person, and you have to sit on the bottom of it. It’s not easy to maneuver from one side to the other as you go from one direction to the other, but it’s such an exciting ride when the wind is blowing and you catch it just right!


In some ways I think I’m the same kind of pastor that I am as a sailor. I don’t really know how to operate a large vessel, but what I want to do is to encourage each of you to figure out how to sail your own individual boat. Now this isn’t a perfect portrayal of how I see my role as the pastor. I don’t think we are all isolated on our own little boats, but I do believe we each have our own set of opportunities that will enable us to catch a powerful blast of energy from God’s Holy Spirit. And I think we each have to pay attention to the direction of that powerful spiritual blast.


This is not to say that we aren’t all in the same boat in a significant way. Newport First United Methodist Church is a unique and beautiful vessel, and we each have a role to play in keeping this boat afloat and moving. I recognize that on some level I am the captain of this ship, but what I’m trying to say is that we’re not going to make it if you are waiting on me to tell you what to do. That’s not the kind of captain I am. Maybe I should be, but I’m not. I really am more like a guy who has figured out how to sail an 8-foot plastic rowboat, and I’m here to encourage you to do the same because it’s so exhilarating.


I believe the greatest opportunity we have in life is to live in response to the Holy Spirit. I believe God’s spirit is in our midst, and I believe we each have the capacity to catch the drift of that spirit, and to go in those unique directions that God wills for us to go. I want to encourage you to think about how it feels to be in your own little boat because it’s so much more maneuverable than the large vessel we call the church. It’s hard for large vessels to change direction. They’re not nearly as responsive to the subtle shifts of the Spirit that can move us as individuals in powerful new ways.


I believe God’s spirit often blows us off our intended courses and in to places we would never have chosen or expected to be, and it’s in those unusual places that we often experience powerful blessings that are often very contagious to others.


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.


We can’t re-conjure up the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our private and corporate lives, but I think we can do a better job of letting go of the things that keep us distracted from God’s living presence in our midst. And while I believe there have been these really large moments when the spirit of God was powerfully disruptive to large groups of people, I think the best way for us to work together as the people of God is to pay close attention to the way in which God’s spirit is moving us as individuals.


I don’t think it’s likely that the Holy Spirit is going to get through to the 845 delegates at General Conference to move the church in a new and powerful way. I may be surprised, but I’m not counting on it. What we can count on is the power of the Holy Spirit to open our own eyes to see our own neighbors in a new way. I believe God wants us all to live spiritually exhilarating lives, but that can only happen if we are willing to enter in to some new territory with love in our hearts and trust in our God.


We can’t program powerful encounters with God in to our lives, but we can each try to be more sensitive to those often subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit that move us to care for one another in new ways and to be less insistent on our own ways. I also think this is the avenue for actual church renewal. I believe spiritual endeavors are always contagious. It’s not my job or your job to figure out what other people need to be doing. We are each challenged to be as sensitive and responsive to the Holy Spirit as we can be, and I think we will all be surprised by the impact this can have on each of us. Our job is not to fix our church or our denomination, but to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe new life in to our own lives, and to share what we experience with others.


It’s a beautiful thing to get blown away by the spirit of God, and God invites us all to set our sails to be as responsive as possible to those mighty winds that come from heaven and move us to live on earth in new and graceful ways. Salvation experiences continue to happen. Those hot and startling winds of Pentecost continue to blow, and we are invited to catch them!


This is the good news – thanks be to God!



One Response to “Pentecost C, May 15, 2016”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    Good sermon sailer !!

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