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Pentecost 2020

The disciples’ lives had been totally disrupted by Jesus’ call to follow him, but after three years, their new life had started to feel normal.

It all came crashing down with the horror of Jesus’ arrest and execution, but then they had forty amazing days of actually hanging out with the Resurrected Jesus while he explained everything behind what had happened.

They were just getting their heads around this Kingdom of God stuff Jesus was teaching about when he abruptly announced that he had to go.

So, like that, he ascended to heaven.

“But wait”, he said, because the Father would be sending them what they needed.

They were not quite sure what that meant, but they obediently trudged back to the Upper Room and waited.

And waited.

They took care of some housekeeping matters, like electing a replacement for the betrayer Judas, but then nothing.

So, they waited some more.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about how life went as they stayed cooped-up like that for days, but about now – more than 80-days into this quarantine – I bet that some of us could fill in the blanks.

Andrew may have snored, making it impossible for Philip to get a good night’s sleep, leaving him a little cranky.

Maybe James was ADHD, talking nonstop and jumping from one unrelated topic to another.

I can imagine that Bartholomew was spending more and more time withdrawn and slumped in the corner.

And maybe Simon – while meaning well – was getting under everyone’s skin with his cheery lectures about silver linings and looking on the bright side.

[take a sip of cola … yuck]

I guess I let this sit too long … it’s gone flat.

It’s lost its fizz.

It has no pizzazz left.

Have you felt that way lately?

Instead of waking up and saying,
“Good morning, God!”
you grumble, “Good God, it’s morning.”

Lacking the Holy Spirit, it was like the disciples had lost their fizz and sparkle, and no amount of “see the silver lining” and “the glass is half full” was going to help.

That would require the Holy Spirit.

I remember when I first became interested in faith and started asking friends who went to church what this and that meant.

They were generally helpful, but when I got to the topic of the Holy Spirit nearly everyone was stumped.

Beyond knowing from catechism that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, they’d never really understood what it means.

You could read one of the thousands of theological books on Pneumatology – the scholarly word for the study of the Holy Spirit – and know nothing.

That’s because the Holy Spirit is to be experienced more than understood.

Language always fails us when we try to explain experiences with the divine.

So, don’t get hung up on words – just know that without the Holy Spirit, people go flat and lose their sense of purpose, and churches lose vision and vitality.

But with the Holy Spirit, even a group of bored, confused sheltering-in-place disciples came alive with hope, vision and power.

So, Acts 2 says that after about ten days of their sheltering-in-place, the Holy Spirit swept upon the disciples.

Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The passage goes on to say that people who had gathered for the Festival of Weeks from all over the known world suddenly and miraculously understood one another’s languages.

So, the first thing the Holy Spirit did was reverse what happened in Genesis 11 when God stopped the Tower of Babel engineering project where people were trying to reach the heavens like God.

God stopped it by scrambling their languages so they couldn’t understand each other, but now the Spirit, as it created the church, broke down those barriers.

That means that (the) church is called to keep challenging any barriers that separate people.

Racial walls, sexual orientation walls, gender walls, alien versus citizen walls, police versus civilian walls.

I sometimes wonder what history would be like if the disciples had not been open to the Spirit.

What if when the wind blew, they’d just shuttered their windows and complained about the bad turn of weather?

One weekend when Fred Rogers was in seminary, he and a friend visited a little church that was known for having a particularly good preacher.

After they arrived, Fred was disappointed to learn that the regular preacher was away that Sunday, and in his place was an old retired pastor who was not current on recent biblical scholarship and who tended to ramble a bit.

Fred kept a mental checklist of every mistake he made, and when the interminable sermon was mercifully over, he turned to his friend to say something critical, but stopped himself when he saw tears running down her face.

She whispered, “He said exactly what I needed to hear.”

Fred later wrote, “That was really a seminal experience for me.  I was judging and she was needing, and the Holy Spirit responded to need, not judgment.”

The Spirit makes all things new.

Remember Peter, the disciple who was sometimes boastful but then in the moment of Jesus’ greatest need denied even knowing him?

Well, when the Spirit came upon Peter, he stood up and delivered a history-changing sermon to the crowd.

Acts 2:30-41With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

The Holy Spirit gave Peter just the right words for that crowd on that Jerusalem morning.

But that isn’t the last thing the Holy Spirit has to say.

God is still speaking.

Back in 1600, John Robinson, one of the founders of the Congregational churches, put it this way: “God has yet more light and truth to break forth out of His Holy Word.”

God’s word did not end with Revelation 22.

God continues to care for people in all times and all cultures.

Maybe like me you’ve grown tired and frustrated with your shelter-in-place life.

Maybe you’ve had it with the political-cultural issues that seem to erupt out of everything – even the decency of wearing a face mask.

Well, the Holy Spirit is as close today in sequestered Los Angeles as it was in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

The more you can let go of expectations based on the past – the past is gone – and the more you can be receptive to the Spirit’s movement in this life today, the more peace you will have and the more you will find God’s guidance into your future.

When the Hebrew people found themselves feeling overwhelmed and depressed in a strange land, God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 29:11-14a “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Most of us are familiar with those words.

But then God continues,

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,”

We live, breathe and have our life within the Holy Spirit – but we may be oblivious until we pray and make ourselves open to what God may be saying to us.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

Our church leaders are talking and praying regularly about what our church might look like in the months and years ahead.

Without doubt, we have received many gifts through this hard time:

Our use of social media for worship, Bible study and team gatherings has been a blessing, and no matter how we later proceed – after it is safe to gather in person – we will continue to utilize these tools.

We have grown closer as a community as so many phone and Zoom conversations have become caring and personal.

And we’ve learned that church is more than a building – as much as we love and long to return to it when it’s safe – that consciousness we carry into the future.

The Holy Spirit continues to sweep across people’s lives today.

Seek with all your heart and you will have new hope that replaces old fear, and new vision and purpose for your life.