05/24/15 Sermon (May 24, 2015) Pentecost

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:43 AM by David Hawkins

“Beginning Endings”

Acts 2:1-21 (Multiple Languages Version)

Liturgist (English 1): When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked,

English 2: "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”

Spanish: “Partos, medos, elamitas; habitantes de Mesopotamia, de Judea y de Capadocia, del Ponto y de Asia,”
Latin: “Frygiam et Pamphiliam Aegyptum et partes Lybiae quae est circa Cyrenen et advenae romani.”
German: “Kreter und Araber - wie hören wir sie von den großen Taten Gottes in unseren Sprachen reden?”

Liturgist (English 1):  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another,

(All Languages together)
English 2 "What does this mean?"
Latin: “Hoc vult esse?”
Spanish: “¿Qué quiere decir esto?”
German: “Was mag dies wohl sein?”

English 2: But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

Liturgist (English 1): But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

English 2: "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

'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.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.

(All Languages together)

English:  “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
Spanish: “Y sucederá que todo aquel que invoque el nombre del Señor será salvo.”
German:  “Und es wird geschehen: jeder, der den Namen des Herrn anrufen wird, wird errettet werden.”
Latin: “et erit omnis quicumque invocaverit nomen Domini salvus erit.”

Sermon: “Beginning Endings”

What a bittersweet moment we celebrate today, as we bless our graduating seniors, as we congratulate them on their amazing success and wish them the best for their future. They have a whole new life ahead of them, new opportunities, new friends, new places to live, new experiences. Everything is about to change for them, and for us.

And we are so glad for them. We are so proud and so grateful that we have been able to walk with them for part of their journey.

But we are also sad to see them go. We are sad that we won’t be able to watch them grow up any more, at least, not in the way we have been able to. We won’t be able to see their progress on a day to day basis, to celebrate their good days, to encourage them on their not so good days. And most of all, we won’t be able to just be with them, to simply enjoy their company.

There is something hard about this reality, that in order for their new lives to begin, our old lives with them have to come to an end. There’s something hard about the fact that in order for something new to happen, something old almost invariably has to go away. But this is the way the world works. Winter yields to spring, night yields to day, death yields to life. It’s a never ending cycle, we can’t stop it, and we really shouldn’t even try. Because in order for us to take the next step, we have to leave the last step behind.

Today is the moment when we stand on the threshold, with one foot in the old world, and one in the new. And if we are honest with ourselves, were’ really not sure what to do  next. We want to stay in both worlds. We want to both go and stay at the same time.

In the old world there is comfort and security, but there is also complacency and the temptation to hide behind walls. In the new world, there is excitement and opportunity, but there is also danger and the possibility that our lives will change in ways that we are not ready for.

We might even try to just stand here on the threshold, to never take that next step. To live in both worlds, old and new at the same time. But in order to do that, we have to stop moving altogether. And even then, we might find ourselves shoved through the doorway by a world that never stops moving, never ever stands still, no matter how much we wish it would.

The church knows this tension all too well, this difficulty of deciding when, and how to let go of the old in order to live into the new.

For many folks, the idea of letting go of the old is off the table. There is a nostalgic desire for many folks to go back to a simpler time, a more pure, more holy time in the history of the church.

For some, this means hanging on to a 1950’s era understanding of church, when trust in institutions was high, national optimism was bubbling over, and it seemed like if you opened the church doors, people just streamed in. If we could just bottle the essence of that time period, we think, if we could just somehow put a stopper in it, we could reclaim the church’s rightful place at the center of social and cultural life.

For others, the perfect era of the church might be pre-reformation, when there was just one church, the Catholic Church, universal, unified, no denominations, no splits, no schism. Everybody reading off the same page of music. Everybody believing the same things. For some, this is the perfect era of the church.

Others seek an even earlier incarnation of the church, a church they find in the stories of the early acts of the apostles. We hear about these kinds of churches sometimes, churches that claim to manifest the power of the Holy Spirit, churches that say they are modelled after the earliest meetings of Christians. Of course, there are some limits. The whole idea of sharing everybody’s goods in common is a stumbling block for lots of folks. If only we could have the early Christian Church without all the communism, that would be great.

The reality is, I’m not sure that any of the these nostalgic visions of the church were ever as perfect as we remember them to be. And in any case, these versions of church reflected the time and values of the era they represented, even if they stood in direct opposition to them. There is no such thing as a church that is completely disconnected from its surroundings. There is no church that can be completely separate from the world.

And that’s OK. The church is made of human beings. It is a human endeavor. It was built on Peter, the most human of all the disciples. It was designed and called to be a part of the world. A church that becomes disconnected from the world and its concerns is a church that has forgotten its own incarnational foundation, Jesus Christ, who, after all,  became human for us, in order that we might know God.

Being human, being in the world, being engaged with the world, is what the church is all about. Being human means pain, joy, sorrow, anger, happiness, worry, and hope. And most importantly being human means change. Being the church means change. Being the church means letting go, sometimes of the old, in order to embrace the new.

This process has never been an easy one. The church is not famous for being quick to embrace the new. When the Bible was first translated into the common language of the people, the translators were burned at the stake. Empires have fallen over the issue of the presence of Christ in the elements of Communion. Churches have split over the issue of whether whites and blacks can worship in the same space, whether women are spiritual qualified to preach, whether praise music or the organ best represents Christian values.

Change is hard because in order to do something new, we almost always have to stop doing something old. And when that something else has been the meaningful expression of our faith for years, well, that is a hard thing to just throw away.

We see this tension even in our scripture today. The Gospel of God is being revealed in a new way, to a new people, and it is hard for some folks to accept that. It’s easier, in fact, to accuse the disciples of drunkenness than it is to think that they are preaching a valid message of grace and forgiveness. Its easier to dismiss Peter’s message of welcome and forgiveness as the babblings of a inebriated fanatic than it is to believe that God might actually be doing a new thing.

But God is doing a new thing. God is always doing a new thing. And when Peter preaches the Gospel in that market square that morning so long ago, things changed. No longer was God the property of Israel, no longer was the Word of God only spoken in Hebrew, no longer was God limited to the temple. God was given to all the people, in whatever tongue, in whatever place, in whatever way they needed him.

You can imagine how hard this must have been for some folks. In fact, the Book of Acts is a wonderful account of the difficulty that the early church had accepting the idea that Jesus Christ was Lord of all - not just the Jews - and that his message of reconciliation and welcome was for everyone, not just a small, select lucky few.

Eventually, of course, the church learned how to let go of that. And thank God that they did. Thank God for the Holy Spirit that spoke out of the flame, that gave the word to all the people, that all people, even you and me, can understand that God loves us, that God forgives us, that God calls us to himself. Thank God that the early church was able to let go of the old, and embrace the new. We wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t.

We can never know in midst of change what will happen next. It is hard to discern the mind of God when he is doing a new thing. It’s hard to believe that a new thing could possibly be a good thing. Especially when what we can support the old thing with our trust scriptures. It’s embarrassing to remember that the people who fought against emancipation fought using scripture. The people who fought against new translations of the Bible fought using scripture. The people who fought the ordination of women fought using scripture. The hard part of discerning the will of God is that scripture is only part of the process. God gives us more than just scripture. He also gives us his Son, and his Spirit. And whether we like it or not, this changes everything.

We stand on the threshold of a new world today. There is certainly part of us that would love to retreat, to go back to the old world, and close the door behind us. Some of us might even think that if we’re careful, we can perfectly balance on the threshold, with one foot in both worlds, if only everybody around could just stop moving around so much.

The problem is, God is calling to us from the other side. As soon as we get comfortable with God, he goes ahead of us, and pulls us with him, sometimes kicking, sometimes screaming, sometimes leaving fingernail marks in the walls behind us. But he pulls us along with him and promises that even in this brave new world he is still Lord, and that when we can trust nothing else, we can still trust him.

Graduating seniors, we salute you, and in some ways we envy you. You are starting a marvelous adventure. Many of us have forgotten what that feels like. Many of are afraid of what that might mean.

Go with God. Be curious. Step through doors. And may your journey be a reminder to all of us to take new steps -- as a church and as people -- to look for the new thing that God is doing, in the church, and in our lives.