Sermon for May 23, 2021 Pentecost “The Voices You’ll Hear”
It’s a bit like…well and sort of like…but more like…and kinda like…
Trying to describe Pentecost at best leaves even the most eloquent at a loss for words. Even the disciples could not say exactly what it was like. “like the rush of a violent wind, tongues, as of fire” are the images they used and the fact that each one there was impacted in the same way. It must have been both aweing and terrifying at the same time. This is that intimate moment that Jesus talked of when he said: ‘the comforter, the Holy Spirit will come and be upon you’.
This is widely held as the moment the church began and is some ways marks the birthday of the church. The events recorded in the Pentecost story is also the story of the annual Festival of First Fruits, when the cities, towns and villages would have celebrations of early harvest. It is more that …it is the moment when the disciples ‘wake up’ to the truth that Jesus is really and truly the Messiah and that the teaching they experienced while travelling with Jesus will now be practised. The mantle of leadership, teaching, healing, proclaiming is now theirs. We have this image that the disciples just started without any anxiety at all. I am certain that is not the case.
I remember the first sermon I ever preached. It was Epiphany 1980, Gordon Cann ended up in the hospital on Thursday, his wife Ann called to ask if I would take over. I said yes of course, then thought OMG what have I done, what will I do. I was just going into my second term at AST and had no experience in preaching. On that Sunday I looked out and there were my parents, elementary school principal and teachers from all grades, Sunday school teachers (I was not always the most attentive student) and people I had know all my life…staring at me. I am sure that the gratitude and thanks were more for effort than content or style but I made it, scared, honoured, nervous and did I say scared. And that affirmed the path chosen for me and one that I still strive to follow. So I know the Spirit works in mysterious ways.
There are many ways in which we all are thrust, with varying degrees of preparation, into the fray of living. It may be church, work, school, job, sport or play. For reasons that seems to make no particular sense, we are driven in a particular direction and we go there. The disciples and friends of Jesus have been pretty secluded since the crucifixion and resurrection. But now all of a sudden, on one of the busiest weekends of the year, the doors are burst open and the people outside hear the message and teaching of Jesus in their own language. It is the moment when the few are forced to welcome the outsider and offer hospitality.
There is a story of a tourist was travelling in Germany, he had no knowledge of German whatsoever and had wandered off the tourist trail and found himself in a small village where he was having trouble making himself understood. He was about to panic when he was caught in a sneezing fit. A passerby smiled and nodded at him and said, “Gesundheit!” The tourist rushed after the man and declared, “O good, you speak English!”
In our context at St. Marks, different languages may not be the issue but I know for sure that the language we sometimes use in “church world” if not helpful or inviting for many. I will offer a personal example that shuts me down. ‘Have you been saved?’ I know it is a very Christian question but for me it is also loaded with plenty of narrow and harmful thinking. For me it comes from the asker being right and the one questioned being wrong. My response is usually; ‘tell me more about why that is important for you?’ My preference is to spend enough time with someone to get to know them so then I may be enabled to offer an invitation to conversation that is open, welcoming and ‘speaks their language’ so to speak.
By definition, Pentecost is the opening of our doors, the thrusting open of our doors, to the community. It is an opportunity to share the best teaching ever, by the best teacher ever, not as we see fit but in a way that others can understand.
So may it be that the Spirit that moved so many years ago with the disciples, enabling them to speak in languages of many nations and regions and be understood, stir in our language and motives so that we can speak in ways that are surprisingly inviting to those who hear.