Friday, June 17, 2011

Sermon from June 12, 2011; Acts 2:1-21

Rev. George Miller
Acts 2:1-21
“Cleaning House”
June 12, 2011

(Sermon starts off bland & dry.) Today is Pentecost. It is the birthday of the Christian Church and the day that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost means “Feast of Weeks” and took place 50 days after Passover. All Jewish men within a 20 mile radius of the Temple were expected to attend.

It was around 9 a.m. in the morning when Peter and the apostles were together in one room when…

You know what? Forget this! (Tear up sermon and toss it into the air.)

Let me tell you a joke instead. Remember ‘Lil Ricky? Well, one day he came home from Sunday School. His Mom asked what he learned.

“Well,” Ricky said, “Our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

“When they got to the Red Sea, Moses had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely.

“Then Moses radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.”

Ricky’s mother was silent for a moment before she said “Now, is that really what your teacher taught you?”

“Well, no Ma,” he said, “But if I told it the way the he did, you’d never believe it!”

That’s a good jumping off part for today’s message, because Pentecost is about something so amazing, so astounding that there’s no real way to convey it within the confines of time, space or words.

Simply put, it is the day the Holy Spirit was poured out, allowing the Gospel to be heard in a way it had never been heard before.

The disciples and certain women had spent the previous days cooped up in the upper room. They stayed busy by selecting someone to replace Judas and by devoting themselves to prayer.

But there’s almost a sense that they were beginning to stagnate, keeping the Good News to themselves. They needed a reason, a boot in the pants to go out beyond their walls and to do the work of God.

God took care of that by sending them the Holy Spirit.

In doing so, the Gospel went out beyond the north and south, east and west, and it demanded a response, amazing some and making others sneer.

When this story is read, some may ask: “Did it really happen this way, with fiery tongues that rested on top of people?”

Others may state “Does it really matter, because somehow, something happened?”

Or would someone like ‘Lil Ricky describe this story in a way that was more believable?

What is this Holy Spirit?

It’s what Joel had prophesied about and what Jesus promised.

The Holy Spirit is the aspect of God that is wild and unpredictable, which can not be contained or forced to act as we’d like.

It is like the flicker of a flame, the rush of the wind or a wave upon a beach. And just like them, the Spirit can be ferocious and loud or gentle and soft.

The Holy Spirit is the breathe that gave humanity life, the wind that parted the Red Sea, and the fire that was there when the Law was given.

For those of us who are creative, the Holy Spirit is what prompts one to write, paint and compose, act, dance and sing.

For those of us who are involved in social justice, it is that energizing source that makes people march in protests, stand up for their rights and to speak out even when everyone else disagrees.

The Holy Spirit is like Ginger Rogers spinning around the room or Gene Kelly jumping through puddles while singing in the rain.

The Holy Spirit is Martin Luther King saying “I have a dream” and Gandhi saying “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

It is the feeling a mother, or grandmother gets when they hold a newborn against their breast.

It is the moment of silence before worship begins and it is the singing of “Alleluia” when worship comes to an end.

The Holy Spirit is in everything and everywhere, and the more we recognize it, the more it seems to be present.

The Holy Spirit is the free and eternal part of God, so instead of trying to contain it, I’ll share a recent illustration.

As you know, I’ve moved into a new home on the lake. It had been closed up for years; the front was covered with bugs and the inside had the musty smell of closed doors, unwashed linen and dirty towels.

First thing I did? Open up all the doors and windows. Got a cross breeze going. Turned on all the fans.

One by one, went through all the closets and drawers. Washed them with soap and water, sanitized them with scented cleaner, left them open.

Every single towel, sheet, and blanket into the washer with detergent, softener, bleach, let them get agitated; then into the dryer, let them tumble.

Ran all the faucets until the water was clear. Let the ice machine cycle its way through. Burned candles in each room.

What did this do? Began to get the musty smell out.

And as a breeze danced through the place, as the waters ran, as the flames flickered, out went the sense of lifeless stagnation; in came a space for the lively new.

The structure of the house did not change, but the energy did. The walls remained, but it began to feel as if life was inside.

The bugs got gone and different life appeared in the forms of human visitors bearing flowers and bottles of wine.

But a month later I noticed that the musty, stagnant smell and feel was starting to creep back in.

So once again, everything was opened, the fans put on full blast, the floors cleaned, the outside swept.

This time I did something else: I cooked and I baked, making the house not only smell fresher and more like me, but more inviting and a sign that there is life inside.

I think that’s a bit of what the Holy Spirit is about. That just like my home, all people, places and organizations can come to a point in which they become too comfortable, too stagnant and the Holy Spirit, like a cleansing cross breeze, needs to come in and shake things up.

But the coming of the Holy Spirit isn’t meant to be a one time experience. It is meant to be a constant event that shakes us up and asks us to take chances and to create space for fresh air.

We are the church, and as the church, sometimes we do get a little too stagnant, sometimes we get too used to the same old same old.

Sometimes we hate to try new things, but that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit and Pentecost is about.

It is the part of the God that keeps us fresh, keeps us alert and will keep us alive.

We should not be afraid of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from God, it is God.

With that said, I’d like to end by sharing one more joke:

The minister of the oldest church in town was nervous. He needed to find a way to ask the congregation to come up with the money needed to keep the building in order.

He planned the service down to a T with songs he thought was inspirational. Imagine his distress when the regular organist was sick and was replaced with a last minute substitute.

“Here’s a copy of the service,” he said impatiently and without hope. “Just think of something to play after I make the announcement about our finances. Maybe the Spirit will inspire you.”

Well, the minister came to the dreaded part of worship. He stood up and solemnly said “Brothers and Sisters; the roof repairs are twice as much as we anticipated and we need $4,000 more.”

“If there are any of you who can pledge $100 or more, please stand up.”

Well…just then the substitute organist played “The Star Spangled Banner”!

And that is how the roof was repaired and a new full time organist was found.

Happy Pentecost, Happy Birthday to the Church Universal.

Not only are we the church, we are the Body of Christ, called by God, breathed upon by the Holy Spirit.

May we all learn how to embrace the wild, untamed, fiery, windy part of God, be it in worship, in our lives or in our actions.

Amen and amen.

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