Psalm 104; Acts 2: 1-20
Fifty days. Fifty days can seem like a long time or a brief glimpse in time. It’s been fifty three days since Jesus died and fifty days since those followers of Jesus began to see him alive. And I can imagine that fifty days seemed both like a life time ago— such a different life when they were living day to day with Jesus; and also a very brief moment in time— fifty days is very little time to adjust to a new way of living— a new way of thinking about how their life with Jesus was going to look like.
In Scripture, Pentecost is actually a Jewish holy-day. It is the festival of first fruits— a time designated in Exodus for all the people to bring the first fruits of their labors to the temple and celebrate a new growing season— to celebrate God’s faithfulness to them after a long winter. But where are the disciples on this holy day? Where are the faithful Jewish people who had hung out with Jesus? They aren’t in the temple on this holy day. They are still in a locked room. They are still living in fear. They have literally locked themselves inside because even with Jesus’ appearances to them telling them not to be afraid, they are terribly afraid. And they have no idea that God is about to show them the first fruits of the Spirit. Jesus had told them that life with Holy Spirit would actually be better than when they had him around all the time, but I’m sure they don’t believe that.
Nothing is as they imagined. Nothing is as they expected it to be. Life with Jesus turned out to be very different than the “ruling on earth forever” kind of leader they were looking for. And they’re not sure what to do now. They’re not sure where to turn, or what this means for their lives. They had charted a path in their minds of where they were going— they could see it— they could taste it— they had it all planned out— and then it all crumbled with Jesus’ death; and not even his resurrection— something far more amazing and powerful than they had expected— changed the chaos they felt inside. They were still afraid.
Fear is powerful. It can keep us locked inside-- sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically locked inside of ourselves. And so often we don't know how to get through it.
Marcia had struggled with an eating disorder most of her life. She had gotten help in her early twenties and had lived healthily for twenty years, but then she and her husband divorced and her kids graduated and she found herself at a starting place again-- an unfamiliar place of trying to figure out her identity and what she was doing with her life and she began to struggle with eating. Her neighbor, Alice, didn't know any of this. She just knew that Marcia had just moved in, that she seemed kind of lonely, and that she herself would want someone to invite her over; so Alice invited Marcia over for dinner. It was awkward at first-- Marcia had to tell her about her eating disorder so that she could negotiate the menu knowing that certain things would trigger her in ways that other things did not. But the two began to navigate it together and began to eat more meals together. And in a time in her life when Marcia needed someone to see her for who she was, to accept her with her eating disorder, and to keep a routine with her, Alice was there. Did Alice do much of anything? She would say no. She never really fully understood even what Marcia was most afraid of or why things had to be a certain way. Alice was just open to being there. The Holy Spirit did the rest as their friendship upheld both women in unexpected ways for years to come.
The Spirit was moving and their lives were transformed.
It is the Holy Spirit that was able to move in and out and around and through their friendship so that Marcia could stop living in fear and begin truly living. In those times in our lives when we are afraid and living in chaos and not knowing where to turn, prayer often becomes all we have to live on. We don’t even know what to pray. But as we are told in Scripture, the Holy Spirit knows and prays in and through us, even when we have no words to say.
I don’t know what the disciples were praying for that day— but the Spirit knew what to do. The Spirit came down like a mighty wind; like flames of fire. The Spirit came with power that we so often don’t know what to do with— a power so great that people from all over the city— people who spoke different languages and were from different cultures and backgrounds— were able to hear God’s Word to them in their own language; in words they understood. We often think of this Scripture as a miracle of speaking— that people could speak in other languages; but if we read it closely, we see that it’s actually a miracle of hearing— that people could hear God’s word to them in their own language-- and not just those on the "inside," the disciples, but rather it was the people who were not Jesus' disciples who heard God's Word.
The Spirit was moving and people's lives were transformed.
In 1722 in the village of Herrnhut, what is now Germany, a little band of religious fugitives from Moravia asked Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf if they might settle on his land. The Count agreed. Zinzendorf was discouraged by the fractions within Christianity and was open to receiving other religious exiles as well. So over the years Herrnhut became a gathering place for many religious exiles who spoke different languages and had differing customs and creeds. As you might imagine, the people began to argue. These were people who were thrown out of their land because of their convictions, and so when you got them all together, tempers flared. Zinzendorf wanted them to see that they didn't need to work against each other. So one Sunday, he got up in worship and he challenged them to hold a prayer vigil 24 hours a day for a week. The people thought he was going a bit too far, even for their religious dedication, but they found it hard to argue with him so they dutifully signed up for times to pray all week long and made sure that at any given hour someone was in the chapel praying for the community. After a week of this, Zinzendorf challenged them to do it again. And then again. And pretty soon, he didn't have to challenge them to do it at all. The community began to be changed from the inside out as they prayed together. Zinzendorf called it their Pentecost because they began to focus not on their differences, but on their unity in Christ. They began to see the needs of their neighbor's outside of the community and respond to those needs. They began to send missionaries to other countries to share what they were experiencing with the Holy Spirit. And in fact, one of those missionaries who went to England, found himself welcoming in a young man named John Wesley who had just gotten back from a new land called Georgia. Wesley was disheartened and experiencing a huge crisis in his own life as he had been kicked out of the church he was serving. He wondered what God had in store for him and why his life was falling apart. That very night, as Wesley went to the Bible study of the Moravian Missionary, his heart was strangely warmed and he went on to share the Gospel with such passion that people regularly experienced the Holy Spirit and the Methodist movement began.
The Spirit was moving, and people's lives were transformed.
You and I are affected today by Wesley's change of heart as we sit here in this Methodist church. You and I are affected today by some Count named Zinzendorf who had a vision of a community that was bigger than any one doctrine or creed. Do you see how it is that the Holy Spirit works on a grand scale? God so often takes the bird’s eye view-- and we get to be part of that grand of a vision.
What is it that seems impossible to you today? Chaotic? Destructive? It's not hard to think of things that need to be changed for the better-- hearts that need to be softened in the Middle East so that people can see each other as people and be able to set aside their fear; minds that need to be opened right here in the Midwest so that we can recognize our neighbors who are from Somalia and Sudan and Liberia and New York and Iowa as people of God who God is sending to us so that we can be freed from our fear. What seems impossible? How about the people at our State Capitol— our representatives who are paid to make sure Minnesota is a wonderful place for all people— the people who are fighting instead of working together to get things done for Greater Minnesota. How about the General Conference of the United Methodist Church that is meeting in Portland right now and is in complete pain and crisis because we all want to see movement, but in different directions. How about the education system that is failing so many of our school children and the prison system that collects them when the schools and mental health facilities fail? The list goes on and on, doesn't it?
So what do we do? What do we do when we feel like we are living in the chaos of 2016 and we don't know where to turn and we are living in fear? We do as those early disciples did. We pray for the Holy Spirit. We pray because we know the Spirit is still moving. The Spirit is Moving! And we here at First UMC can be part of tearing down the walls, of being an instrument that God can use so that everyone can hear God's Word in their own language. When we pray for what seems to be impossible, we give God the opportunity to breakthrough in new ways-- to bring healing and hope and love not just to us but to everyone in this community and to the generations after us.
Are you satisfied with going through the motions of a Christian life? Or are we serious about really listening for the Holy Spirit-- really opening ourselves up-- praying once again for God to pour out God's Spirit in new and old ways so that our young people will have visions and our old people will dream dreams and the Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven.
God is offering us a feast of the Holy Spirit-- a depth of prayer that we maybe have never experienced before. God is inviting us to open ourselves up and be transformed from the inside out so that our community can also be transformed by the love of God.
Are you ready?