The first half of today’s sermon was delivered as an oral narrative from the sanctuary floor and is identified by bold-italic text. The remaining traditional sermon comments are in regular print.
When the day came, I found myself surrounded by lots of people. I heard languages that I could not understand. I heard Spanish being spoken … I took Spanish in school a long time ago. Como esta usted? Estoy bien gracious … y tu? But I couldn’t understand any of these Spanish words I was hearing. I heard an old man to my right uttering some guttural sounds that made no sense to me. And one woman down the hall was speaking what I thought was Jamaican, though I had no idea what any of her words meant. I felt like a foreigner in my own land.
Then I met my friend … a fellow believer … we were gathering to celebrate that meal Jesus shared with us before he died on that horrible night … that meal of bread and wine. We ate .. .we drank … we prayed … and then we decided to sing … a verse of Amazing Grace. As my friend and I started to sing, I heard another voice … the Jamaican voice I had heard earlier … but now she was singing in almost perfect English. Why don’t we sing it that first verse together … “Amazing grace, how sweet ….” It was Pentecost.
(PAUSE) Oh … I’m sorry … I wasn’t talking about that first Pentecost. That first time that Jesus transcended language and race and nationality? No … I’m sorry … I was making a communion visit with one of our homebound members who currently lives in a local nursing home. No, we had no tongues of flames in the room with Dwight and me. But the words of Amazing Grace were a siren call that brought a nurses’ aide … that Jamaican woman I had seen earlier … into our presence … into our room. And right then and there our language was united … God had brought us together and given us a common tongue, just for that moment. It was what I would call a Pentecost moment … for sure.
No, I’m no one special from the past that was present for the day of Pentecost. … but I could be … I could be that guy at that first Pentecost, if you like. In fact … let’s do just that. (Put on head wrap). (PAUSE)
Shalom. My name is Jacob … from Phrygia. I’d been to Jerusalem a few times before at Pentecost … I usually come for what we call festival of weeks celebration … it is a joyous celebration that observes the first fruits of the harvest. It is a reminder that even though we are scattered all over the known world, God’s people are never far from Yahweh’s spirit and love. But this year … this year was crazy … the disciples speaking in foreign languages I did not understand. But my friends who lived in other parts of the world understood … each of them heard a disciple speaking in their own language. That was crazy, too … these guys were local yokels … they had never left the Sea of Galilee, let alone travel the world. But here they were speaking like they had hired private Roman tutors who had taught them a dozen different languages. And then the leader of his group of Jesus’ followers stood up and told us that we were living in the last days … days of visions … and prophecies … and signs. Days when the Spirit of God will be poured out on everyone. And days that might also be a little scary … a little crazy … days that might feel like the world has been turned upside down. But Peter also said that these crazy days would also be days that lead to salvation … I think I remember him calling it “the Lord’s great and glorious day. And that all you needed to do to be part of that great and glorious day … was call on the name of the Lord.
Crazy times indeed … it sounds so simple … “call on the name of the Lord.” But as I think about and listen to what people say in our world, I don’t hear as much calling on the name of the Lord. We place a lot of trust in all kinds of other leaders … political leaders … movie stars … business moguls … medical professionals YouTube phenoms. We put our trust in our Jobs … and in our money. Sometimes we put our trust in pills … and booze … and we make choices that are not really so good for us. We do also put our trust in our families … and in our friends … and God is good with that. But mostly, I think, we place a lot of trust in ourselves … and our own knowledge … and in our hard work. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing … but it is a thing that can become a problem if the amount of trust we put in ourselves draws us away from our trust in God. I know whereof I speak … because I find myself struggling just like you, with that same call to trust in God.
Maybe that’s why God turned the world upside on that day of Pentecost long, long ago. To remind the disciples … and everyone else in Jerusalem that day … that God is the one in whom they should place ultimate trust.
And to proclaim to them that just as they thought they could start returning to their “normal” lives … where they were in control … and do what they were used to doing, like fishing … and make choices for themselves like they used to … yes, just when life seemed that it would return to normal for them … God decided that he was not quite done with them. God had other plans for them … God had other expectation of them … God still had need of them. Yeah, maybe that is why the Spirit visited the twelve disciples (Nathanial included) and the other three thousand Diaspora Jews who St. Luke says were also present and who were baptized. Maybe it was a reminder that the plans they had for the rest of their lives were about to change. And maybe the same is true for us. Maybe the plans we so meticulously make for our lives … and the plans we have for the worlds and communities in which we live … may not be exactly what God has in mind for us.
Have you ever had a Pentecost moment? … a moment where you could feel the electricity in the room in which you found yourself … a time where circumstances demanded that you confront the fact that God was present and at work in your life … a time when you felt compelled to do something that only God would have asked you to do. The day of Pentecost, is not a day in which God lights a birthday cake and invites us the sing Happy Birthday for the church. Pentecost is a day in which God calls us again to put aside our meticulous plans for our lives and consider the possibility that God may have something else in mind for you ,,, and for me … and for the person sitting next to you.
NY Times writer, David Brooks wrote these words in one of his op-ed columns almost ten years ago, as advice to those graduating from college that spring:
“Most successful young people,” he writes, “don’t look inside and then plan a life. The look outside and find a problem, which summons their life…. Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.”
What is your calling, I wonder? When has God tried to remind you that God was not quite done with your formation as a person? What have been your Pentecost moments? God never promised that this life would be easy … but God does promise that it can be fulfilling and faithful. Amen.