St. Paul’s Congregational Church
June 9, 2019 - Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21; “Gathered and Scattered”
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It seems to be an ordinary day of celebration there in Jerusalem - the devout Jews have gathered at a festival feast – celebrating new life, new crops, the giving of the law. A large crowd has gathered from the ends of the earth for this annual event. This time it’s different, though.
It’s 50 days after Passover – 50 days after the events of Holy Week – from the Passover meal Jesus observed as his last supper with his disciples, the darkness of Good Friday, the spectacular joy of Easter morning, after Jesus appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room, after he gathered one last time with his disciples, after the Ascension – 50 days of life changing, world changing events. Maybe life is returning a bit to normal after these events – but is it? Can it ever be the same? Turns out this gathering is a celebration of new life unlike anything this crowd has ever experienced.
We’ve seen remarkable displays of God’s spirit in the Bible before of course – even with the “Special effects” – like Moses on the mountaintop, Jesus transfigured – but these displays were reserved for only a few witnesses – the most inside of the insiders. But not this time! It’s the dawn of a new era. Today, the coming of the Holy Spirit, on what we have come to know as the birthday of the church, as Pentecost, the entire crowd is called to spread the good news to the ends of the earth – not just for those disciples gathered in a room, not only the believers, not only those who were with Jesus on the road or witnesses to his resurrection. No, right now, right here everyone is invited and included: male and female, old and young, slave and free – all are welcome, included in receiving this gift of the Holy Spirit.
And just to make sure everyone knows they’re included, the sound of that multitude of languages is overcome by a sweeping wind and an uplifting Spirit – divided tongues as of fire descended on them – imagine what it would have been like to experience that! Each person in their own language heard about God’s deeds of power! Each one heard about the gift of new life; the beginning of a brand new era in which God is fulfilling promises and salvation draws near! Everyone! Not just the insiders: everyone – everyone heard words that before had sounded like just noise – those words have become filled with meaning.
Then everyone – after the fire and the wind and the Spirit touched them and entered them – started to do things they had never done before. They were made new creatures – brought to life – in a new way – the events of Babel have been reversed!
In the midst of this spectacle, there were then and still are those who sneer from the sidelines, “They must be filled with new wine.” But, remember what Jesus once said about the new wine that bursts old wineskins? These new followers of Jesus – the scripture tells us that the church expanded from 100 to 3,000 in one day – talk about a megachurch! – these new followers aren’t filled with new wine – they are the new wine! Watch them burst the seams of convention.
Transition times are always challenging, aren’t they. And this time was no different – there was lots of joy and excitement but there was also wonder and confusion. This Pentecost event – the birth of the church - was a strong, joyful start to what would be a long tough journey filled with threats and danger, threats and danger which continue today – but also filled the beginning of new communities of faith working together to create a world like Jesus embodied. The journey was not, is not, without struggles and resistance to change – but they and we are never alone. As we, like those Pentecost witnesses, work together to become the people of God who God intends us to be, we, like those witnesses, find our strength in community and prayer as we work together to create that new world that Jesus taught.
We’re still in a transition time here in this church, aren’t we. We too know the anxiety of change, of transition.
But today we see the color of Pentecost – that bright red - think of it as the flame of new promise, of new life just waiting for all of us – as individuals and church! Can you feel the heat, the energy, feel the possibilities?
We are the new wine!
How does this Pentecost story relate to the life of our church today? How do we see this story as both our challenge and our strength to create that new world that Jesus teaches us about?
How can we reach across the many differences in our own congregation to create a unity – and that’s different from uniformity? We’re different in our religious upbringing and traditions, educational backgrounds, and basic personality types, but we’re joined together in unity through our shared faith, our shared desire to serve Jesus.
How do we communicate effectively right here – to listen and learn – to hear what it is that God is still speaking today, bringing us a call that may surprise us and gather us into a church more effective and more amazing than we’ve ever been before? What loud noises and rushing wind do we need to begin to dream dreams, see visions, share our ministry?
I’m remembering a time a few years ago in Glen Ridge when a surprisingly large group of us gathered at a parishioner’s home for dinner and conversation based on a couple of articles that two on the Adult Education Committee had read with great interest and wanted to share with others. Their excitement was contagious and it was a wonderful and energizing evening! We talked, but even more importantly, listened to each other tell stories – stories about how our faith informs our daily lives not just in church, but in corporate America, in a prison ministry, in our dealings with family, friends – in so many different arenas – sharing that doesn’t happen often enough perhaps because it’s risky - but once that door was opened, the winds of the spirit were blowing, bringing new insights, new relationships with people we’ve known as our neighbors in the pews, but relationships in a deeper way, bringing a new awareness, a new understanding of each other, a new energy.
That Friday evening was a real Pentecost event! Those 2 men took a risk and responded to a call to bring a new opportunity for our community. They didn’t stop and say they hoped people would come. Their enthusiasm was contagious! And people responded! Those house meetings continue today and have created bonds that never would have happened otherwise.
What risks are we being called to take as church, as individuals? We are the new wine! Let’s burst those old wineskins!
Some of you may have heard me tell this story before but it’s worth repeating:
A young woman sat in her bishop’s office talking about her first call to a church after seminary – it was to be to a small, largely aging congregation. But her dream had always been to work with children and their families – she wondered, is this really the right place for me? She began her ministry at this church with some hesitation – the congregation was wonderful but she longed for her dream of ministry to children and families to come true. One day she had a rare chance to visit a new mother and her baby in the hospital. As they talked, suddenly she heard the mother say, “It’s so hard to do this alone – we’re so far from family support – I wish my mother and my husband’s mother were closer so not only could we get help when we need it, but so my daughter would know what it’s like to have extended family especially grandparents nearby.”
A lightbulb - I’d call it a spirit filled Pentecost moment - went off in the young minister’s head – she had a congregation full of men and women who would love this! And so was born a ministry of visitation, of outreach to new mothers and fathers and their babies. It wasn’t long before the church was filled with these young families – new wine burst forth!
The spirit of God that has come at Pentecost is a transforming power that creates a new life, a new community, a new church and a new world! Do we have the courage to let that Spirit run loose in our lives here? What needs are in our own community that God is calling us to fill? Are we paying attention?
We all sometimes feel like our own spirits are drying up from exhaustion, fear, worries, from hesitation to make needed changes. We get stuck. We hold on to the past so tightly that we don’t even realize it – our purpose, our mission, get lost: we may the signs of our future direction. What IS the mission of our church? How do we live that out? God is still speaking! The wonder of Pentecost continues to this day. We can’t put new wine in old wineskins, no matter how hard we try. Giving the Spirit room to run in our life together can and will bring about amazing things.
The Pentecost story shows us the life giving power of the Spirit that creates life where there is no life and will bring into being a new person, community, a new church, a new world – if we let it happen.
What creative opportunities are just waiting for us as individuals or for us here at our St. Paul’s Congregational Church? What new ministries are waiting to be born? What dreams do we have? Where and how are we stuck?
Can you feel the wind of Pentecost blowing through us here and now? Can you feel the wind of Pentecost blowing through us, telling us not to be afraid but to be alive in the Spirit, energizing us to see the future not as a problem but as an opportunity? Didn’t you feel the wind of Pentecost blowing through us, around us, in us, as Freeman Palmer preached at our anniversary service? Didn’t you feel the wind of Pentecost blowing through us as you heard our confirmands’ scripture reflections, as you read our confirmands’ faith statements? They all are showing us the way! Friends, we can do this! With God’s help, we can do anything – if we step out and step up. It’s our choice, isn’t it – are we listening? Are we ready?
Howard Thurman says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” And I’d add, what this and every church needs is people who have come alive in the spirit! Let go of the old wineskins! Trust the spirit!
What is it that makes you come alive? What gives you a transforming sense of joy? When have you felt that breathtaking glimpse of the Spirit breaking in to your very soul and calling you forth, creating something wonderful and new!
Feel the wind of Pentecost blowing through us here and now! Look up and see the flames of Pentecost surrounding us. Feel those flames of Pentecost burning inside you! Take the risk and go for it! Dream the dreams! See the visions! And above all, call upon the name of the Lord!
A year ago on Pentecost we began our observance of our 125th anniversary of ministry. Today God calls us to look forward as we celebrate Pentecost. We’re all here together trying to discern what God is calling forth from us to make our beacon of light in a hurting world shine more brightly. We need each other to be church at its best. In fact, we need each other to be church at all - for being church is never an individual effort. We are the new wine!
May the God who sent the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost bless all of us here this morning and every day. May that powerful spirit rekindle in each of our hearts a deeper faith, a firmer sense of our ministry, a commitment to God and each other, and a joy and peace that passes all human understanding. So may it be for us all!