Inspired by Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, and John15:26-27, 16:4-15
So I was teaching the kids on Wednesday night, and we were exploring the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. We read from a children’s Bible called The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I absolutely loved the way that the story “ended.” Allow me to share it with you now, this is how that story “ends”, “But before they left the garden, God made clothes for them, to cover them. God gently clothed them and then he sent them away on a long, long journey—out of the garden, out of their home. Well, in another story, it would all be over and that would have been…the end. But not in this story.”
In any other story this would be the end, but not this story. So much hope and promise in that one phrase! And it is that phrase that is going to carry us through this Pentecost. For those who may not know, Pentecost is the day of the church year that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, hence the color red, symbolizing the fire in our story from Acts that we heard a moment ago. And of course, this is the day that preachers get to preach on something that we can’t see! As if preaching wasn’t hard enough as it is! But enough of my bellyaching!
Major life transitions are hard, and they come in all shapes and sizes. A death in the family can not only be sad but can also be a major life transition that then has to be navigated. Caring for an aging parent could be another one. Something seemingly simple as a schedule change can wreak havoc on a family’s equilibrium. Financial woes can be another source of transition. Relationship breakups of any kind are yet another kind of life transition. I could go on and give you more examples of major life transitions but the one thing that I wanted to point out is this, unlike a typical family who usually only has to deal with one maybe two of these at the same time, a church family, just like us here at Bethlehem, have to deal with all of them, not just all at once, but constantly.
When your family is as large as a church this size, life transitions are around every corner! When your family is this large, there’s just no escaping them! Think about it, financial woes, check! Schedule change, one worship service at 9:30, check! Death, we’ve had plenty of that, check! Aging members, check! Sick members, check! People leaving the church cuz they are unhappy about something, that’s been happening for 76 years here at Bethlehem, and 2000 years worldwide and it’s not going to stop any time soon, check!
Again, when your family is this large, life transitions are around every corner and they’re constant! It’s both the blessing and the curse of being in a large family. And life transitions may bring stress and discomfort. That sounds like a commercial for a new medication. Maybe that’s how we should market our church! We’ll start out with all the wonderful things you’ll get from being part of our community and then at the end will add a disclaimer, “May cause stress, discomfort, and irritation commonly found in most families only 30 times as bad!”
I mention this because when you are part of an organization, like a church family, and experience its constant life transitions, it can feel like something is wrong, because it is so much more amplified and constant than what we experience in our little families at home. But the truth it, there is nothing wrong, it’s just life in a big family. There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s nothing wrong with us.
Well, other than the fact that we are imperfect beings but that’s what Jesus is for right? In spite of that however, we have this tendency, to not only feel like there’s something wrong, but to also be in this constant state of stress, discomfort, fear, and sometimes even a state of communal depression, if you will. When there’s really no need because this is just life in a big family. And I tell you that in the hopes of easing some of that distress that I know many of you are experiencing. And what could ease even more of that for you?
The Holy Spirit! So let’s talk about her! I noticed a common thread in all of our readings for today that I’m hoping will give you as much hope and positivity as it did me. Lord knows we could use some positivity around here. Amen? Many have said that the Day of Pentecost is like the Holy Spirit’s birthday. But that’s not very theologically accurate because she is a manifestation of God, and therefore, has always been.
So, the Day of Pentecost is more like her coming-out day. Think of it this way, up until that day, the Holy Spirit worked behind the scenes, under the radar. Her presence was felt, the results of her work could be seen, but then on the Day of Pentecost, it was time for her to burst onto the scene, flames and all, literally, to be seen and heard by the world. No longer relegated to the shadows, she could now do her work out in the open.
And she does this by giving a very peculiar gift in our story from Acts. She gives them the ability to speak in different languages and everyone could hear them in their own language. Now, the story that may come to your mind is the tower of Babel. That’s the story in the Hebrew scriptures where people tried to build a tower high enough to reach God, but God put a quick stop to that and just to be sure they didn’t try that again, God gave them all different languages.
That’s how the Bible explains the world’s different languages. Cute, I know? Anyway, fast forward a few thousand years and you have the Holy Spirit bringing people together by allowing everyone to understand what is being said in spite of a language barrier. But this barrier didn’t matter to the Holy Spirit! Why? Because she does whatever she wants to do! She is God! And nothing, not even a language barrier is going to get in her way! In any other story, speaking in other languages would have been the end, but not in this story! The Holy Spirit will not be stopped!
From Paul’s letter to the Roman church we read of the way the Holy Spirit works through our lives no matter the obstacles she may face: our groaning, our suffering, our pain, our weakness, our lack of prayer, our searching. Nothing! Maybe in some other story this would be the end! But in this story, nothing will get in the way of the Holy Spirit doing what she does best in the world, helping those in need of some help, assisting those who need some assistance, guiding those in need of some guidance. And isn’t that all of us? I mean, raise your hand if you don’t need God’s help! Y’all better keep your hands down!
And lastly, we have our passage from the Gospel of John, and yet again, we have the Holy Spirit working in the world, this time, according to John, in spite of our sin, in spite of our wrongdoings, in spite of our mistakes, she will still speak to us, guide us, and help us make any necessary course corrections. This is a big one because we get so scared of making a mistake, that it paralyzes us into inaction. Too often we choose to do nothing, rather than risk making a mistake.
Just take a look at how long it took us to make the decision to go to one service! And odds are, there are some that think it’s a mistake, as if it’s the end of Bethlehem! The Holy Spirit must get the biggest kick out of that! I swear she must laugh her butt off over us! I can see her just shaking her head and saying to Jesus, “Look at ‘em. They think their mistakes are gonna to stop me. Aren’t they adorable! Look at how much power they think they have over me!” And they laugh!
There is nothing you can do or say that will get in the Holy Spirit’s way of working her magic on you, on this place, at this hour, on this community, in this city, in our hearts, in our minds, nothing will stop her, not even us! Maybe in some other story! But not in this story. So let us commit to God, and more importantly, to each other, that we will live like this is a beginning, and not an end! Let us pray.
God of all times and places, you are the source of all goodness and mercy. Thank you for gathering us here, all together, to hear your promises once again. Give us the courage and strength and whatever else you know we need to greet each day as if it was our first and not our last, filled with hope and expectation. Encourage us to be a source of positivity to each other, so that before we share a word of negativity or critique, we ask ourselves just how necessary it really is. Help us O God to relieve each other’s distress, not add to it, because living in a big family is challenging enough. Thanks be to God. Amen.