Sunday, June 4, 2017

What's Next?

Acts 2:1- 21  The Message

2 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs!

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” 12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”
13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says,“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

I love today’s artwork.  “I have no idea what’s going to happen and I love it!”   Great, right?  And SO not true!  At least, not for me.  I guess when I’m reading a good murder mystery, I love not knowing what’s next.  Or for you fans of roller coasters, you might love a new ride where you don’t know what’s coming around the next bend.  Or maybe you are one of those people who likes to get in the car and just go, anyplace, with no destination in mind.  Not me.  But I’m a bit OCD, with a smidgen of social anxiety. It’s not easy for me to step out of my comfort zone.   Anyway . . . .

It’s Graduation Sunday!   Today is the day we celebrate all of you who have finished one phase of your education.  You will be going on to whatever is next - high school or college, maybe graduate school?  Or you might be saying to yourself, “I have no idea what is going to happen next!”   You may or may not love that.

One of my favorite days of the year at my previous church was the Preschool’s  Kindergarten Graduation Day.  I would process in with the Director of our Preschool at the front of the line of giggling 5 and 6 year olds, wearing my mortar board, master’s gown, and hood.   I would open the event with a Commencement Prayer.  There would be some very short speeches, a performance by each of the age group classes, and then, just before the diplomas were presented, I would present the annual Commencement Address.  Using the words of the very wisest of wise men - Dr. Seuss! - I sent the children on their way to their next adventure - First Grade!   While the little ones graduating from Kindergarten kind of knew what would come next, because most of them had older brothers and sisters who had told them all about first grade, they still weren’t sure about leaving the school where most of them had spent the last 3 or 4 years.  They were a bit nervous about the future, and Dr. Seuss helped them understand that there was a great adventure ahead.   

Oh, The Places You’ll Go is a great Commencement Address.  I have heard it read at high schools and colleges and universities - even at Chapman!  Dr. Seuss tells anyone who will listen that amazing things are ahead.  We may not know what they are, but there are amazing things ahead and we need to keep moving forward, past the people who are just waiting for life to happen, and past the places where we are lonely, and past the places where things don’t go right.  Whatever comes, he says, we need to “hike far, and face up to your problems, whatever they are.”  “You’ll get mixed up”, he says, “so be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. . .  and never mix up your right foot with your left.”  We could do a lot worse than to listen to Dr. Seuss, even if we aren’t graduating.

Today’s reading was the Pentecost story - of course.  We always read that story on Pentecost.  It’s our founding story!  Of course, the disciples couldn’t know that.  They had no idea what was going to happen, and I am not at all sure they loved it.   They knew Jesus had told them to go and wait for the Advocate, but they didn’t know who or what the Advocate was.  They didn’t know when she would show up, or how they would know when she did.  They didn’t know anything about what lay ahead of them, or what they were supposed to do with all of the things Jesus had taught them.  And they didn’t have a Dr. Seuss to let them know that walking into the unknown was ok.  

Luke tells us that every one of the disciples present in Jerusalem on that day - some 120 of them - was given the gift of language.  All of them were able to make themselves understood to people from all over the world.  Now, whether the Spirit thought to herself “this one will speak Latin, and this one Greek, and this one Ethiopian,” and so on, or if somehow their Aramaic words became understandable to everyone who listened I don’t know.  No one really knows what happened that day.  All we know is that these 120 disciples were somehow understood by thousands of people from all over the known world.  And Peter’s sermon was somehow understood by all those people.  And the words the people  heard were so powerful, the Spirit spoke to those listeners so clearly, that 3,000 were baptized that day.    This is the day we consider the day when Christianity really began, the birthday of the church.   I really don’t understand why the church year begins four weeks before Christmas instead of at Pentecost, or even at Easter, but I wasn’t in charge of planning the church year.

Paul makes it pretty clear that all of these people receiving the same gift  was pretty unusual - a special case for a special day.    Because in his first letter to the church in Corinth, Chapter 12, Paul says: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation18 of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

You know, God’s giving of different gifts and talents isn’t restricted to just spiritual gifts or just church related gifts.  Each of us has gifts that are unique to us.  And we get to use those gifts for the betterment of our own lives and the lives of everyone around us, and for the betterment of the church.  In this congregation we are particularly blessed with folks who have exceptional musical talent, but we also have teachers and counselors and coaches and members of law enforcement - people whose calling is to help others.  I don’t know whether any of us has the gift of language to such an extent that we can sway 3,000 people - I don’t know a single preacher who doesn’t wish to have that even gift just once . . . Please, God, just once let me speak that well, that persuasively . . . but I am quite sure that each of us has at one time or another been able to say just the right words to someone to help them through something.  To help someone understand their place in God’s world, or to encourage them to try something outside their comfort zone.  

For you graduates, I am convinced you will go places that you never expected. I am sure you will all discover new gifts and new ways to use the gifts you already know about.  But whatever happens next in each of your lives, I am excited to be able to watch as you move forward into the next phase of your life.  I have no idea what is going to happen next for you, and I love it.

For all the rest of us, the same.  Some of us are pretty sure we know what our gifts are, but you know, there might be stuff out there we’ve never tried to do, and we might turn out to be pretty good at those new things if we just try.  Like Allen, getting a ribbon at the fair for his very first quilt!  Some of us are pretty sure we know where the church, the congregation is going.  But you know, there might be something we haven’t thought of, that maybe the Spirit will lead us to.  There might be some gift, somewhere, that we haven’t opened yet, some idea that we haven’t considered yet.  

The Spirit of God makes sure we are provided with the gifts we need. On Pentecost, the gift that was given was the gift of language, of persuasion, of being able to be understood by the thousands of people who heard God’s word that day.  Later, other gifts would be needed - gifts of healing and teaching and prophecy.  In today’s church, we need those gifts and more, gifts of hospitality and creativity and acceptance.  But of all the gifts, there are three that are of most value, to the church and to all persons, in all times and places.  These are the gifts of love, joy and peace, which we receive through faith.  May God pour these out upon us in great abundance, that we might in turn share them with all whom we encounter.

My brothers and sisters, on this Pentecost Day let us open ourselves as widely as possible for the Spirit to enter into our hearts.   Let us go out into the world, open to new ideas and new possibilities.  Let us go out into the world trusting God enough to say, “I have no idea what is going to happen, and I love it!” 

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