Contagious Joy - Pastor April's Sermon - 5/15

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  The day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the day that we celebrate the birthday of the church.  

A birthday in itself is a chance to pause and remember.  A chance to pause and remember the day in our history that something or someone new was born.

Birthdays give us a chance to remember not only the new thing or the new life that was born, but also to remember the story of the birth.

And the story of the birth always includes moments of great joy and wonder – but also moments of struggle, challenge, pain, and tears

 

Every year on Marcus’ birthday, I am reminded not only of the gift of his life – but also of the 39 hours of labor that preceded that birth.  I am reminded of the 9 months of pregnancy where we prepared for that birth.  And the long year of waiting to conceive – hoping that someday a birth would be possible.

 

A birthday is a chance to remember and celebrate the beauty that emerges from seasons of struggle and waiting – moments of tears and pain.

 

Our poem from Hafiz captures that beautifully today…  the new life, the new beginnings that emerge from our tears –

 

Take one of my tears,

Throw it into the ocean

And watch the salt in the wounds

Of this earth and men begin to disappear.

 

Take one of my tears

And cradle it in your palm.

Mount a great white camel

And carry my love into every desert,

Paying homage to every Prophet

Who has ever walked in our world.

 

O take one of my tears

And stop weeping only for sadness,

For there is so much More to this life

Than you now understand.

 

The birthday of the church was certainly a moment where new life and beauty came from a season of struggle and tears.

A Day where out of those tears the disciples began to see and understand – that indeed there was so much More than what they understood before.

 

Now, to place this story in the right context, we need to go back just a bit.

 

The disciples had spent three years walking and learning with Jesus.  Hearing him teach them about the kingdom of God, watching him heal others, reach out to those on the margins, and feeding five thousand with only a few loaves and fish.  At the end of their journey together, Jesus had promised them that though he would return to the Father, and he would no longer be with them in the same physical way – he would send the Spirit.  The Holy spirit would live within them, a counselor, advocate, a Friend – who would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them and would bring them peace – no matter what they faced, so that they could share completely in God’s joy.

 

But the very next day after Jesus spoke these words, he was taken into custody and hung on a cross before all the city.  Executed as a criminal, an undignified and humiliating death.

 

And so we can understand how in their grief – the disciples could not remember the words that Jesus had told them.

 

And they were afraid.

 

And then the extraordinary happened – three days later – Jesus appears again.  He is not dead, but alive.  His appearance is different, but the scars are still there – and even those who initially doubt – come to believe that Jesus is in fact alive!

 

And for 40 days, Jesus remained with them – coming and going from time to time – sometimes appearing inside locked rooms and disappearing just as quickly.  But he was there.  They could see him and touch him again.

 

It must have been so healing and renewing and joyful.

 

But it was only temporary – he told them – he was returning to the Father.

 

Again – he reminded them – that when he left – he would send the Spirit.

 

Wait – he says, in Acts 1 – wait here in Jerusalem – until you are baptized in the Spirit and the promise is given.

 

And then he was gone again.

 

It’s hard to imagine how they must be feeling.  To have lost the physical presence of Jesus – yet again.

 

So, by the time our Scripture begins today – 10 days have passed.

It was the Festival of  Pentecost - the festival of the harvest.

Jews from all throughout the land had gathered in Jerusalem to bring their offerings and to be in celebration.

It would have been a time of great reunion – a time to catch up with others who they hadn’t seen in some time.

And yet – on this day of Pentecost

All the disciples are together in one room.

 

Which tells us that this waiting has been hard – they have needed to be together to support one another.  To cry their tears of sadness and wait together for what could possibly be next.  They aren’t feeling so festive.

 

The words (Act 2: 1-41) seem particularly fitting for this moment –

 

O take one of my tears

And stop weeping only for sadness,

For there is so much More to this life

Than you now understand.

 

Jesus had told them that the Spirit is coming – but they still don’t understand.

 

Until the wind begins to blow and the tongues of fire begin to descend and voices – melodious, joyful voices begin to fill the air – with praises to God – in every language – but they heard them in their own language.

 

By this time, the events transpiring could no longer be confined to one room – they were spilling out onto the busy streets – and people were gathering – people from all over the area – pondering in amazement what it is that they were seeing.

 

What a moment.  A moment of AWE.  And a moment of CONNECTION.  Where across barriers of language and ethnicity – the name of God rang out.

 

And they didn’t understand what was happening – some thought they must be drunk.

 

But then the most unlikely character of all – Peter – emerges above the crowd and begins to speak to the crowd.

Peter – the one who had denied that he even knew Jesus –

Peter – the one who had sliced off the ear of a soldier in a heated fury – the one who had walked on water but then started to sink – the one who wept for shame on the day Jesus died.

 

But this is a different Peter.   A Peter who as the poem says -

 

Has become like the Happy One,

O like the Happy One –

Who now lives Forever

Within me

 

When a drop from my Emerald Sea

Touches your soul’s mouth,

It will dissolve everything but your Joy

And an Eternal Wonder

 

THEN,

The Beloved will gladly hire you

As his minstrel

 

To go traveling about this world,

Letting everyone upon this earth

Hear

The Beautiful Names of God

Resound in a Thousand Chords

 

Peter – now filled with the Holy Spirit – has become a minstrel of sorts – and he stands and explains to the crowd –

 

This moment of AWE and CONNECTION you are experienced isn’t because of alcohol.  It’s because of God.

God’s spirit is here and moving.

Out of the death and tears of Jesus – he rose again.

And he promised that he would generously give us the Spirit.

That we would experience the same kind of peace that King David had – where God would be present with us – through the darkest of moments – through our times of tears – and in whose presence has brought us healing and joy.

 

This is the Spirit of Jesus being given and offered to us – that we might turn toward God anew and experience the new life and JOY being offered to us.

 

And Peter – as he stands before them talking – speaking through the power of the Holy Spirit – is a living breathing example of everything of which he is speaking.

 

For in this moment – something extraordinary has happened to him.

 

Peter was no longer looking AT God – with his limited understanding and his personal striving to try and get it right and his fears of the change that was coming…

 

Peter was now looking out at the world – FROM God.

 

Before – it had been all about following and trying to learn and do what Jesus did.

 

But now, the Spirit of the Living God was IN HIM.

And so – filled with the Holy Spirit - he could see things and understand things in a whole new way – in a way – much more in line with the way God sees the world.

 

And it changed everything.

 

And it seems that this joy that Peter had – this insight and this understanding - it

Was contagious –

For the people’s hearts were convicted –

 

What should we do?

 

Repent, change your minds, receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

 

So that you also – can look out at the world – FROM God.

See the world from God’s point of view.

 

And as the poem says –

Let the wounds

Of every lover of God who kneels in prayer

And comes close to your words

Begin, right now,

To disappear.

 

The joy was spreading – for 3,000 people – were baptized on that day.

 

The church was born – out of tears and struggle – new life was beginning.

The wounds were beginning to disappear.

A people of God – no longer looking out AT God.

 

But now – able to see the world FROM God.

 

So, I have to tell you how thankful I am for this Pentecost story – for this birthday remembrance.

 

As we remember that the story of our church began when broken, frail, disheartened and even fearful individuals – came into contact with the living presence of God – and were brave enough to let go and allow God to work within them.

 

To work within their tears and their struggle so that something new could be born.

 

Something that you and I are now the recipients of, nearly 2,000 years later.

 

It was the call of the church the very first hour of our existence – to bring our full selves – and to allow God to take up residence –

 

This morning – I woke up with this feeling in my chest – this feeling that was familiar – it was a feeling of fear – and dread – and worry –

 

Worry about the future of the denomination that I love – worry about the finances of this local church that has become woven into my heart – and worry about my own family and the struggles we may face –

 

And I heard in the quiet hours of the morning – a still small voice that said –

 

Oh April – these things that bring you fear – they are too big for you to carry alone.  Your small self cannot hold them – so why don’t you let me take it from here?

And stop weeping for sadness –

For there is so much more to this life

Than you now understand.

 

Oh, my friends – that we would have the courage of the saints – to recognize what we have within us.  Our legacy and our story –

 

That we might both listen and yield to that Spirit anew.

 

And that we might become minstrels –

 

Sharing the joy that we have known to a world that more than ever needs to know that they are not alone.

 

And that God is at work among us.