Sunday, 19 May 2013

May 19th Sermon "Happy Birthday Church"

            Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and the birthday of the church. It is one of my favourite days in the church year and not because red is my favourite colour or because we can have cake in church. I love Pentecost because of the drama and because without this day the church, and I don’t mean The United Church of Canada or Cochrane Street United Church, I mean the church universal would not exist. Without Pentecost no one would have been brave enough to tell the stories of Jesus Christ.

            Let me take you back in time, after creation, after the flood the people of the world spoke one language. They were united not only by language but a common purpose – to build a tower to the heavens. But as the people built the tower higher and higher, they forgot why they began in the first place. They lost sight of God and began to think that they were better than anyone else working on the tower. They even began to think that they could do this work better than God could. Slowly but surely the arguments broke out and groups formed. Each group believed it was better than the other. And the tower began to crumble. Instead of one language there were many languages and the people scattered around the world.

            Fast forward thousands of years to a stable in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus is not us building a tower up to the heavens but God coming to dwell among us. The birth of Jesus marks a new beginning in our relationship with God. Without Jesus’ birth, there would be no ministry, no teaching, no preaching, no death and no resurrection. In short no reminder of God’s love for us. The Godly Play Story of the Holy Family finishes this way, “Here is the little baby reaching out to give you a hug. He grew up to be a man and died on the cross. That is very sad, but it is also wonderful, in an Easter kind of way. Now he can reach out and give the whole world a hug. He is not just back then, in this place or that place. He is everywhere and in every time.”

With Jesus’ birth something new begins but it is not complete until the day of Pentecost. The first Pentecost begins with the disciples locked in a room filled with fear. It was not that long ago when the crowds were waving palm branches, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  But all too quickly the cheering turned to “Crucify him, crucify him.” The disciples learn that following Jesus comes with a price and for Jesus the price was a cruel death on the cross. After Jesus’ death the disciples were afraid. They locked themselves in rooms. They whispered quietly amongst themselves about seeing Jesus – like the day Mary came running in saying, “I have seen the Lord.”  But they spoke of it no one other than the trusted group of insiders. They were terrified to mention Jesus’ name in public places for fear that they might die like he did.

            Even in their fear they felt Jesus’ presence. Two saw him walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared in the room and invited the disciples to touch him. They even followed Jesus up to the Mount of Olivet where he was lifted up to be with God. Even with Jesus so close, even though they know he lives, they are afraid to say the name of the one who changed their lives.

            Every day they gathered behind locked doors for prayers. Sometimes Peter gave a message. And then they left to go about their daily lives. Until the day that changed everything. On the day of Pentecost the disciples and other believers were gathered together in one place. When all of a sudden the wind blew open the doors and filled the whole house. Divided tongues as of fire appeared and rested on them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak in all the languages of the world.

            It was with the gift of the Spirit that the disciples found the courage to take the message of Jesus from behind locked doors and out in the world. Peter says it best, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” People were amazed and confused because they heard the news in their own language. The message that they heard was the message of God’s love. The message they heard was that Jesus died to give us new life. The church was born that day when the Spirit blew open those locked doors and locked lips. The church was born that day as the disciples shared the story of Jesus’ life, his death and his resurrection.

            Today we may hear this story and chalk it all up to a fanciful tale. Who has heard of the Holy Spirit blowing open doors? Or divided tongues as of fire resting on people and helping them to speak. But just because we can’t rationally explain the mystery of Pentecost does not meant it isn’t true. Something powerful and amazing happened to give the disciples the courage to share the good news. If those disciples had stayed afraid, remained behind locked doors then we would not know the stories of Jesus and be sitting here today. Something amazing happened.

David R. Henson in his blog “Edges of Faith” writes: “On Pentecost day, God spoke outside the walls of temple religiosity and outside the halls of political power. God spoke in the streets. The divine voice manifested in all languages and in all peoples, not just in the imperial Latin of the Roman occupiers who conquered the promised land and not just in the language of the religious elite who restricted access to God with oppressive temple taxes. Rather, God spoke in the vernacular of the everyday and the everywhere. On Pentecost, God gives the divine voice to the languages of a bunch of nobodies and a crowd of commoners. It is an act of liberation, both for humankind and for God.” ( )

On this day of Pentecost in 2013, how will we follow in the footsteps of those early disciples who took the message of new life in Christ out from behind locked doors and into the streets? It is not easy, in fact it can be downright scary to boldly share the message of Jesus. I confess that when I meet new people I avoid the topic of my profession and my faith. I lead with mother, wife and not “I am a United Church minister and disciple of Christ.” It can be scary. It is uncomfortable.

But if the disciples had let fear stop them, then we would not be sitting here today. I invite you to join me in letting go of that fear and start to tell the stories of the one who changes our lives and calls us to be in the world sharing love, hope and the promise of new life with others. We won’t be the first and we certainly won’t be the last. We find ourselves in the good company of those who’ve gone before us in faith and those who will come after us.

Let us pass on to a new generation of believers the life giving, life altering, life-saving message of Jesus in ever new ways. The disciples had to learn new languages. Maybe, just maybe, the Spirit is blowing open the doors of this church, calling us to tell the old story in new ways. Maybe the Spirit is calling us to learn the language of a digital age. The good news blog or posting stories of Jesus on Facebook. Maybe we’ll learn to tweet the good news in a 140 characters. #Pentecost is the breath of God blowing open the locked doors of our lives freeing us to tell the stories of Jesus.  #Jesuslives. Amen.

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