“Pentecost: A Party Called Life”
Acts 2: 1-21 ~ Rev. G. Scot t Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ May 31, 2020
I don’t know about you, but I would like to propose that it’s time for a PARTY! I am thinking about a BIG party where everyone is gathered together, yes gathered together…no social distancing…and actually gathered together! We are so close that people are shaking hands; people are embracing and hugging and kissing and rejoicing. Music is playing, people are dancing and singing. And we are gathered together in harmony…in joy…in celebration. I don’t know about you, but after this pandemic is finally over, I think that it will be time for a grand party like no other!
In the church, there three major parties that occur through the year. We don’t, necessarily, call them parties. We prefer to use words like “feast days” and “high holy days”. But really, at core, ‘parties’ are what they are. You can easily name the first two, I’m sure. They are times that church attendance spikes as the larger community digs a little deeper into their personal sense of meaning and spirituality and gather around the church. The first two parties I am speaking about, of course, are Christmas: the birthing of the Son of God, the light of the nations, God’s reflection present and enfleshed in the vulnerability of a child. The second party, of course, is Easter: the triumph of God’s power over the that of the powers of darkness; the promise of new life following death; the mystery and gift of the resurrection. There is a third party which calls us to celebration. It is one which, oddly enough, does not seem to catch people’s attention like the other two. Yet, it is equally wonderful. This third party calling us to celebration is one we gather for today…the party of Pentecost.
Some mathematics might help put this in perspective. As you know, our Bible is a collection of books. That is where we get the name for books from ~ ‘biblio’. A bibliophile is one who loves and collects books, and the Bible is our faith collection of the sacred books that we have as a Christian people. Our bible contains 66 individual books! That’s quite a collection! But what is equally amazing is that only 4 of those books contain the direct recording of the Jesus life, his ministry, his death and resurrection. 17% of our sacred books, the 4 gospels, actually tell the direct story of Jesus. The remaining 83% tell the faith stories of people ~ both before and after Jesus life. These books contain the faith stories of people who are broken and go astray; faith stories of people who seek redemption and wholeness; and then faith stories (after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) who seek full union with God through God’s coming in Jesus and God’s promised return again. Now, for Christians, Jesus Christ is certainly where God places the exclamation mark in our faith, so it is worthy for us to have two parties celebrating Christmas and Easter. However, given that 83% of our holy books focus on God’s people living faith, growing in faith, and seeking redemption, I would suggest that there is a third party that is equally worthy to be celebrated…so let’s party ‘Pentecost style!’
There is a beautiful dynamic at play in the Pentecost party that is important to be clear upon. This dynamic begins with God’s continued action of reaching out to all creation. God’s nature is one of creating and continually reaching out. God created the light and the darkness, the land and the seas; the creatures and the plants and trees; God created us. God creates and continues reaching out; that is what God does. When creation goes awry, God continues to reach out. Shaping us like a potter at the wheel; bringing us home from slavery and bondage; liberating us from all that is sin / separating us from God. God’s nature is that of reaching out…time and time again. The pairing of this theological dynamic occurs in our response. Pentecost highlights our action of reaching back to God. The Pentecost reading that Terry offered shows the two responses that are provoked in our humanity to God’s reaching out to us.
The most natural human response is that of pessimism towards God’s ‘reaching out’ to us. The text puts it this way: “others sneered, ‘they are filled with new wine.’” The response of pessimism in a God that could be so loving, so gracious, so compassionate is, well, only natural. Perhaps every sermon should begin with a disclaimer, from the preacher, so that their listeners know that what they hear is true! We are not drunk. This is the truth of God. God is reaching out to you, even when you aren’t welcoming Him; God is yearning to love you when you feel unlovable; God is desiring to heal you, when you feel broken; God is yearning to bring you home, when you are lost. God is reaching out to you. The alternative response, rather than pessimism, is where the Pentecost party begins. The text records it as the people being “amazed and perplexed.” Pentecost arises from our amazement over God’s action of reaching out. Pentecost is that action of our reaching back, even though we are perplexed by God’s love and grace. Pentecost is the completion of the dynamic God’s reaching out as we reach back to God. It is akin to the beautiful exchange between two lovers; the dance shared between two partners; it is the mutuality of the ‘God in us’ reaching back to full extent of God extended towards us.
So, then, how do we reach back towards God? This has been the perennial problem for how we have done church. Generally, we come to church and prefer to spend a lot of time listening. When I prepare my weekly reflection, I go the scriptures prescribed for the week and I seek to faithfully listen for God speaking to the unique times in which we live that week. And listening is a good thing; however, it must not stop there. Pentecost is this call to reach back. Pentecost is our response having heard God’s word; our response having been touched by the Spirit; our response having experienced God’s reaching out…Pentecost is our action of reaching back. How does it look? I believe that every person has a sermon to preach…And I would love for you to put me and every other preacher out of work on Sunday morning. Now, you might not call it a sermon…you might call it your life…you might call it a life to be lived with meaning, with faith, with integrity…a sermon to be preached as a faithful response of God’s reaching out as you faithfully live your life. Having been touched by the Spirit, we respond back with the living of our lives. We experience the movement of the Spirit and we are unstoppably moved to dance with that same Spirit through the rhythm of the living of our lives. One powerful word that we often lose its spiritual roots is ‘inspiration’. Inspiration has wonderful roots going back to 16th century Latin inspiratus, which means “the drawing of the air into the lungs”. And prior to that, it goes back to the Greek word theopneustos which speaks to the source of the air “God-breathed” into our lungs. Inspiration is that spiritual component that lives within each one of us through God’s breath, through the Spirit, through the Pentecost Party. It is God’s Spirit extended unto us; it is God’s presence inside us. When we are inspired, we are filled with God’s Spirit breath and we create; we reach back out in holy ways.
And that is where the Pentecost Project comes in. This year, in these unique times, I wanted to ask the spiritual question of how we have each seen the Spirit blessing, guiding and living during the pandemic. This has been a time, like no other, that we have seen the Spirit alive and we have faithfully responded. This has been a time of deep growth…and tremendous response. This has been a time where the dynamic of God reaching out to us and the God within us has been reaching back.
In the proceeding video, you will hear the response to that question from a few of the members of this church. A testament to the living of their faith lives as they reach back to God’s grace extended…God’s love offered…God’s faithfulness promised and given.