June 12, 2011

“No Prelude for Disaster”

Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23

Based upon what happens in the book of Acts after this reading from chapter two, most of us might want to swear off any intervention by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, can be a guest that makes us uncomfortable.   After reading the whole book of Acts, Pentecost seems like a prelude for disaster.

Now, I like the idea of the Holy Spirit as Comforter.   Still, ‘comfort’ is not the first, or sole purpose of the work of the Spirit.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus is telling the disciples he will give them peace, but not as the world gives peace? Did you notice that he shows them the nail prints in his hands?   It is because faithfulness brings comfort.   When Jesus says, “peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world gives, do I give unto you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” This is what he means.  Faithfulness brings comfort.  He shows them it also brings other things.

FIRST, Like Jesus, The Holy Spirit does not come to solve our problems, but to create them.

Baptism is one time when we say, for sure, the Holy Spirit operates.  What we do is take a normal human being and set them apart (through water and the Spirit) for unusual purpose. This purpose is to be a disciple.  Disciples are ordinary people who seek to serve God in their lives, to give testimony in their words and deeds.  We know anyone can witness to Jesus in ordinary life.

Did you notice that once the Spirit comes the disciples do not go back to fishing.  A return to normalcy is no longer an option. They will now be propelled throughout the ancient world to herald the unlikely message that God has redeemed the world through an itinerant preacher from the backwaters of Palestine who was executed for treason and blasphemy. The Holy Spirit doesn’t solve the disciples’ problems, it creates them.

Can you see how this might happen?  What would your life look like if every time you had a decision to make there was a ‘still small voice’ that whispered in your ear, giving you instruction for a faithful answer?  I am not talking about psychosis.  I am talking about how most of the time we do not experience the mighty wind or flames of fire, but a nudge.  A nudge that can be dismissed if I choose to ignore it.  When this happens  I think about several things.  There might be the voice of economics speaking to me.  Maybe on that day the voice comes in the same tone and timbre as my wife’s voice, what would she think?  Sometimes it’s your voice.  What would you think?

The voice promised by Jesus is the Spirit.  It is a voice that often urges us to give up on these other voices and listen to that one.  Doing what the Spirit urges can cause problems because it is not in tune with those other voices that most people listen to.  Those people may even think you’ve been drinking.

Even in the bible, the people, or the crowds don’t always respond favorably to the movement of the Spirit amonst the disciples.  This whole Pentecost story concludes in a few verses by describing the effect the Holy Spirit had on the community of believers.  They loved one another, took care of one another, and had ‘all things in common.’  Doesn’t this sound radical?  How reasonable, according to our usual thinking does this sound?

Anybody who read Acts with me this spring can attest to the fact that every time the disciples listened to the urgings of the Spirit, they did two things:  They testified to Jesus being the Christ, and that testimony got them into trouble.

SECOND, The Holy Spirit doesn’t prevent failure but invites it. Or, to put it slightly differently, the Holy Spirit invites us to find fulfillment and victory in and through our setbacks and failures.

Has anyone heard, “We tried that, and it didn’t work.”  When we say this about the mission of the church, we get it all wrong.  We are not only wrong about the work itself, but the outcome, the product, of every endeavor we take up.

It is naïve to say, “the church is always successful in our mission.”  This is more often true:  “when we started we had no idea how great the blessings of this ministry would be!”  We set out to do something, the Holy Spirit intervenes and the result is something else; not bad, its good, but different.

A couple planned a vacation to Hawaii for months.  The husband, being a organized and frugal man, had scheduled the best price hotels and compact rental cars on their trip.  Arriving the first day in Honolulu, they went to the rental counter, and the clerk said: “I am sorry sir, but all our compact cars are rented out.”  You could see the man’s face redden as he prepared for battle.  Just as quickly, the clerk said, “how about we give you a Mustang convertible at the same price?”  So they loaded their luggage into the snazzy convertible.  Similar ‘upgrades’ occurred all along the trip.  On the plane ride home, the wife turned to her husband and thanked him for arranging all details of a glorious vacation.  The man said, “Yeah, but they never had the car we requested.”

One of the main points that Luke tries to make in the book of Acts is that the disciples listened for the Holy Spirit and then acted on what they heard.   This movement, let’s call it faithfulness, was not in a straight line.  Not everything turned out in a way we would call ‘successful’ or ‘the way we planned it.’  The problems this world – and our congregation – face are too great, too complex, and too significant to imagine that we will hit upon the best solution the first time out…or maybe ever.  There will be setbacks.  Setbacks and struggle have nothing to do with faithfulness.

If the Holy Spirit were to descend upon this gathering, moving and motivating us, I am quite sure there would be activity in its wake that would surprise many.   There would be more money in the plate. There would be more Evangelism outside our doors.  We would be even more welcoming than we are. Mission would not be an afterthought with the left overs, but part and parcel of who we are.

See, Pentecost is not a prelude for disaster.  St. Paul reminds us that the true gift of the Spirit benefits the whole community…the Spirit is not for our personal enjoyment.  John reminds us that we do not have to face the world armed with nothing but fond memories of how it was when Jesus was here.  In Acts the Holy Spirit moves people to do things that seem hard, or even impossible.  But disaster?  No.  The gift of the Spirit brings direction, it brings strength for being faithful.