June 1, 2014 Acts 2: 1-21
Henry Ford once said, “You are what you think. You are what you go for. You are what you do.” I imagine he was applying these principles to the world of business and productivity, but they were ringing in my ears this week as I thought about Pentecost. There’s a lot of truth in those words.
Let’s expand the concept beyond the world of business to life itself. I propose “We are, or we become, what we fill ourselves with.” Fill yourself with a diet of double bacon cheese burgers, fries, soft drinks and Hagan-Daz and you become a walking time bomb for heart disease.
Fill yourself with fear, guilt, shame, hatred, or any of the other dead, powerless, distracting, life-draining emotions and you become an angry, bitter, incapacitated person, cut off from the life-affirming spirit of God.
We become that which we fill ourselves with. It colors our lives - how we see the world - how we respond to what is happening around us. We become that which we fill ourselves with, and we project that onto the world and it becomes our vision for the future.
What are you filling yourself with? What’s running through your mind these days and settling there? It doesn’t all run in one ear and out the other. Some of it gets stuck.
As many of you know I recently returned from three weeks away, where I filled myself with the energy of NYC and the joy of serving others; with inspiring books I had time to read; with relaxing time in nature; with new ideas and creativity and sharing at a five day Worship Leadership Workshop, and most important, with the love of family and friends.
What I left behind were 24 hour cable news reports, newspapers, and a broken world that I couldn’t begin to fix anytime soon, let alone during those weeks I was away. It was a temporary reprieve from the worries and negative energy that can creep in and consume us if we’re not careful - an energy that is ultimately counterproductive to creating the kin-dom Jesus envisioned.
Flying home I was immersing myself in an inspiring book when the woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. I should have known better.
We started talking about travel - safe topic, right? - and the next thing I knew she side tracked into the state of the world, how all the indicators: wars, natural disasters point to it’s all coming to an end - and soon. She was convinced this was it, and there was no point trying to change her mind.
Now, I doubt any of you sitting here today are worried about the end times, but I ask you: What are you filling yourselves with?
The disciples in our scripture from Acts were living in fearful times. They too were anticipating end times happening during their life time. But first they were waiting for the Holy Spirit. And they weren’t really sure what the Holy Spirit was all about, or how the Holy Spirit’s arriving would impact their lives, or even when this was going to happen.
So here they are, holed up in a room, filled - I would imagine - with a certain amount of anxiety, if not down right fear. After all, Jesus is gone, crucified, their mentoring is over, and they have to try and figure out what to do with themselves - how to carry on.
But Jesus had instructed them to wait for what the Father promised: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When this happens, “you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” That probably sounded like hyperbole, but it gave them hope, so they waited in anticipation. They were ready and open for anything God had to offer.
What they got was beyond their wildest imagination. Luke pulled out all the stops, throwing in every metaphor for God he could think of in describing what happened next. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Wow!
They left that room empowered, fired up, full of courage, purpose - ready to speak, teach, evangelize as never before. Peter, who weeks before had denied he even knew Jesus, found his voice. Later in the chapter he encourages the masses to “Change your life... Turn to God and be baptized ... Receive the Holy Spirit ... Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”
And it’s not just Peter who is filled with the Spirit. That tongue of fire descended on each one of them. Knowing God was with them, they were able to let go of whatever fear, anxiety, confusion, hopelessness they harbored. Letting go opened them up - wide open for the Spirit to enter and fill them.
Luke tells us, “That day about three thousand took Peter at his word, were baptized and signed up..... Everyone around was in awe - all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.” Wow!
We know that didn’t last, but it was sure a fine beginning!
At that moment theirs was a vision of the future filled with hope and promise. That’s hard to sustain, just ask the woman sitting next to me on the plane. Looking around, it’s tempting to become overwhelmed with what is wrong with the world and miss the Spirit working in our lives.
While on vacation I realized I was being filled by the Spirit. It happens in so many ways and places - even on the streets of New York, if you’re open to it.
2,000 years and still no end times. The kin-dom hasn’t come yet. We’re still working on it. I don’t think Jesus came to prepare us to die. He came to show us how to live - to show us the Way, as the early Christians called it. And it began in earnest for the disciples in that Spirit filled room.
What can we learn from their Pentecost experience? We’re told they emerged from that room gifted and inspired to spread the good news to all people, in all corners of the world. We’re the inheritors of that mission. We too are called to prophesy, to see visions and dream dreams - to spread God’s love.
Not easy in today’s world. It’s an odd phenomenon, as the world has become more unified through technology and globalization, we’ve also grown more tribal in many ways - threatened by our differences - more polarized in our views, be they religious, cultural or political.
As the world becomes more complex and diverse, individuals have become more entrenched in their beliefs, holding fast to their truths, making communication more challenging. How do we cross that divide? How do we voice our own truths without trampling on those of others?
Here I think Luke’s depiction of the Pentecost experience has something to say to us. He tells of everyone speaking in their native language and yet they are able to understand each other. They haven’t lost their own identity and yet they can come to a common understanding. Voice has been given to all the tribes of the earth, but they produce a united global message of God’s love and faithfulness. The Spirit guides them across the divide.
There’s so much derogatory, hate speech out there today, from all sides, demeaning anyone who holds a different viewpoint, a different belief. Michael King, dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, wrote in the Christian Century: “What we need now are ways to understand each other across the ever thinner slices of truth that we seem too often to cherish as the whole truth.... what if we asked what it might look like not to try to change each other’s languages, not to change each other’s certainty that God does or doesn’t champion this or that cause, person or group, but at least seek to understand each other’s tongue?”
“What would it look like if in our worship, our sermonizing, our Christian education, our delegate conventions, our speaking truth to power, we invited the Holy Spirit among us to bring us the miracle of understanding? What would happen if amid our ongoing speaking in our native tongues and world views and truths, we could at least marvel at understanding what the other was saying, whether or not we could shout amen? ...”
“What if instead of building Babel, that tower rising from our common language, our easy agreement with those of like mind, we built an altar and knelt before it as we waited? What if what we waited for was the coming of the wind and fire that would be able to help us glimpse that the others, so terribly and tragically mistaken, are still our brothers and sisters, because even in these days of sun turned to darkness and moon to blood, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’”?
Beautifully put. To this I would add:
If we could do this, maybe, just maybe, we might realize that we are more alike than different; that we even hold some of the same truths, that if we think we have all the answers God just might have something to say about that - that God doesn’t have favorites, God’s love is for everyone; that we are actually striving for the same things in life; that we have the same visions and are dreaming the same dreams.
The woman next to me on the plane and I came to agree that it really didn’t matter if we believed the end times were upon us or not, we live our lives the way we do because, as she put it, “it’s the right thing to do”.
Today we’re celebrating Pentecost, the birthday of the church, a time to fill ourselves with the Spirit; a time to see visions and dream dreams. As we gather after worship for our annual meeting, be aware of what you are filling yourself with, be thinking about your visions and dreams for the Eliot Church of Newton in this coming year. May it be one filled with the Spirit and open to all.