Sermons That Work

Have You Ever Bought…, Day of Pentecost (B) – 2006

June 04, 2006

Have you ever bought something that needed to be assembled? After struggling to get the huge package into the house, and further struggling to open the wretched thing, the instructions are tucked right at the bottom.

The instruction booklet is in a number of languages, the English translation — for that is obviously what it is — tucked amidst other languages and alphabets.

There’s a list of all sorts of nuts and bolts, a few odd-looking tools, which look much too fragile for the job, and then the assembling parts, heavy and awkward to manipulate. One feels lost, confused, and even helpless. “If only Josh (or whoever) were here,” we think. He knows how to do this sort of stuff. It’s even worse when he ordered this thing and then left us to it, assuring us that we would have the skill to get the task finished.

I often think that the disciples in that Upper Room, after the Ascension and before Pentecost, held a long, long vestry meeting. The task had been assigned. They were to go into the whole world telling about the Good News of the Resurrection, baptizing those who believed. They were to be “witnesses.” That word, from which we get “martyr,” means life-givers. That’s a risky and dangerous business.

They were to be a new race, or tribe, or nation. Anyone who believed could join. It didn’t matter what gender one was, or one’s race, language, nationality, customs, or religion: all were welcome.

So what did they do? They held an election. It made them look on task. It made them look busy. It’s a pity we don’t know what they talked about. The treasurer had committed suicide and the books were in a mess. Someone must have said that there was no way they could afford to go into the entire world. Someone else may have suggested that it was dangerous to go outside the Upper Room. After all, they were the chosen. Who would do the work if they were killed or thrown in prison?

Someone else must have said that they were no good at evangelism, and after all, everyone has a right to their own religion. Perhaps Jesus had been poetic? Surely he didn’t mean that they were actually to “convert” people?

The Upper Room must have felt so safe, so comfortable. It was in that room that Jesus had given them the Eucharist. At least they could be obedient in doing that. Maybe others would come from outside and join them?

And then something extraordinary happened. They were all attacked by what seemed to be wind and fire, the ancient symbols of God’s presence. That energy, that being set on fire with confidence, thrust them out into the street, where they were soon accused of being drunk at ten o’clock in the morning.

As we read in the Gospel this morning, all this had been promised. Now all those fears and doubts, all those reasonable objections to Jesus’ command evaporated. The Church was on the move. The Church was intended to be on the move. It was not intended for Upper Rooms. It was intended for the street, for people, and places everywhere.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t given so individuals could have a form of “spirituality” just for them. The Spirit wasn’t given to an elite group so that they could practice a religion close to their political opinions, left, right, or center. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church to enable it to be the Church. In its power, the Church is enabled to put things together and to be together.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t guarantee that the decisions we make together are wise or good. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the Church and the Church’s mission will go on and on until kingdom come. It is the truth of kingdom which is, and is to come, into which the Spirit leads us. The Holy Spirit shows us Jesus and brings us to the Father. The Holy Spirit moves in the water; in bread, and wine, and oil; and in our prayers, private and collective. Above all, the Holy Spirit drives us out of the safety and security of our local Upper Rooms, our parishes. The Holy Spirit pushes us beyond ourselves, our abilities, expectations, and safety levels.

Today we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.” Watch out! Your prayer may be answered.

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Christopher Sikkema


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