Sermons That Work

Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Earthquakes…, Day of Pentecost (C) – 2007

May 27, 2007

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami waves fascinate us. Their destructive force seems to come out of nowhere to wreak havoc upon man and nature. Television gives many people the chance to watch their devastation from a safe distance, so that they mean only fantastic images in the mind’s eye.

A different experience falls to those subjected to any of these natural forces first hand.

Suddenly comes a new respect for the immense power residing in nature, real and dangerous – a power that before had no meaning or existence, so hidden and remote did it remain from the predictable routine of daily life.

Such an experience changes lives. In an instant the world is turned upside down by the tremendous release of energy through water, air, fire, and earth. An unrecognizable landscape and devastated communities are left in its wake.

Science helps us to understand the systems behind this release of energy. But the world continues to be caught by surprise by its many manifestations. We are continually reminded of our fragile existence within creation.

Another power, a creative power of an altogether different dimension and magnitude informs our faith. It is this power that changes lives at Pentecost.

It is the power that was received by a small, insignificant, and unsophisticated group of men and women gathered in Jerusalem waiting for a promise to be fulfilled. The horizons of their world were limited to the countryside of Galilee and Palestine until the spirit opened their hearts and minds to a greater world beyond.

Nothing could have prepared them for the magnitude of their enlightenment, as they responded to this world-shattering experience of the supernatural creative spirit of God. To stand in its path was to catch fire with divine love. In an instant their world was turned inside out by a tremendous rush of creative power released into their hearts and minds, souls and bodies, manifesting as flames about their heads.

This inrush of creative energy, that unifies more powerfully than natural powers tear apart, poured itself out among them. The eyes of their hearts were opened to a completely different category of experience, unknown to the world.

They saw a new world, through new eyes. The differences of culture and language that separated one from another crumbled before this unifying power. Suddenly each could speak and hear, with the same understanding, the stories of God’s deeds of power.

As the power of nature opens us up to the enormity of its scale and its ability to destroy, so too the power of the Spirit opens our hearts to a new relation among men, a new intimacy with God. Man-made bridges crumble before natural disasters; the Spirit built bridges beyond time and space, between slave and free, man and woman, Jew and Gentile.

It is this power, the power of the Spirit of God, that changes lives at Pentecost. This supernatural power that sustains creation, reunites what has been torn apart, reconciles the alienated.

The spirit of Pentecost rushes into the world as if out of nowhere, and breathes life into the midst of death.

This is Pentecost, the outpouring of God’s spirit upon the disciples, then and now.

Then and now, when the spirit rushes in and breaks open the old naiveté to reveal the magnitude of God’s connecting power, there is no returning to the old frame of reference. Lives are changed forever: their lives and our lives. Hearts are broken open to a dimension of relationship newly reconciled through the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son to the Father in eternity. There is no end to the horizon of God’s embrace. Disciples see things differently, know things differently, hear things differently, and are sent forth as apostles to share what they see, and know, and hear.

God opened the way and taught their hearts, and now other languages, other voices, other experiences are no longer foreign to our own. All are one in God’s love through the power of his reconciling spirit.

For God’s power has been received and has revealed the unity of creation, which exceeds beyond our capacity to comprehend, and beyond the power of nature and man to destroy.

Suddenly the systems of oppression that bind and imprison seem insignificant compared to the marvelous freedom the spirit of God breathes into man, this fragile beloved child. Now filled with the power of God, he is made capable of extending God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness to the blind world. For he is made to see through God’s eyes that a new covenant has indeed replaced the old, and a Chosen people are chosen to deliver the good news: that God calls all into this freedom of his spirit.

Year after year on this day, we remember how the first disciples, newly baptized by the spirit, became apostles and were sent forth, sent out, sent beyond the comfortable yet confining horizons of Galilee. They were sent into the noisy urban world of the diaspora, the pagan world of Rome, where for the first time, “others,” those unlike themselves, could be seen and heard not as alien, suspicious, impure, and other, but as “self,” beloved children of God.

We are reminded of the creative energy of God, which overwhelms the destructive powers of man and nature so that we too might learn to discern the spirit as it rushes through our own world, reconciling, reuniting all of creation through us, within us, for us.

The spirit leads us into a new frame of reference, in the divine dimension of love, where slaves are made children, visions and dreams speak of a reality that does not conform to a world dark and bloodied by the violence of our blindness. The spirit sent forth creates the world anew, if we can but see it.

Skeptics and cynics may sneer, disbelieving, in their attempts to recall the living back to the old dead world of isolation and suspicion, of “us” and “other,” where slaves fall back in fear, where suffering is a meaningless mist of pain, and faces are nameless, soulless shadows against an unchanging heaven.

There are times when even those alive in the spirit, become weary of the world, and like Philip, need encouragement.

How is their longing to see the Father to be satisfied? How might we see Jesus?

Peter tells the skeptics, the cynics, the amazed and perplexed that this Jesus, through his spirit, is now to be sought right in the midst of destructive forces. When the world may seem as if the sun has turned dark and the moon to blood, look there for men and women going quietly about God’s work, creating order out of chaos, offering compassion to the suffering and hope to the desperate. In ordinary and extraordinary ways, at the scene of natural disasters and the most unnatural ones, the spirit of God rushes in to heal and mend, to recreate anew.

There is Pentecost.
Whenever, in the depths of the most destructive forces of our own hearts,
We discover a more creative force compelling us toward
Reconciliation, toward kindness, toward forgiveness.
There the spirit is rushing in,
Giving us new eyes to see, new ears to hear,
New voices to speak God’s love.
There is Pentecost.

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Christopher Sikkema


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