A number of years ago my wife and I took our son to children’s concert on Mother’s Day. The performer was a fellow named Tom Chapin. He was at an auditorium in the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Chapin’s music is folksy and fun with funny lyrics he writes himself. A typical song goes like this:
Before the days of Jello
Lived a prehistoric fellow
Who met a maid and courted her
Beneath the banyan tree
And they had lots of children
And their children all had children
They kept on having children
Until one of them had me
So, that day Tom Chapin was playing his guitar and singing his songs. And he gets to into an instrumental riff. While he’s strumming away at the strings, he steps a bit closer to the microphone and says, “I see we have some really cool people here. Some really cool people who like to sing. Some really cool people who like to clap. Some really cool people who sway with beat. And some really, really cool people who are so cool that they don’t move at all. We call them “dads.”
There is something about men, particularly in public. We don’t let loose in song and dance. We stay inside ourselves, right? Many of us might say we do this as an act of charity to those around us. It saves them from having to watch us sing and dance. As a man – at least for me – I feel like there is something improper about letting loose. Certainly something a little big foolish if I did it.
Of course, women do this, too. My wife is a free spirit at a children’s concert or a parade at Disney World. Tell her we have guests coming over to the hosue and see what happens. Furious cleaning. If it is family coming over – watch out. Even more. I’ve learned in 20 years of marriage that it is the height of stupidity at a time like that to say, “Sweetie, its only family. They are coming to see us, not the house.”
There is something so worried about looking improper that we clam up or tense up. We get tight – even when our personality is normally free spirited and open.
The disciples weren’t being asked to dance or expecting house guests, but they also were in a tight place. They were closed up and closed off, literally.
When we meet them today, they are gathered together inside a house when something miraculous happens.
But before we can talk about that, let’s take a moment and remember who these people were.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he grew up in Galilee. Galilee was a tiny region that today would straddle the border of Israel and Lebanon. North to south Galillee is about as far as it is from here to Bloomington. It was a region of villages and not much worth paying attention to. It was in this tiny and no account place that Jesus gathered up a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors and other average folks and set about a ministry that would change the world.
Only they didn’t know that, did they?
One of the great joys of reading the gospels is watching the disciples stumble around clueless. They are so human, so much like us. Jesus tells them a parable, they don’t understand. Jesus performs a miracle, and they start arguing about which of them will be first in the kingdom of God. Jesus asks them to stay awake while he prays, and they fall asleep. Jesus is dragged off to be murdered and Peter, the leader of them all, denies him three times. A woman in the courtyard recognizes Peter as one of those Galileans running around with Jesus, and he shouts her down, “I do not know the man!”
After Jesus was crucified, they scattered and hid behind closed doors.
When Jesus came to them – after the shock wore off – what a relief the disciples must have felt. All the things Jesus had said and promised were true. And then he told them in the first chapter of Acts, he told them he was leaving them again. They could not believe it. They were staggered. “Jesus,” they asked, “are you going to bring in the kingdom first? You know, before you go?”
Jesus rises up into the heavens and they are staring up after him. They stare until a couple of angels shake them out of it. They are leaderless. They have no idea what to do. When they replace Judas, they just look up at God and flip a coin. You decide, they say.
So, here we find them. Clueless. Leaderless. Huddled together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem. Looking up toward heaven and saying to God, we don’t know what to do? You tell us, Lord. All those free spirited days back in Galilee are long behind them. There is no singing or dancing.
How their enemies must have clucked about that. Here were these troublemakers – these hicks from up in Galilee – who had been talking big about God’s kingdom. Now they are reduced to babbling about their dead messiah coming back from the dead. It wouldn’t be long, no doubt, before they rounded up and treated the same way.
Can we blame them for hiding in the house? Wouldn’t you do the same thing? Wouldn’t I?
But we know, don’t we, that God does not like closed up and tight faith. God doesn’t want us huddling in the house. God doesn’t like an indoor faith.
So he grabbed the disciples and shook them.
There’s a scene in the movie Forrest Gump that comes to my mind when I think about what happened in that house. Now, the movie has a lot of things in it that a Methodist pastor would not approve of. One of the characters is a profane man who lost his legs in the Vietnam War. He thought it was his destiny to die in the war and was angry at God and the title character – Forrest Gump – who saved his life in a firefight. Years after the war, the two are working on a struggling shrimp boat crew. The legless Lieutenant Dan is up on the very top of the mast. Down below, Forrest gump is sorting throug another empty shrimp net. Lieutenant Dan asks Gump in a mocking tone, “Where is this God of yours?”
In one of the great lines of the movie, Tom Hanks, who plays Gump says tells us in a voice over, “It’s funny Lieutenant Dan said that, ’cause right then, God showed up.”
The shrimp boat is caught in the brutal wind and storm of Hurricane Camille. The sea boils. The winds lash at the ship and roar. Lightning burns across the sky.
When God shows up, it creates quite a ruckus.
This is what the Book of Acts reports. When the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples, there is fire and roaring wind. The disciples are shaken and seized by power.
Crowds gather and gawk. The old enemies of the disciples mock them, saying they must be drunk.
To answer them, Peter – this man who had been shouting that he did not even know Jesus – stands up in the crowd and proclaims the good news of the gospel.
When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, it stirred things up.
When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, it drew a crowd.
When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, it pushed them out of doors and into the public.
So, here is the question for us today on this Pentecost Sunday: Do we really want this to happen to us?
Do we? Right now?
Do we believe it is even possible?
Last week, as we shared Holy Communion, we prayed for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon us.
Are those just words?
Do we believe that this room could at this second fill with the Holy Spirit? We could be caught in a wind like a hurricane swirling through this space. Tongues of fire could burst down and in through the ceiling. Do we believe that could happen right now?
The world outside this church tells us we would be crazy to believe that. In a world that makes us nervous about clapping our hands in public or sends us scurrying to clean our homes when the company is coming, Christians who actually say they expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit are looked at as kooks. They would mock us just as they made fun of the disciples. That’s just a little country church in Greene County, they’d say. Pay them no mind.
Well, to be honest, I think we sometimes get all tangled up as Christians. We get stuck quizzing each other over what we believe. Belief is important. Faith, hope, and love abide these three. But the greatest of these is love.
Do we believe the Holy Spirit could fill this room right now?
Brothers and sisters, I tell you truly, if there is love in this room, I believe the Holy Spirit already fills it. The Holy Spirit is among us now. God chooses not to work so much with flashes and awe these days, but God works just the same. On that Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit took a rag-tag bunch of disciples and turned them into the church. The Spirit took people just like us, and did great and wonderful things with them.
The good news today is that God longs to do the same with us.
If we wait on the Lord. If we listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If we set our hearts to loving God and loving our neighbors, the Holy Spirit will be powerfully among us just as he was powerfully with the first Christians. The special effects may be less dramatic, but the power is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Brothers and sisters, as Christians, we are Easter people. But it was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that created the church. It has been the Holy Spirit that has sustained it throughout the centuries. And it is the Holy Spirit that today we pray will continue to nurture our church and our faith.
On this Pentecost Sunday we pray for the outpouring the Spirit. We pray to be shaken loose from our comfort. May we here be used by God to do a great new thing for his kingdom.