Sermon for June 9th, “The Adventure of Pentecost”
“And suddenly you just know….it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings!” Those words from the 14th C. German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart speaks true to this day, both to Pentecost and transition. I suppose you could sum up the entire celebration of Pentecost using that quote. As the disciples were instructed by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem until the Father sends them the gift of the Holy Spirit, they were in a time of waiting. They had been through so much change. The disciples followed Jesus allowing him the opportunity to teach them, show them miracles, and serve alongside them; then Jesus was arrested, crucified, and died and out of nowhere Jesus was alive again and continued to teach them until he ascended into heaven. Then they were to wait, again. Perhaps that waiting was a gift. They had much to reflect on and wrestle with as they waited for the next transition to come.
Maybe they had to simply stop and take in the change before being sent. This reminds me of the quote by Bishop Will Willimon, “Change, especially when we don’t know where it is headed, opens space for the Holy Spirit to intrude and show us what God can do.” Resurrection was a change from what they knew to what God can do. Pentecost was a change from what they thought they could do to trusting what God can do. Maybe the excitement and energy of Easter can take us only so far. Maybe God knew that they and we would need a shove or a push to move forward into what God was calling them and is calling us to do. I believe without a doubt that there was great energy, excitement, fear, and new life, resurrection again, in the disciples on that fiftieth day of Pentecost, the Jewish Festival. They were together in one place when a strong wind blew through the house. They saw tongues of fire resting upon each of them. And suddenly they just knew, it was time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings!
When they felt the fire of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost they knew it was time to go. As Bishop William Barber preached, “When the fire of Jesus is in you, you can’t stop. When you are a child of the resurrection, it’s like fire burning in your soul.” There is great risk in believing this, even more when you experience the fire of Pentecost and then actually live it out. Pentecost is a risky celebration, as the Spirit moves in amazing and surprising ways. I have a good friend who told me once that we make plans and God just laughs. That’s the movement of the Holy Spirit. Last fall, I started to wonder if God wasn’t calling me to something new. There was a stirring in my soul, a fire that was being kindled deep within. As I attended church the week after Christmas in Fort Wayne, as were visiting family, I heard one thing that morning, I can’t even tell you what was said in the sermon except, “God will be with you wherever you go.” I started to hear and see that message everywhere. After much prayer and conversation with my spiritual director, I finally found the courage to share with my District Superintendent that God might be calling me to something new. I submitted my name for a church that I thought would be a good fit and then God just laughed. The Holy Spirit had something else in store as God has called me to South Bend First, a church that I really feel called to serve.
Yes, there is risk involved in this move, as there is with any. I realize that, but I also know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t call me to play it safe. Nothing great comes from playing it safe. We are all called to be challenged. When we are challenged we grow, but when we seek safety, we lock ourselves into a place where we don’t have the room to grow. Just like the disciples who were behind locked, closed doors after the resurrection, they needed Jesus to get them out of that place. Jesus showed up in the midst of the unknown with this common phrase, “Peace be with you.” It wasn’t just a momentary peace, but a call forward. As the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John reminds us, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Never once did Jesus say, “Come, settle down with me.” Jesus said, “I am sending you. Follow me. Go!” We don’t go alone, we go with the Holy Spirit of God.
I have said often that if you wonder if it’s the Holy Spirit moving in your life then you must have two ingredients. You must be filled with great excitement and energy for this new thing happening along with a healthy dose of fear. The Spirit calls us, not just on Pentecost, but always to give up what is safe and comfortable to follow God. If you aren’t really nervous and really excited, it’s probably not the Spirit. There’s some risk involved in following the Spirit. It’s time for the church to let the Spirit loose and see what happens. Yes, it’s a risk, but really it can be a great adventure following the Holy Spirit.
Whenever I hear the word risk, it reminds me of the book by Bishop Schanse titled Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation. One of those practices happens to be “risk taking mission and service.” He writes in his book that “Risk-Taking refers to the service we offer that stretches us out of our comfort zone and has us engaging people and offering ourselves to ministries that we would never have done if not for our desire to follow Christ. Risk-taking steps into great uncertainty, a higher possibility of discomfort, resistance, or sacrifice. It pushes us beyond the circle of relationships that routinely define our church commitments.”
Simply put, Pentecost pushes us out of our comfort zone, that’s the major risk involved. Now, when I use the word “risk”, I realize that it can sound dangerous or negative, but adventure gives it a different feeling. When I looked up a definition for adventure, it is an undertaking usually involving danger or unknown risks. I thought that doesn’t help. The second definition is an exciting or remarkable experience. That’s better! As I have reflected on the risk and adventure of serving others and changing lives, two organizations and people come to mind.
When I first arrived in Butler Tarkington four years ago, I knew I had to meet someone at the Martin Luther King Community Center down the street. While the MLK Center started in 1981, the Board made a pivotal decision just before I arrived in 2015 to hire Allison Luthe as Executive Director, which was a great decision. No one on the board asked me, but if they did that’s what I would tell them. I’m so glad that Allison is here this morning. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Allison and experience her passion and kindness in her work. I have also had the privilege to watch the MLK Center take risks, try new things, and change so many lives. Four years ago, the MLK Center had 2 staff members and today they have 10. They served 20 youth, now they serve over 200 youth per year who live within a mile of the center. They have 9 young apprentices from the neighborhood. Isn’t that amazing? I have been inspired by the work of the MLK Center and Allison’s openness to the possibilities that come from taking risks, but really, I think she would probably call the last few years a great adventure.
As I kept thinking about who inspires me to take risks, I thought about an organization that this congregation was a founding member of. Family Promise that runs Interfaith Hospitality Network is an organization that takes risks. I’m sure Mike Chapuran, the Executive Director, would certainly agree with that sentiment. I think Mike would also agree that it is a great adventure to work with a family who is experiencing homeless and journey with them as they finally reach the point of receiving housing. Mike is here this morning too. Thank you and Allison for your being here. You have heard me say this a million times in the last four years, but now for the final time, please consider volunteering with our partners at the MLK Center and Family Promise. In fact, you could talk with Allison or Mike following worship. You won’t regret taking a step forward and serving with either of these partners of ours.
When I reflected on the risky business of Pentecost over the last few weeks, I immediately thought of the MLK Center and Family Promise. They are willing to try new things, even if they fail, even if it doesn’t go as planned, they reach out in new and exciting ways. The late poet Mary Oliver once asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The author John Green has this great quote where he asks, “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” I would add “to do something remarkable for God.” Those are good Pentecost questions collectively and individually.
What remarkable thing will Meridian Street do for God? Whatever it is, it will take change, risks, and living into the adventure of listening to and following the Holy Spirit together. For each of us individually, what is your next step forward in following the Holy Spirit? Where is God calling you to take a risk and try something new? What is the new adventure God is calling you to?
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with my new staff in South Bend to get to know them a little before we begin full time ministry together. One person asked me, “Pastor, is there anything we can do for you?” I thought what a wonderful thing to ask and my mind quickly found the words, or more likely the words found me, “Be open. The best thing you can do is cultivate a spirit of openness.” Yes, it is difficult to find the words somedays, but that day the Holy Spirit gifted me with that immediate response. All we can do is be open to the Spirit. Living our lives open to one another and the gifts we share. The simple act of openness can seem like a risk at times, but I believe without a doubt, that in this adventure, the reward of being open to the Spirit’s leading is much greater than the cost of being closed. You never what God has in store when you arrive at that Pentecost moment or moments, really this Pentecost adventure, when “suddenly you just know….it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings!”
May the Spirit, breathe into you the life God gives.
May the Spirit, make you joyful in the service of the Lord.
May the Spirit, who set the Church on fire on the Day of Pentecost,
bring the world alive with the love of the risen Christ.
And the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.