Here we are this Pentecost morning to remember and celebrate one of the three most important days on the church calendar. Carla Parkinson and Jo Cooper have created decorations that grab our attention and lift our spirits. There will be cake at 11:00 to have fun at what is known as the birthday of the Christian church, but imagine what it might have been like to be there that day. The apostles had been with the risen Jesus ten days before as they shared a meal together. He had told them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what God had promised – that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria and to the remotest parts of the earth. Obedient they were, so after he left them they went to the upper room to wait.
And then it happened! Suddenly there was a strong wind like a hurricane and then the Holy Spirit spreading quickly through the crowd like a wildfire. How could the many Jews who had traveled long distances for Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, possibly be hearing and understanding the backwater Galileans speaking in their national languages? Clearly there was no United Nations translation setup. It didn't make any logical sense so they searched for a reasonable explanation. Somebody must have been testing the local wine early in the day but still that didn't seem right given what they were hearing and understanding.
The scene reminds me of this year's Mountain Play, The Music Man. It has been one of my favorite musicals for fifty years. Do you remember at the end when the whole town is gathered and Harold Hill's hoax has been discovered by the mayor ready to run the charlatan out of town? Suddenly, the “rush of a mighty wind” blows open the school gymnasium doors and the enthusiastic but untrained River City Boys “band” comes marching in so proud of their brand new uniforms and instruments. Hill assumes he has lost the town and the girl but then the boys start playing using his “think” method. The mothers in the crowd listen carefully and believe they were able to pick out the sound of their own child's trombone. One calls out proudly, “That's my Barney!” In just a few short minutes, some kind of spirit swept through the room and everyone began hearing a passionately played rendition of 76 Trombones just as they had hoped. An outsider listening in might have thought that the townspeople were all drunk but we are left not quite sure if the boys truly miraculously learned to play the music or if we were only hearing what the townspeople wanted to hear. Certainly the experience united them all that day and saved the boys from the horrors of the pool hall.
When we think of the story of Pentecost, we often remember a strong wind like a hurricane and tongues of fire perching on people's heads. However, Luke loves the use of metaphor. He actually says that there was a sound like a strong wind and that the Holy Spirit spread through the crowd as a wildfire might do. That Spirit affected people's tongues so that, if the crowd listened, they could hear the words spoken in their own native language. What a freak thing! Surely it didn't last very long. People were legitimately confused not only for what they were hearing but because the gift didn't discriminate. All people, religious leaders or lay people, rich or poor, elite or peasant, all could hear the message in their own language and understand the words but they still didn't know why it was happening. Then, Peter, the one who had denied Jesus three times, stood up to explain and set the record straight. He assured them that no one was drunk but they were experiencing what was predicted by the Prophet Joel hundreds of years before. “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your young men will see visions and your old men dream dreams. I'll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below.”
The Big Bang of the Christian church community was triggered by the Holy Spirit. It demonstrated radical social equality, was non-hierarchical and did not discriminate based on language or national origin, gender or any other human condition. Those present that day had their lives transformed and were invited by Jesus to carry that Spirit and be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout the world. The church is the place where this new fellowship begins to take shape as it recognizes the gifts of the Spirit in and for all people. Later chapters in Acts tell of the young churches gathering for meals and worship, teaching and listening to experiences of God, and sharing their possessions so that no one was in need.
Have you had a sense of the Holy Spirit in recent months either within your church community or in San Rafael or San Francisco or the remote parts of your world? I have to say there seems to be a sprouting of small groups within the congregation lately: a Dads group, a Prayer group, a Moms of Preschoolers group and an Empty Nesters group. For people to want to commit to meet together regularly there must be a willingness to listen and truly hear what people are saying to each other, what they are witnessing of their own lives and faith experiences. I believe the Spirit is stirring. In the current round of Small Group dinners, over 100 people signed up to host or attend which means new relationships are being created and old ones are expanding. In addition to our fifteen Deacon Shepherds that are connected with each church member, a Parish Caregiver team of about ten people is developing one-on-one relationships with other members to provide visits, rides and faithful friend partnerships. Sixteen new singers joined up with RuthE. to become the Everyday Singers - a new and easy way to praise God together in worship and share musical gifts and fun. And just one more example, if you are ever upstairs early on a Sunday morning, you might see tongues of fire coming out of the Upper Room, our name for the upstairs conference room! Your Pastor Nominating Committee is aflame! They are not rushing but are carefully, thoroughly reading through 100+ resumes, listening to each other and prayerfully considering how the Holy Spirit is guiding them to analyze, sort and sift as they narrow down the list of possible pastor candidates and prepare for phone and face-to-face interviews. At the same time, the Finance commission and Session are seriously looking at the budget requirements for 2013 as the congregation calls a new pastor who is likely to need some help getting into the Marin housing market.
So on this Pentecost Sunday, remember Peter quoting Joel on that day. We are all given the gift of the Holy Spirit and called to prophesy, see visions and dream dreams – all of us. On this, the birthday of the church, where has the Holy Spirit been nudging you? What has been on your mind when you think about the way Westminster embodies the ministry of Jesus Christ here in Marin County. Are there some areas that need to be expanded or started anew where you or your family might like to be involved? What is missing? ………..(responses)
I invite you to look through the booklet you received today. Take extra copies to give to neighbors or friends and invite them to participate with you in a church worship or event. Every person who comes into this community adds a new and much needed voice and brings an aspect of God's Spirit that can open our eyes. As you look through the booklet, please let any of our staff members or Session Elders know of ideas that you have that would add to our ministry within and beyond the church walls. The great thing about being Presbyterian is that we are non-hierarchical so there is an opportunity for each person to dream dreams and also participate in bringing them into reality.
Your Session leaders have begun planning for 2013 and have some visions and dreams for updating our fifty-year-old office and classroom building and special salary and support for a new pastor. This is a very exciting time as we look forward to the next five-to-ten years. The congregation is blossoming with young families and other newer members who will be involved in the vision and dreams as the church moves forward. It would be difficult to fulfill those dreams using only Harold Hill's “Think” method but combining that faith with some serious volunteer and financial support from all of us, Westminster will continue to be on fire with the calling of the Holy Spirit to embody God's love within and beyond the walls of this very special place.
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