After several weeks, we have fixed the glitches that prevented us from posting each week's sermon audio. Here is the sermon from Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 1018.
Earlier this week, I was down at the Wesleyan Child Care Center, picking up my son Ian...
(By the way, if you’re looking to top off your joy tank, just go ahead and put a marker on your calendar for next May. Make plans to spend an hour at one of our Wesleyan VPK graduations. Our Wesleyan teachers do such an amazing job teaching the kids and showing them God's love. Ian isn’t even in the VPK program yet, and at least once a week he is telling me a new Bible story, or a new Jesus song that he has learned. Yesterday, we were coming up here for the soup kitchen, and as I clicked him into his seat he said: “We go to church; I love God soooooo much.” My joy tank was so full I thought I might be a fire hazard. I used the time it took to walk from his car seat to the driver’s door, and I just thanked God for all the people who have made it so easy and so natural for my almost-three-year-old to praise God).
...Anyway, I digress. The story I was starting to tell was not about what Ian said, it was about the little slip of paper tucked into his cubby alongside his lunchbox and his nap mat. Every day, I get his box score, with the daily statistics on diapers changed, lunch eaten, and naps taken. On this particular day, alongside all of that was a little, handwritten note - "today we had a fire drill."
Now, I tell you what. I had a birthday last month, and nothing that happened on my birthday made me feel as old as staring at that little paper and wondering “When was the last time I had a fire drill?”
I honestly have no idea.
Now, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, to live for years and years without a fire drill. I could probably use with one. We could probably benefit from one around here.
But the truth is, I don’t think about them very often, which might be why that little note put me into such a reverie, and I realized my relationship to fire drills has ebbed and flowed depending on my age.
When I was a kid in elementary school, a fire drill was a reason to praise God. It was like a twenty-minute holiday dropped into the middle of the week. One moment you’re sitting at a desk, being tortured with a cruel device called the times tables, and the next moment the bell rings like Gabriel’s trumpet: my chains are gone; I’ve been set free; lets' go stand on the playground! By the time you come back in, it’s too close to lunch or recess or PE or whatever, the rhythm of the day is completely thrown off, and I get to coast to the closing bell. As I got older, however, fire drills got less fun. Somewhere along the line, I got to the age where occasionally someone nearby would pull a fire alarm as a prank. Now, look, all 8th-grade boys are punks, and I was no exception, but even in 8th grade, pulling a fire alarm always seemed like the lamest prank ever. You listen to an obnoxious noise. You tick off a bunch of decent and burly firefighters. There’s inevitably some kind of group punishment when they can’t find the culprit, and the punishment and the lecture are always longer and more boring than whatever the alarm interrupted.
When I went off to college; it got worse, because I was living in a dorm, where every so often some dimestore Johnny Knoxville decided they wanted to pull an amazing prank and they would pull the fire alarm at 2:30 in the morning.
Again, I don’t think about this often, but it’s really amazing the emotional journey I’ve been on with fire drills. Once they were pure and holy, a gift of grace like rain from heaven or a cool breeze in August. But the more we tried to make them exciting, the harder someone tried to make it exciting by breaking the law, by pulling a prank, by trying to manufacture the moment, the cheaper it got.
The same problem pertains at Pentecost. In the church today, we pattern our year after the life and work of Jesus. We start with the unborn Jesus in Advent, and then his birth at Christmas. Then we learn from the teachings and miracles of Jesus, then everything changes with his death and resurrection at Easter. 50 days later comes Pentecost, on the same schedule that we find in Acts, and then we are all about mission and witness until Christ the King Sunday comes in November. It’s all very orderly, all very predictable. Give me 20 seconds on google and I can tell you Pentecost will come in 2028.
Now, mostly, I think this is very good. There is no other example for our lives but Jesus, and there is no better way to measure our time than by sticking close to him, but the more we pattern our lives on Jesus, the more we make them predictable.
There’s something a little off, isn’t there, about trying to plan for the Holy Spirit? There's something strange about saying that it's Pentecost just because, once again, it's fifty days after Easter. It seems like the fire and the wind and the speaking in new languages is more important than the timing on the calendar.
But it’s not just a calendar problem. It’s a prayer problem. How can we develop a life of prayer, a pattern of prayer, a daily habit of prayer — without making our relationship with God an exercise of going through the motions. How can we make a routine out of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
It’s not just a calendar problem or a prayer problem, it’s a heart problem. Because our hearts long for stability and security, but they also long for variety and ecstasy. We can’t live our lives as though this is just a drill. We want to live with real stakes, but we also want to control the stakes. At some point in our lives, we get tired of waiting for that unexpected blessing, and we try to manufacture the thrill for ourselves. We turn to cheaper thrills with predictable outcomes, even if those outcomes aren’t very satisfying. We come to depend on the dopamine hit that comes from a bottle, a product, or even a pundit. I once had a woman tell me she loved listening to a certain radio personality, now long retired, because as she said: “He gets me madder than a wet hornet.” I thought to myself "That's a strange way to get your kicks," but it’s not at all unusual. It's strange to go around pulling fire alarms, but sometimes we just want to get riled up, you know?
When we stop looking hope, we settle for hype. When we stop waiting for wonder, we start striving by our own works. We start trying to make it happen on our terms. And then, maybe, after a time, we give up even on hype and on striving. We still remember moments of the Holy Spirit’s power - we think fondly back on our personal Pentecosts, but we consign them to a different age, and we leave them in days gone by.
Today, we’ll just remember.
Today, it will be enough just to get by.
But Peter has something to say about today.
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
Hear me. I have searched and searched the scriptures again and again. I have searched for the fool-proof formula, the one weird trick; I have looked for the holy fire drill that will bring a new Pentecost, and I have not found it. I have gone looking for the proper orders to follow, but all I can find are wonders. I’ve gone looking for how to start a fire, and all I can find are the signs that one is already burning. I have looked to the past, and I have hoped for the future, but all that I’ve been given are the signs to look for today.
These are the signs: when sons and daughters prophesy, when the young ones see visions and the old ones dream dreams. Our children are not our future, and our elders are not our link to the past - every man woman and child is God’s present gift for this very day and Pentecost is wherever and whenever we all are set loose to testify. Pentecost was last week, sharing communion with one of our eldest members, it was seeing her smile when she talked about the youth who visited her at Discovery, it was hearing what she learned from them. And Pentecost was what I learned from her. Pentecost was when I prayed "by your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world," and it was when I place that almost-stale wafer and the grocery store juice in her hands and our skin brushed against one another's and I knew. I knew in the marrow of my bones that the prayer had been answered, that in some way that is too deep for words, Christ was making us one in this holy mystery. It was Pentecost.
In the book of Galatians, we have more signs. The Bible says that we will know the Spirit is at work wherever we see love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things, and so we run to them with our hair on fire.
Here’s the bottom line. Because there was a Pentecost, it is always Pentecost. It is still "those days," today is the day of the Holy Spirit's work, and if you are tired of working, tired of cheap thrills, then today is the day to start looking for the fire that is already burning around you. Old, and young, men and women, whatever voice you haven’t been listening too, I promise it’s not far from you. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control —they are all burning somewhere nearby. They surprise us every time; they flicker in and out of sight, but they will burn with God’s glory forever and if you stand near them you will shine with the light of eternity.
These are the days that were promised. Today is the day that the Spirit has come, once again, to you. Learn to see it, learn to tell it. This is not a drill. It's the life we were made for.