Joyful! Joyful! 5/31/20
Texts: Psalm 104:24-34; Acts 2:1-8; John 14:25-29
Almost two hundred years ago, in a small New England church, an extraordinary thing happened. The church was typical of the time and the place -- these were people of simplicity and modesty, who worshiped in a serious, measured manner.
The congregation had saved enough money to build some new additions. While they were at it, they added a steeple with a belfry and a church bell. On the day the steeple was completed and the bell was installed, no doubt there was joy within this little congregation. But they would have rejoiced in quiet dignity, right?
Well, not all of them did. There was one man -- his name was Lyman -- whose antics that day were recorded in a book. The man climbed into the belfry in the steeple of the church and stood on his head. He pointed his feet toward heaven. And the rest of the congregation could only gape and ask what this meant.
For one thing, it meant that this joyful man refused to think that worshiping had to be solemn all the time. It meant that the Holy Spirit filled him so full of joy that the only thing he could do was follow his inner longings -- climb up there as close to God as he could get and thank God by getting as upside down as he knew how to get.
Lyman knew what it meant to say that God has turned the world upside down in the cross of Jesus. And there, standing on his head for those brief moments, he celebrated our great God whose Spirit blows from all four corners of the earth not just on this day but on every day. (This story is told by Frederick Buechner in Listening to Your Life.)
Lyman lifted his sails. He caught the Spirit, and the Spirit gave him the power to do something entirely unexpected but totally praise-worthy that day.
From many a pulpit you hear preaching about how God turned the world upside down in the cross of Christ -- turned weakness into true power, God's wisdom reigning over and upon all the wisdom of the gods of this world.
As the Apostle Paul has said, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…what is weak in the world to shame the strong…so that no one might boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:20, 27-29).
Friends, one of the delights of considering what happened that day in Jerusalem, the day we call Pentecost, the day we celebrate today -- one of the delights is what we might call the foolishness of the day. It was God's foolishness. It was a day God made to be a day of ultra-exuberance -- a day we might name as joyful, joyful!
The disciples were filled with the wind that blew through the city that day. It led them to speak in languages they had never heard of, much less learned to speak. There they were speaking the word of God in words that people from all over the Roman Empire could understand perfectly. And the onlookers were so confused by this event that all they could do was shake their heads in wonder.
That -- that is the power of the Holy Spirit, to give unexpected life, energy, and joy to ordinary people in what might be an otherwise ordinary day. Jesus had promised this new power to the disciples, and here it was in its full force, moving them right into the thick of prophecy and teaching and baptizing and healing.
The story of Pentecost is the story of God's promise through the risen Christ fulfilled. The command from Jesus for his disciples to go out to the ends of the earth to spread the good news would be backed up from above. Jesus told them this would happen. The disciples would be transformed, equipped, and sent. The church of Jesus Christ in the world was born that day.
Now, make no mistake about this. Pentecost was not the birth of the Holy Spirit. No -- the Spirit that day is one in the same as the Spirit of God who swept over the face of the waters when the earth was a formless void; the same Spirit that breathed life into all creation; the same Spirit doing God's will in the world from the beginning of time.
No, we must not think the Spirit is a latecomer to the story of God and God's people. But now on this occasion, the coming of the Spirit is as Jesus promised his disciples. It is a new occasion. Jesus had said to the disciples, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Jesus gave clear instructions as to what they should do until this particular sending of the Spirit took place. They were to stay together and to remain in Jerusalem.
And they did. Not only did they stay together and remain in Jerusalem. They were a model church community. They prayed together. They made their number a whole twelve again, replacing Judas with a new disciple. Quietly, in seclusion, they waited -- the twelve along with other faithful followers, we're told.
Like the modest worshipers in that New England church with the new steeple, they did their work solemnly and prudently. But then, as the new day dawned and the Spirit swept across the city, they were filled with excitement and power and energy such as they never had known before. Like Lyman in the belfry, those disciples on that first Pentecost day were turned upside down.
The Spirit on that day gave life -- new life to these weary disciples who had been so recently left alone by their Master. The once timid disciples now preach boldly. Peter who had denied even knowing Jesus on three occasions prior to the crucifixion, now proclaims in the manner of a seasoned preacher. And if we read further in chapter two of Acts we read that three thousand people were baptized as a result of the day's bizarre God-Spirited events.
The crowds in Jerusalem were bewildered. Some wanted to hear more. Some shouted accusations of drunkenness. Some were cynical and critical. "What does this mean?" they wanted to know.
It meant then and it means now -- that through the Holy Spirit, all who followed Jesus Christ could know his presence and experience his healing and teaching.
The gift of the Spirit empowered the community of believers. And it empowers us today as the church of Jesus Christ. The Spirit empowers us to proclaim -- to take the message of good news public, not to hide it, but to air it out, to let it shine into the world -- even to take chances that we look like fools as we do it, to take the kind of chance Lyman took when he stood on his head in the bell tower that day out of sheer exuberance before his God.
The disciples who became emboldened on the Day of Pentecost teach us what to do. They stuck together. They prayed. And then they followed where the Spirit led them.
They did not do everything perfectly. Reading through Acts, you find controversy in the young church and disagreements among its leaders. But one thing is clear. The disciples, filled and transformed and equipped by the Spirit, go out into the world as Jesus commanded them to do. Sometimes there was grumbling as there was on the Day of Pentecost -- among skeptics. Sometimes there was confusion and chaos.
But they began what now is up to us to continue. The Spirit is loose in the world. The Spirit fills us with hope that there is a better way and that we can be a partner with God in bringing that better way about. Let us seek together the power of the Holy Spirit that it may renew us in our call as church.
In prayer, in reading our Bible and opening Scripture to others, in ministering to those who are sick or home-bound or grieving or lost, we need the gentle Spirit, the comforting Spirit.
But let us not miss the Spirit that pursues us to revive us, to make our dry bones alive again, to give us new life to be God's church in the world. Let us not be afraid to try new things, to stand on our heads to show the world that God has turned everything upside down in the resurrection of Christ.
The member of that conservative little church two hundred years ago lifted his sails. He caught the Spirit that day in the church steeple, and the Spirit gave him the power to do something entirely unexpected but totally praise-worthy, symbolizing the unbridled love he felt for God and the unbridled power of the Spirit in the world. What a joyful, joyful day!
Now, let's open up our lives, our sails, catch that wind, and see where it takes us.
Let our great God be praised -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever and ever.