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Sermon: Rush

May 23, 2010

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost.  It is one of those special Sundays that confuses a lot of people.  And I’m talking about church people.  It isn’t that unchurched people are walking around and see a sign on a church that says “Pentecost Sunday This Week,” and they think to themselves, “I wonder what that is.”

No, I am referring to people who have been born into the church, who have been sitting in the pew week after week for years are liable to look at that same sign and say, “Pentecost.  Yeah, I never really knew what that was.”

Some people call Pentecost the birthday of the Church.  Some people simply refer to it as the day the first Christians received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  It’s also the day nobody likes to be liturgist.  The scripture that Jim read for us this morning is the story of the Pentecost experience.  That is the event we remember every year.

Originally, long before Jesus came around, Pentecost was an agricultural festival.  It was a celebration that came 50 days after the beginning of the grain harvest.  You might say it is the equivalent of the American Thanksgiving.  Later, that festival took on more religious overtones.  A tradition arose that said Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai, and Pentecost became a feast held 50 days after the observance of the Jewish Passover.  Of course, Christians changed the emphasis again, and for us it Pentecost represents the moment when God’s Spirit filled the Church with power.  We celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter.  The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth.”  (Boring/Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, 369.)

So on that day a couple of thousand years ago, just 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter and the others were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Pentecost festival.  They were preparing to remember that great event when God gave the Law to Moses.  They were all in one room.  And there was a sound.  The sound was like the rush of a violent wind.

If you were taking notes while Jim was reading the text this morning, you may have noticed that the pew Bibles tell us that the sound was “like a strong wind blowing” (Acts 2:2, Today’s English Version).  If you were to read the New Revised Standard Version, it says the sound was like the rush of a violent wind.  The New International Version says that it was the sound of a “violent” wind.  If you look in a Greek dictionary, you’ll find that the translation is “violent.”

But our Bibles say it was like the sound of a strong wind blowing.  Our pew Bibles are actually a paraphrase, not a literal translation.  It attempts to give the sense of the text.  It retells the story in language that is sometimes easier for us to understand.  But frequently, it misses the point.  It tends to flatten out the text at the expense of the Bible’s often sharp, intentional description.  And today, the paraphrase of our pew Bibles missed badly.

Have you ever been out for a walk after dinner in the summer, and it is very warm—the sun is still out—and you are sweating a little bit?  And then there is a whisper of a breeze that sweeps across your face, and it is cool and perfect?  Do you know that kind of breeze?  Well, that’s not the wind our scripture describes.

I am sure you have been downtown San Pedro when it is really hot in the middle of the day, and you can see the heat radiating off the streets and smell the asphalt.  And then you drive south, toward Point Fermin, and get out of your car, and the wind is starting to gust off the ocean.  The gulls are having a hard time orienting themselves, and that wind coming off the water is making you cold and you reach for a sweater.  That is not the kind of wind our scripture describes.

Perhaps you’ve heard the wind, strong and full in the night, making whistling and moaning noises.  The house creaks a little bit.  It does this all night long.  When you go out in the morning, leaves from your neighbor’s magnolia leaves are piled up in your driveway, and there is trash on your lawn and broken twigs everywhere, maybe a few broken branches.  That’s a strong wind, but it isn’t the kind our scripture describes.  That’s not a violent wind.

Have you ever experienced a violent wind?  Have you ever sat indoors listening to the roar of the wind outdoors and been a little afraid?  You can hear the patio furniture being tossed around like Styrofoam cups.  You look outside and wonder if that old oak in the back yard can hold up to the pounding or if it will send a broken limb through your window.  Maybe it will even topple over altogether.  The clouds are dark and it starts to rain, and the drops come in sideways and smack against the glass as if somebody were throwing rocks at the house.  And the sound of that wind is the screeching of the tops of the trees whipping back and forth, and the crack of debris hitting the house, and the hollow bass note that plays in the background continuously.  That’s a violent wind.

A violent wind makes you worry.  It is disturbing, a little fearful.  The sound of the coming of the Holy Spirit is not the sound of a pleasant breeze or enough to blow the clouds away or even a “strong wind blowing.”  The sound of the wind of the Holy Spirit is violent and powerful and furious.  It is not to be taken lightly.

The problem with a violent wind is that it is more than you want.  It’s nice to have a refreshing breeze now and again, but a violent wind is surely overdoing it.  If you go sailing in a strong wind, you can enjoy yourself.  You can chart your own course and go where you will.  You still retain some control.  But in a hurricane-force gale, you’ve had it.  You just have to hold on tight until the wind stops blowing and then you can figure out where you are and what to do next.  That’s what happened to the apostles and the Church.  That rush of wind blew the Church into places it would rather not have been.  The rush of the Spirit took the Church to people that were different, and not only different, but they bordered on the unacceptable.  They were pagans.  They ate the wrong food, wore the wrong clothes, listened to the wrong music and drove the wrong kind of cars.  The violent wind kept pushing the Church up against these people again and again until the Church finally got it.  Ah, these aren’t the wrong kind of people.  They are God’s people, too.  But if the Church had received a strong wind from God, they would have simply steered the ship around the outsiders and sailed off happily into the sunset.

Who knows what it might look like were you to experience the rush of a violent wind from God?  Maybe you would find yourself with the wrong people, too, making friends with the enemy, spending time and energy with those who are undesirable, sharing love with the unlovable.  Maybe you would find yourself, despite all the plans you had ever made, in rural India, among the poorest of the poor, not knowing the language or the food, traveling alone because your partner was sick in a hospital somewhere, and discovering that you had met God’s people.  Maybe you would find yourself leading children in Sunday School or tutoring students at Toberman.  Perhaps you would find yourself blown into the choir, even though you’re pretty sure the only song you can sing is “Happy Birthday.”  You might even discover some new friends by helping to feed the homeless and hungry at Sunday Nite Supper.  There really is no telling where you will end up if you decide to shove off in your boat and let the rush of a violent wind from God take you where it will.

But then there are some of us who already feel as if the boat is adrift.  It feels as if there is nothing but dead calm and the rudder is broken.  The doctor has just told you that you have cancer.  You have lost your job, and you are close to foreclosure.  Your daughter has been fighting at school again, and you are afraid for her and her future.  Alcohol seems to have more power in your life than anything else.  For you, it seems impossible that your boat could ever go anywhere.

After Peter and the others experienced the sound like a rush of a violent wind, and felt the fire on their tongues, they spoke in all the languages of the people from all over the world who had come to Jerusalem.  It was such a strange sight, this babbling in many languages at once, that some people figured the Christians were drunk.

Peter said, “No, that’s not it.  You are witnessing the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise through the prophet.  “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…all flesh.  The sons and daughters will prophesy.  The young ones will have visions.  The old ones will dream dreams.  Each person shall have an encounter with that rush of the Spirit.  Each one.”

Now for those in the rudderless boats adrift in the open ocean, it is a promise.  It is not a promise that everything in your life will get fixed.  It is not a promise that you will be rich and as healthy as a teenager.  But it is a promise that God will not neglect you.  God has not forgotten you.  You are a part of “all flesh.”  The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit is for you, too.

I know that sometimes that is cold comfort for someone in the depths of pain and despair.  But it is the promise we preach, that God has something in store for each one, that the rush of the Spirit will carry us along in this world and into the next.  No one is excluded from this promise.  All flesh.

Let us pray…

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