May 20, 2018
For everyone who is concerned that the Pentecostal preacher has been turned loose on Pentecost Sunday, let me go ahead and ease your fears… There ain’t nobody gonna get hurt here today.
That being said, as someone who grew up in the Pentecostal church where things sometimes got quite active, setting the bar at “no injuries” isn’t really setting it very high.
As a matter of fact, the old line among Pentecostals who worship big, loud and loose is that if someone does get hurt, they apparently were not “in the spirit.”
That’s an interesting phrase to me… “in the spirit.” I’ll come back to it in just a bit.
Back in the 1960s through about the mid 90s, there was a gospel music singing group called the Sunlighters. The group was made up two women, Geraldine and Little Jan, and the lead singer, a man name Wendy Bagwell… The group’s touring name was Wendy Bagwell and the Sunlighters.
Besides their sweet harmonies and energetic personalities, the group, especially Wendy, were known for the hilarious stories they told from the stage… all of them from their journeys traveling around the country.
Probably the most famous story Wendy ever told was about the time he and the girls performed in a church where the congregation liked to “take up the serpent.”
[VIDEO: “Here Come the Rattlesnakes” by Wendy Bagwell]
I apologize for the quality of the video. It was recorded several years ago and released before digital was a thing.
And just so you’ll know, Wendy told me once that the church where all of this happened, happened to be in Kentucky.
And also so you’ll know, the pastor and the congregation where all of this took place loved to hear Wendy tell the story, and relished in knowing that he took it all over the world.
I don’t know how many of you have ever been to a church like the one Wendy talked about… where they “take up the serpent.”
I have. I’ve never belonged to one, but I have visited a couple.
And I certainly didn’t participate. As a matter of fact, I kept a solid distance and a very firm gaze on things from the “safe” place they’d designated for those of us who apparently didn’t have the “faith.”
And like Wendy, I certainly wasn’t “in the spirit”… at least not that kind of spirit.
Our first temptation is to disparage the people who practice that kind of worship. Anyone who is on the outside can see the issues and dangers that would come along with tempting nature.
But the people who engage in it, they don’t see it that way.
Personally, I see the danger in being so close to poison before I see the value of it, and I certainly don’t see the necessity, but it’s obvious that I also don’t have their passion.
And as an early spiritual mentor once told me, simply not understanding someone else’s way of doing things is not sole justification for criticizing it.
But, I’ll add, my ignorance is also no excuse for supporting it.
To many people, especially folks who only know the word Pentecost, examples like the snake-handling story, although maybe a little extreme, is mostly all they know about Pentecost.
They hear the word and automatically envision enchanting music, sometimes loud with exaggerated expressions and people who are out of control.
And although that perception is not completely wrong, there is a great deal more to understand about Pentecost… what it is… and what it was… practically and spiritually.
When I was a kid, I just thought it was another denomination… another name of a church, like Baptist or Methodist or Catholic.
I’m grateful for my church upbringing. It was colorful and energetic and certainly inspiring. But what it was not was liturgical or deeply historic.
When our churches talked church history, we didn’t go back any farther than the early 20th century… the late 19th century at the earliest. That’s when modern Pentecostalism got its start, and unless good ol’ King James made mention of it in his version, we didn’t need to know anything that happened before that.
But I envy those of you who grew up learning of the deeper meanings of Pentecost.
But the truth is many of us today wouldn’t give much thought to the word had the story we read this morning not been recorded in scripture.
Although the term Pentecost, and the season has been prominent in the Jewish tradition for many centuries, the reason most of us in the Christian tradition even know the word is because of the significant thing that happened to happen on that Jewish holiday.
It could’ve happened on any other day.
Had the experience happened on another significant Jewish day, say the Feast of Tabernacles instead of the Feast of Pentecost, we’d be celebrating Tabernacle Sunday instead, and we’d be doing it in September or October.
And all those churches would be called Tabernacle churches instead of Pentecostal churches.
To the Hebrews, Pentecost was a celebration that occurred every year on the 50th day after the Jewish Passover.
That’s the reason the disciples and others, around 120 altogether according to the scripture, were gathered that day.
They were there to celebrate Pentecost, the Jewish Feast of Harvests. What they had NOT gathered to witness was what some call the birth of the Christian church.
That was a total surprise.
There, in the same room where just a few weeks earlier Jesus had predicted his death and shared the bread and cup in the first Holy communion –
· there where they retreated and huddled together so many times since his crucifixion, going back and forth in anger and joy but more often than not, in fear…
· there where some believe Jesus made one of his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples…
· there where for the last forty days or so they had been living and eating and sleeping and singing and praying and waiting and hoping…
This room where extraordinary things had happened not that long ago had become common to them. It was the place they automatically went to at the end of the day.
For the people who had walked closest to Jesus, witnessed his most compassionate deeds, heard his most compelling teachings… for these people this room had become home.
And the easiest place in the world to let your hair down, get comfortable and say the things you wouldn’t say anywhere else is at home.
If you’re honest and true to yourself anywhere, it’s when you’re behind your walls, under your roof, in your own space.
Mason and I were/are big fans of the TV show Desperate Housewives. As a matter of fact, we are in the process now of watching the whole series through again.
In one episode, one of the housewives, Susan Mayer, after discovering a disturbing hidden secret about one of their neighbors, says to the others in her small circle, “Ya know, as long as they keep their lawn clean, don’t make too much noise, and get the trash to the curb every week, we don’t seem to care what they do when they go back inside.”
Inside is where you don’t have to pretend to be ideal. You don’t have to live up to a notion or deal with outside expectations.
I know that some of us have become really good at pausing just before we step out from our door, putting on the face long enough to convince those around us, at work, at school, when we’re out with friends, or even here at church… we’ve gotten really good at wearing the face long enough to convince everyone that everything is ok… that we’re alright.
Then we go home… We get honest… And sometimes it’s not because we want to… it’s because we don’t have a choice.
Out here we can pretend that all our relationships are healthy.
Out here we can pretend there will be enough money to pay the bills.
Out here we can suck it up long enough to hide our pain, physical and emotional.
Out here… we can smile.
So I’d imagine, when the disciples and the followers of Jesus were “out there,” to most folks, things looked just fine.
But then, like us, they had to go home. And, like us, that’s where they were most real.
It was in that place, that room that we find ourselves in today’s scripture.
The only thing really that made this day different than the last 40 or so they’d spent there was the tradition of celebrating the Feast of Pentecost.
But then the tradition was interrupted when a very common moment became incredibly uncommon. The atmosphere in the room became uncommon when what is described as a fierce wind suddenly blew through the house.
We know that the disciples and others in the room saw something. It is described as looking like fire, and apparently, it made its way to each person individually.
Some faith traditions teach that it was only the twelve disciples of Jesus who were touched by this fire, spoke the different languages and were filled with the Spirit. Others believe that everyone in the place received the experience.
I can tell you that I have no idea who got what and to what degree.
And I can tell you that there are a lot more questions and controversies about this scripture than we’ll ever have the answers to.
I get questions from time to time from people who are looking for rational explanations to things we simply cannot explain. And some people get bogged down by that.
Personally, and maybe this doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve decided that it will simply have to understood that some things just can’t be understood.
Some things don’t fit in our rationalizations, in our boxes, in our minds. Some things are just bigger than us.
So, instead of waiting until we understand exactly what it means to walk in the Spirit, let’s walk anyway.
It’s like the time I heard the old guy say, “I don’t understand electricity. But I’m not gonna sit in the dark till I figure it out.”
What I feel I can tell you is that living and walking in the Spirit doesn’t make us bullet-proof. Being in the Spirit doesn’t mean we are not in the flesh. Being in the Spirit does not mean we are out of the world.
But being “in the Spirit” means we can better see our world and see it through God’s eyes.
Being in the Spirit means hearing the cries of God’s creation through God’s ears.
Being in the Spirit means we are tuned in to the needs of others.
Being in the Spirit means being available to help with those needs and being ready to step up to defend the defenseless and protect the vulnerable and speaking up for the abused and caring for the neglected.
If anyone ever asks you what it means to be in the Spirit, feel free to tell them that it means being the physical presence of an invisible God in the worst parts of people’s lives.
When we read our scripture here at BUCC, we most often read from the Common English Bible. It’s a beautiful and easier to understand translation.
But if you’ll indulge me for just a moment, I’d like to read at least part of today’s passage from the King James Version.
It says, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
I like that… in one accord. It doesn’t mean that everyone in the room was thinking the same thing. It doesn’t mean that everyone was saying the same thing. It doesn’t mean that the choir was singing one note in unison.
As a matter of fact, it means there were many people with many thoughts and many ways to express those thoughts, but they shared one passion.
What it does mean is that they shared a passion. They shared a desire… the desire to be as much like Jesus as they could possibly be.
One note on the piano is pretty. Then add the rest of the chord and you have something even prettier. Each note compliments the others. They are not the same, but they are in one accord.
And that’s us. Many voices with many perspectives and many ways of doing the same thing, all in the name of the God who can’t stand the thought of an eternity without us.
That’s us, here, in our home, seeking the same Jesus those in that upper room were seeking.
And the Spirit comes…
And we are changed…
Acts 2:1-4 (CEB)
When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.