Today is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church.
This is the day that the Church Universal acknowledges the events that took place in Acts chapter 2 when a few frightened followers of Jesus who were shut up in the same house together, wondering what they were supposed to do next were suddenly lit on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That fire seemed to descend upon them and burned so bright within them that they took the Church outside of those walls and into the city where eventually 3,000 people who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot became followers of Jesus.
This is the story that we tell each and every Pentecost Sunday. And generally, I would be preaching directly from that passage as I have done each year for virtually all of the years I've been preaching.
But not this year.
This year is different.
This year we'll be hearing a different story...
which is fitting because this Pentecost is unlike any Pentecost any of us have ever experienced.
It got me thinking about all of the things that have been different lately.
Going to the grocery store is different, for sure. We stand six feet apart from one another, most of us are wearing masks. And we have pretty awkward moments when there are too many of us in the baking aisle.
What's the protocol for that anyway? It's odd to watch, isn't it?
Work is different for sure, for most of us. Most of us have been working from home, which has its advantages for sure. I stopped wearing pants, which is different. Pajama bottoms are now office attire. Along with gym shorts. As long as the top half of us looks good, we're good.
Going to the gym is different. So is getting your hair cut.
I stopped going to Starbucks because they shut down most of their stores, and now I have realized I no longer need to go to Starbucks. I just bought some really good locally roasted coffee for my coffee maker, I make my own tea and I eat breakfast sandwiches that are a fraction of the cost.
We've been talking to our neighbors more, at least in my neighborhood. Everyone is outside, walking, visiting, sharing stories... just from a safe distance.
And we've been doing church differently. Much differently.
We've also started to realize that as we move forward into the new world that is being created as we speak, some things will forever be different.
What happens to us when the old ways of doing things are gone? What do we do when the old ways we used to identify ourselves, find fulfillment, joy, success... what happens to us when the ways that we used to express our faith change forever?
We have a choice to make, don't we? We can pine for the past, white knuckle the present and hope that we can go back to the way things were... or we can begin to look for new life springing up around us in unexpected places.
And when we see that new life, we can choose to broaden our imagination and our embrace of the new things that are happening, or we can grow tighter, and small.
Well, I'm here to tell you today that just like those believers who huddled together in that Upper Room 2000 years ago, you and I are about to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in ways we have never dreamed.
Here's what I want us to hold on to as we move through this sermon together today...
The Spirit of God is an equal opportunity empower-er.
I made up that word, by the way. Empower-er. Cool, huh?
Our guide for today's journey comes to us from the Hebrew Scriptures and the book of Numbers 11:24-30:
24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.
26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
This story takes place when the people of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness, unable to enter into the land of Canaan---the land they had been trying to get to ever since they left slavery in Egypt. You know that story---the whole Ten Commandments thing.
Moses was in a pickle. He had been used to doing things a particular way, but that way wasn't working any longer. The work he'd been doing needed to be done differently, and there was a plan in place to enlist more people, get more leaders involved.
They all thought everything was neat and tidy. The plan was in place. Everyone was on board.
But then God messed it all up with old Eldad and Medad.
These two guys didn't even bother showing up for the meeting. You know the type. And then the Spirit falls on them anyway, and they start prophesying and stuff, sharing vision, and doing it outside of the parameters that had been so carefully set up.
Joshua is not thrilled about this---the way God changed things up. And he wants Moses to do something about this.
But Moses realizes that the Spirit of God was doing something new, and that new thing was a lot wider than anything he could have imagined. And so he says to Joshua, "Chill, my man. You are barking up the wrong tree if you think that I'm going to be upset about this. So what if it's new? So what if it's out of our control?"
And then he says this: Would that all the Lord's people were prophets."
In other words, "Wouldn't it be awesome if everyone was in on this?'
What does this remind us of from the New Testament? There's a story from Mark 9 where Jesus' disciples see a guy healing, casting out demons and the like in the name of Jesus----only he isn't part of the insider group.
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us.
The Spirit of God does some mind-bending things sometimes that just blows up our categories, our paradigms, our comfort. Like showing up at the perfect moment on the day of Pentecost.
This was a day when there would have been a critical mass of people from around the world who would have been gathered in Jerusalem. It was the feast that garnered the most foreign-born Jews and interested outsiders.
It was the day when the Hebrew people would have been celebrating the giving of the law, the Torah. Only on that day, there was a new covenant, a new command that was ratified and delivered to the people... a covenant of love, a command to love, a story of love embodied in the Christ, who was raised from the dead.
And the Spirit blew the minds of the followers of Jesus, and gave them a new understanding of what he had told them when he cryptically said, "You will do even greater things than I have done."
Let's talk about the Church for a moment...
There was a lot of buzz earlier last week about churches being "essential," and that they should "re-open." I sure am glad that from the highest levels of government that churches were recognized as essential, aren't you?
Funny. No one needed to tell us that. We've always known that our church was essential----essential to us, for sure... but even more essential to our neighbors, our community, our city, and our world. We've always been essential. But it sure is good to be reminded of that---no matter where the declaration comes from.
And here's something else. The way the whole "essential" conversation went, it was predicated on the notion that the Church was a destination---that you had to "go to church" in order to be the Church.
I'm here to tell you that we never were a destination. We are a launching pad. Our members and friends didn't just go to church... We may have gathered here, and got equipped here, fellowshipped here and learned here... but we didn't stay here. We have always been about equipping and sending our people out into the world to Love God and Love Everybody.
Only now the new life, the new things that are happening in the Church are happening outside of the church building.
I also need to address the whole idea of re-opening. We never closed.
All the things we have been doing...
The Church left the building, but it never stopped being the church. And we never close. We are a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week operation. Our buildings may close, but the Church is always open. This is who we are.
And it's time for us to all become prophets---to let the Spirit lead us.
Our family of faith just got bigger... and the Spirit is doing some mind-bending things outside of the walls of our church building.
What are you going to do? What choice are you going to make now that everything is different and the Spirit of God is falling on all of us to empower us to be the Church wherever we are.
I'm so very proud of this congregation. We are being made stronger and more Spirit-filled by the moment. And every single one of you within the sound of my voice, even if you are watching from far away...
You are a prophet. You have a calling. You are part of this amazing family of faith we call Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church. And I know this because...
Because the Spirit of God is an equal opportunity empower-er.