Sermon: “That Will Wake You Up in the Morning”

May 15, 2016: Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:14-17

I went to Honolulu on Tuesday for a workshop at the Conference office on disaster preparedness and response. It was the first time I’d been there other than going from one flight to another at the airport.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear, so we took off with Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa glowing in the newly risen sun.

That will wake you up in the morning.

When I posted these pictures to Facebook, a friend commented, “Ridiculously beautiful.” I have to agree. Mind you, this same friend lives in Berkeley, California, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay, where there is plenty of ridiculously beautiful to be seen.

Blest be our God, who scatters beauty about the world with such ridiculously joyful abandon.

Peter and that first small group of believers may have found it difficult to see the”ridiculously beautiful” as this passage begins. Fifty days after Passover, they’d gathered to celebrate the holiday of Pentecost, the celebration of God’s gift of the Law to Moses and the people of Israel. In that fifty days since Jesus’ resurrection, they hadn’t done much. They’d seen Jesus, they’d seen him ascend to heaven, and they’d stayed together. That’s about it. They were waiting for some sign of what to do next.

Then comes the rush of a violent wind, and for a moment I imagine they all thought everyone’s hair was on fire. There’s noise and confusion and although they thought they’d put themselves safely out of everyone else’s way, people are running up to them, milling about to find out what was happening.

Now that will wake you up in the morning.

When your friends start speaking in languages that you don’t understand, when you realize they’re speaking in languages that they don’t understand, and when you yourself start speaking in a language you don’t understand – but some in the growing crowd clearly do –

That will wake you up in the morning.

For certain.

We call this day of Pentecost the Birthday of the Church, because it’s the day when this little group of Jesus followers becomes a group of Jesus proclaimers. At the beginning of the day, Luke says, there’s probably a hundred and twenty or so people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. At the end of the day, after Peter finished speaking, there’s 3,000 more. We’ve seen things like that in the history of the church in Hawai’i. The Rev. Titus Coan, a missionary in Hilo and Puna who helped build Haili Church, recorded baptizing thousands of people in a day.


Seeing your group grow from a little over a hundred uncertain, probably somewhat traumatized people, to over 3,000 who’ve taken that step in front of everybody –

That will wake you up in the morning.

This was the day when the Holy Spirit came to everybody, not just a very few prophets in a generation. As Peter quotes the ancient prophet Joel, the Spirit – or breath – or wind – of God has come to all flesh, male, female, old, young, and everyone in between. This enlivening breath, this guiding wind, this inspiring Spirit, is God’s gift to Christ’s Church.

Not just to Peter and Mary and the rest: to all the generations of Christ’s Church.

The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us.

That will wake you up in the morning.

I’ll just highlight two characteristics of that first visit of the Holy Spirit to the Church, which speak to me in this day.

First, these Spirit-filled believers in Jesus are mistaken for being drunk. “They are filled with new wine,” say some in the crowd. Now, alcohol is a depressant, and it’s certainly true that plenty of people get terribly depressed when they drink. But that’s not usually what happens in a crowd of people, is it? If I see a group of sad or somber people, my first thought it almost never, “Well, I guess they’ve had too much.”

Whereas if I see a group of people dancing and waving their arms about at 9 in the morning, talking and laughing, eager to come up to me and tell me something that’s really important to them, if there’s excitement and noise, well:

I’d probably make some guesses about what they’d mixed with their orange juice.

The first Pentecost was a joyful, exuberant scene.

The Holy Spirit fuels delight and energy, not solemnity or gloom. Christianity is a faith that celebrates.

I realize that there’s some cultural conflict here. I was not raised with Japanese traditions, but I know many of them come with a certain amount of reserve. I was, however, raised a New Englander. Among the best descriptions of New England Christians is: “God’s Frozen Chosen.”

Two of God's "frozen chosen" - who are also probably obeying Rule Number Two.

Two of God’s “frozen chosen” – who are also probably obeying Rule Number Two.

We don’t like to change. How many New England Congregationalists does it take to change a light bulb?


We don’t like to smile very much. I can testify to this, because I spent many of my years in ministry in New England as a photographer praying that somebody, sometime, would consent to crack a smile today.

We don’t tend to indulge in grand expressions of joy.

When my kids were young, we had joke rules. There was Rule Number One, which was, “No drowning.”

Rule Number Two, however, was this: “No having fun.” This would usually come up when they were racing around laughing up a storm. I’d ask, “Are you breaking Rule Number Two?” and they’d say “Yes!” and gallop off again. All in good fun.

Although I think they’re obeying Rule Number Two in this picture.

But more than once over the years, adults would hear these exchanges, and ask me how I could make such a horrible rule for my children. They took it seriously. That’s how frozen we could be.

I propose a new Rule Number One, at least for the Church: No joyless Christianity. Let ‘em think we’ve been drinking. Let ‘em think we’re frivolous. Let ‘em think we’re too familiar with God, as we go about the next of my two points, which is:

Getting out of our own way.

Peter and the others had been staying out of the public eye. That’s a good idea if you’re concerned that a hostile and repressive government might be out to get you, but it’s a bad idea if your aim is to significantly reform your society. On this Pentecost, they started that work.

And the first thing they did was get out of their own way.

They didn’t invite people into their circle. Instead, they came out into the place where the people were. They didn’t stay silent, but made enough noise to get attention. They didn’t rely on their own language, but spoke the languages of their hearers.

They met them where they were.

For the last 16 centuries, Christianity has lived in one of two realities. In some times and places, Christians have lived in the mission field, where non-Christians outnumber Christians and the goal is to help others connect with the God who loves them.

In other times and places, Christianity has been the dominant religion, and served as an arbiter of culture and social order. Mind you, we’ve tried to become that in nearly every place we’ve ever gone, creating new Christendoms in new places.

So where do we live?

In 2010, the US Census of Religion – which isn’t a government project – reported that houses of worship in Hawai’i County counted 91,526 adherents: members and worshipers. That number includes Protestant and Catholic Christians, and also Buddhists, Hindus, and 11 Quakers.

Faith Affiliations on Hawai'i Island (data source: US Religion Census 2010).

The largest slice of the pie is the unaffiliated. (Data source: US Religion Census 2010).

The largest slice of the pie chart – with a little over half of the population – those are the people with no affiliation at all.

There are more people connected to no faith at all than those connected to all these faiths combined. That’s true, by the way, for the nation as a whole.

We live in the mission field.

We have to go out to them. Not to invite them to Church, but to invite them to faith. Invite them to consider deepening their spiritual lives. Invite them to an ongoing relationship with a God who can be demanding, but is always loving and joyful.

We can’t do it by using the language of faith we’ve known so well. We have to learn the words that make sense to them, and use those words to tell them about the joys we’ve found in living in relationship with God.

We’ve got to wake them up in the morning – not just Sunday morning, but every morning – so that they can see the extravagant way in which God casts beauty about the Earth.

UCC pastor the Rev. Maren Tirabassi, one of my favorite spiritual writers in this time, wrote these words for Pentecost this week:

“Pentecost us out –
from the safe upper room
to a crowd of strangers,

From a church birthday cake faith
with slices for us,
to a red balloon gospel
that will escape our tight fists
and float into the world,

From the received wisdom
of those in responsible years
between thirty-two and sixty
to the excited ideas
of teenagers,
who may be wrong,
and the fractured wisdom
of elders with memories
leaking everything but love.

Pentecost us out. Amen.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on May 15, 2016

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