Sermon: Wide-Ranging Spirit

June 4, 2017: Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21

Have any of you ever worried about anything?

I guess you have.

Which leads me to ask, have any of you ever heard a sillier question? I can really think of only one that has a more likely answer of “Yes,” and that’s this:

“Have you ever breathed air?”

So. You’ve worried about something. Probably lots of things. I’ve worried about something. In fact, I’ve worried about lots of things.

I’ve worried about whether everything is done, and I’ve worried about how clear it was that everything wasn’t done. I’ve worried about sour notes on the guitar, and I’ve worried about sour notes while singing. I’ve worried about having enough gas in the car to get back and forth to work before my next paycheck arrived (I couldn’t walk from my home to that office), and I’ve worried about being on time to my next appointment. I’ve worried about my health, my children’s health, my parents’ health, my other loved ones’ health (healths?) and about your health. I’ve worried about the health of strangers.

I’ve worried about people who harm others, and I’ve worried about people who’ve harmed themselves. I’ve worried about people who seek to protect other people, and I’ve worried about people who are perfectly willing to harm the innocent in order to protect people from the guilty.

I’ve worried a lot about people put at risk because of their culture, their race, their religion, their nationality, or their family history.

I’ve worried about the environment, and about war, and about stressed families, and about people behind bars. I’ve worried about truth and lies, elected officials (it’s strange how I thought of that after worrying about truth and lies), teachers and principals, auto mechanics, and other clergy. I’ve worried because people were doing good things that put them at risk. I’ve worried because people were doing bad things and putting others at risk. I’ve worried about too much knowledge and too little. I’ve worried about thinking I know more than I do. I’ve worried about unselfishness and I’ve worried about greed.

I could go on with this. Let’s just say I’ve had some practice at worrying.

My body does a curious thing when I’m worried (my body was doing it as I was writing this, rather hastily, because it’s been a busy week and I didn’t have the time I prefer for sermon writing). My muscles start to tense up. I can feel them pulling and stretching across my back, and furrowing my forehead. Most of all, I can feel it in my shoulders. The muscles pull, and as they pull, they pull me inward. If I let them do it, they’d pull me into a little pastoral sphere rolling around on the floor, hoping that it will end up under the desk where I can shiver in peace.

Does that sound familiar to anybody?

I thought it might.

Worry — anxiety — fear. These fold us in upon ourselves. They make us smaller. They would shut us away from the world. Yes, that might protect us from something harmful or dangerous. It’s also likely to cut us off from the aid and support we need as well, both from each other and from God.

Heaven knows I’ve done that, too.

The Church is particularly vulnerable to this pattern of worry and fear. Anxious churches tend to become less visible in the community, not because their buildings vanish, but because their people hide their connection with the congregation. When others talk about the wonderful things in their lives: about social clubs, and family activities; about volunteer work, and retreat experiences; when they talk about interesting things they’ve read and about worship that moved them; anxious Christians stay silent. They don’t mention the prayer that touched their heart. They don’t mention the church member who brought them a meal while they were sick. They don’t mention the hymn that set their soul to dancing.

Peter and Jesus’ other disciples, in those first two months after Jesus’ crucifixion, were worried people. They’d seen Jesus’ resurrection, yes, but they’d seen him crucified first, and I can’t blame them if they weren’t eager to see that repeated on them. But they did have the comfort of each other, and so they gathered, and recalled the stories of Jesus’ ministry together, and prayed.

Until the day of Pentecost shattered their fear.

With the sound of a mighty wind, they emerged from the house where they’d gathered. They began to speak. They began to speak in the accents of Galilee. They began to speak in the more formal Hebrew, I would guess, of Jerusalem. And to everyone’s surprise, including their own, they began to speak in Parthian, in Persian, and in Elamite. They spoke the Aramaic of communities up and down the eastern Mediterranean. They spoke the Greek of the cities founded centuries before by Alexander that run around the Anatolian Peninsula, which is Turkey today. They spoke the Arabic of the deserts to the south and the Latin of the feared Roman occupiers.

“And that,” writes Melissa Bane Sevier, “is the story of how the church began. Speaking new languages, the languages of the people outside its doors. The languages of the world at large.”

The Holy Spirit found a group of worried people, and blew them full of courage as well as linguistic skill. The Holy Spirit blew open the doors that hid them and blew understanding into the ears of all who ran to see.

In our history here on Hawai’i Island, those who would preach the gospel have had to learn, or find someone who spoke, Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and even English. Today, the gospel is preached on this campus in Pohnpeian, Samoan, Tongan, and Chuukese. And another faith worships here in Arabic.

What languages do we need to learn so that those outside might be able to hear good news? What languages do we need to speak so that they will understand that God loves them? What languages do we need to speak so that they will know they are loved by the people of the Church?

The Rev. Emily Heath, a pastor in New Hampshire, writes, “A friend once told me that she opened her Facebook account before worship and ‘checked in’ at the church. The woman sitting next to her shot her a judgmental glance and said ‘church is not a place for cell phones.’ But that check in on Facebook sent a message out beyond the church’s walls, telling friends and neighbors ‘Hey, this is my church… and you would be welcome here, too.’”

At least some of us — not all — will need to be proficient in the language of social media. It’s a language that can communicate the gospel.

It’s also true that Americans, including those of us in Hawai’i, have grown disenchanted with organizations. We join formal groups less and less, including churches, service clubs, and even sports leagues. But we value the things that they do: caring for the needy, educating the children, bringing beauty to the community, treasuring its history. And we value participating in making those happen. We just don’t want to join an institution to do it.

I’m not certain what language we need to speak to communicate this (we’ll need to work together to figure it out): but we need to communicate that when we set out to serve the community, we’re open to all participants. We need to find a way to say, “Here’s what we’re doing, and everyone is welcome to be part of it: Come and make a difference.”

And as we turn to the table of Jesus Christ, where we’re fed in body and in spirit, I know that we must also learn to speak the contemporary language of blessing. We want to lift people’s hearts. What words must we use so that they’ll understand? What language must we use so that they will embrace God’s blessing?

The Holy Spirit is a wide-ranging Spirit. The Holy Spirit can blow open the doors of our insecurity and propel us into courage. And the Holy Spirit can give us the words, the smiles, the extended hands, and the actions that will speak volumes: the volumes of love that God has for us all.


Image is of “Pentecoste” by Jacopo Vignale, painted c. 1648, found in the Pieve de San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy. Photo by Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on June 4, 2017

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