May 23, 2010
William G. Carter
A young woman was chatting a couple of months after her ordination as a deacon in a Presbyterian Church. “The biggest surprise,” she said, “was how much noise I have heard.” Kind of a curious thing, I suppose, but for those of us who spend any time around the church, we know exactly what she’s talking about.
It wasn’t simply that there was more than one conversation going on around the table at a meeting. We have all been to that meeting. It wasn’t merely the official conversation at the meeting, and the informal conversation in the parking lot – but that there’s constant conversation all the time. That wherever God’s people seem to be, they always seem to talking.
This is the way it has always been. Pentecost is a celebration of speech. It is a celebration of conversation and voice. From the very beginning, Pentecost was the holiday when Israel celebrated that God spoke. God’s commandments were written down to instruct Israel in how to live, how to walk, and how to love.
So they gathered some time centuries later. Suddenly, in the name of Jesus, the Spirit comes again and everybody’s talking. That is one of the amazing details of the story from the book of Acts. God comes in the Spirit, the church starts talking, and nobody can shut it down. Nobody can restrict it. Speech continues. Like it or not, the church keep yapping.
What they are yapping about is that Jesus is risen from the dead. The content is not obvious in the Acts 2 story that we heard, but from the context, it’s clear. The people gather fifty days after the resurrection. They had seen Jesus and heard from him, up until the day when he ascended into heaven. He told them to stay together, and to pray.
And on the day of Pentecost, all of a sudden – WHOOSH! On the fiftieth day, as all are gathered to celebrate the giving of God’s good words, suddenly the Spirit comes. The Word is alive, in the air. Every voice speaks. Everybody talks. Each person, in his or her own tongue, declares that Christ is risen. That Christ is Lord.
You can’t shut down this kind of thing, particularly when people want to talk about it. Oppressive nations have discovered this, whenever the church takes a stand for human rights, decides every person is valuable and loved by God, and tries to enact this in public policy – the oppressive governments try to shut this down. They are always amazed how the church just keeps talking.
This seems to be the character of the Holy Spirit. There is a phrase that shows up in the Book of Revelation from time to time: the “seven Spirits of God”. I take it to be a figure of speech. Seven signifies perfection, seven means “complete.” The one Spirit has this multiplicity of presence, constantly speaking, constantly voicing, constantly bringing to reflection and practice everything that is God’s will. It is overwhelming to think about the reality behind this figure of speech: the “seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” In work in you and you and you.
And there’s more to God than we can even handle – especially around here.
It reminds me of that crazy scene in the movie, “Bruce Almighty.” Bruce, played by Jim Carrey, is sitting at God’s computer, and fielding all the prayer requests. During a brief stint as the Almighty, he is put in the chair to answer all the prayers from around the world. In a matter of seconds, he is overwhelmed by how many people are chattering, speaking, talking all over the globe – whatever language, whatever religion, just all at once. Boom – it’s more than he can handle. He simply can’t be as supreme and holy as he thought. God smiles and says, “It’s not easy being me.”
This is what happens as God’s Voice gets into all of us. This is what happens as people of good faith find themselves filled and affected by the Holy Spirit. There’s noise, there’s content, there’s even flak – I think that’s what that young deacon was talking about. She was overwhelmed to see what can happen when God is at work in so many different people, in so many different ways. And when the church comes to conscious speech about this, the miracle of Pentecost is that the church finds its voice.
There are times when we might wish for peace and quiet. I’m afraid that, as far as the church is concerned, the only time we are full of peace and quiet is when we’re dead. I’ve seen a couple of peaceful, quiet churches – they are something less than Christian – they even put God to sleep!
Some years ago, I heard a sermon about the “Quiet Side of Pentecost.” It was a sermon about God as our companion, dwelling silently within and around us, never making much of a peep. I’m not sure that sermon came out of the Bible. There is constant noise among the people of God when they are alive in the Spirit. The first Christmas came quietly. The first Easter happened out of earshot of the disciples. But on Pentecost, the Spirit comes and the church begins to make a lot of noise. That’s how it is to be Christian. The God of Israel keeps speaking….
And maybe that’s the best way to understand a day like this. There is so much going on in this church. This building is bustling every day of the week – primarily the Spirit of God has gotten into this church. Today we welcome fourteen new leaders, celebrate dozens of church teachers, and announce God’s love for a brand-new little baby. There are fellowship events getting planned, mission trips forming, and a youth group that never likes to sit still. There are people learning about the Bible, people praying for justice and good health, people dreaming up how to enjoy and teach a lot of children at Vacation Bible School. And those are the things that quickly come to mind. There’s never a dull day at the Church On The Hill.
Today is Pentecost, the day when we celebrate that God breathes his own life into the church. It comes in wind and fire. There is plenty of noise. And I get the distinct impression that we are part of God’s great plan to rescue the world.
Happy Birthday, little flock. Happy Birthday! You have never looked so beautiful and alive.
(c) William G. Carter
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