Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost, May 27, 2012
Christina Berry
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

Acts 2
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 "In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

[Peter continued] 22 "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

At the end of third grade at Lincoln Elementary school, Mrs. Rose came around to visit all the third grade classes to tell us about band and orchestra. I wanted to play the drums. Mother said no, no drums.
Definitely NO drums.

Then the band teacher, Mrs. Rose, called. “We have an oboe, here,” she said to Mom, “and the elementary school band can have it, but the reeds cost two or three dollars, and most families can’t afford that, especially at the rate that fourth grade oboists break reeds.”
So I became an oboist. In the band.

I grew to love playing the oboe, but I never learned to love playing in the band. Mostly because, during marching season, I had to go to every football game. During halftime, I had to march around and play the cymbals because you can’t march with an oboe. There I would sit in the bleachers, with the boys in the drumline, wearing my band uniform that was too big, and a cowboy hat that blew off frequently in the Kansas wind.

We had to play the fight song every time there was a touchdown. And what you need to know about those cymbals is that one of them was cracked. Not a small crack, but a big one, right where the handle was, so when I twirled my cymbals which was required during the fight song, and the Star-Spangled Banner, …when I twirled my cymbals, the handle would work around in that crack and slip out and drop to the ground. And there I’d be, with just the handle in one hand, and over my head, in my other hand, one cymbal.

The band director told me, and I believed him, that if that cymbal ever broke while we were marching, that he expected to hear me yelling “CRASH” whenever the cymbals were supposed to sound.

I grew to hate football games, and I dreaded touchdowns.
I cringed when the cheerleaders would start up with their cheer:
“We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how ’bout you?!”
I knew that, inevitably, I would be called upon to crash those cymbals together and run the risk that one of them would fall apart, and there I’d be, holding one cymbal up in the air, and yelling “CRASH!”

Eventually, to avoid that possibility, I quit band altogether. I joined the orchestra, where I could play the oboe, and play music I liked, with no marching around, no parades, no halftime shows with the drumline. I didn’t like playing in the band, especially at football games. I couldn’t understand what people got so worked up about; what made Gentra Abbey’s dad so mad he would cuss at the refs; why the cheerleaders would cry if our team lost a game; what made the other kids scream and yell, “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how ’bout you?!”

I was like those onlookers at Pentecost, saying, “What is the matter with these people? What are they so worked up about? Are they drunk?”

It’s a reasonable question, if you think about it. You go down to Roscoe Eads stadium for the Sterling High School graduation. And there, in the middle of the football field, there’s this religious sect whose leader was recently executed. They claim he was resurrected, but you doubt that. Still, they’re an interesting bunch, almost like a sideshow. So you’re standing there watching, and they start getting all worked up…

There’s this noise like a wind and just when you’re expecting a tornado siren, flames appear over their heads, and they begin to speak in tongues. Welllll, hmmm.

You look at the guy standing next to you, a Somalian immigrant, and on the other side of him, there’s a kid from the Sudan. There’s a little Mexican girl and her baby brother. There’s a crowd of Swedes, and some Norwegians, a few German tourists, and some people from Rock Falls! Here’s a bunch of oddly dressed teenagers with saggy pants and tattoos and what looks like fishing tackle in their eyebrows, lips and noses. You catch the eye of the Somalian fellow, and raise one eyebrow. He smiles, and you smile back, and shake your head.

But then, as you watch these religious crackpots, a guy steps forward from the group, and starts to tell the crowd what is going on. He tells of new signs and portents, of visions and dreams, God’s Spirit being poured out, of people calling on the name of the Lord, and being saved. You move closer. So does everyone else. And they are nodding in agreement.

Now, you aren’t a religious person – spiritual, but not religious, you always say, but this guy, this religious nut, what he is saying makes sense. Somehow, you have a new understanding. You notice, over on the other side of the field, a person from your church. You have been mad at that guy, and that church, for years. The two of you haven’t spoken in a long time. He’s part of the reason you don’t go to church much anymore. It was that big disagreement about the paint color a few years back. But people got so upset, and nothing changed, certainly not the paint! You just dropped out and quit going, and nobody seemed to know, or care.

But now, something is happening. It’s like a wind blowing through the crowd while the fellow is preaching about visions and dreams. And the little Mexican girl has joined hands with the Somalian children and the Hmong guy is arm in arm with the Swedes and Norwegians and the Rock Falls group is hugging the German tourists. The teenagers with the fishing tackle faces have taken the hand of the person from your church and they are coming toward you, and you can’t remember what the argument was about or why it seemed so important. So you embrace, and the teenagers laugh and cry, and the children are dancing around, and later, you can’t even really describe what happened, but you know that you have been changed. That everything has changed.

It was like a wildfire went through your soul and burned away all the worn out old stories, the useless dead branches, all the dried up clippings of old bitterness collecting there, reduced all that resentment to ashes, singed the edges of your certainty. It was like a wind swept through your heart, and blew out all the cobwebs and dust, and all the curled up yellowed scraps of paper on which you had written notes to yourself about everything that was wrong.

The moment when the Spirit overcomes all the barriers, all the divisions of denominations, doctrine, who gets ordained and who doesn’t, worship customs, how we dress, how we serve communion, or to whom we serve it, paint and buildings and money.

Pentecost, when Phrygians sit down with Mesopotamians and Galileans, when Nazarenes worship with Lutherans and Methodists and Disciples and Presbyterians and people who are spiritual but not religious.  When the Spirit burns off the fog of all the divisions we have created, and lands on the church, crackling over our heads, swirling around us, between us, among us, within us. The Spirit comes, and it is for everyone.

The Holy Spirit rains down with a fire that does not burn, and God says:
Dream dreams!
Pray together!
Sing together!
Dance together!
You are all instruments in the band!
Just one flute is not enough;
one voice is not enough;
one dancer is not enough;
one church is not enough,
one denomination is not enough!

Just one cymbal waving in the air, and one voice yelling “CRASH” won’t do it.
We need both sides, even if one of them is cracked.
We need both cymbals, even when we are clashing.
We need each other.

We need to sound together, and play together, and work together, and make music and worship together,
and listen together for the voice of the Spirit speaking to us in the rush of the wind. Then everyone gathered at the marketplace in Jerusalem, and everyone standing around in the football field, everyone who says, “if Christians can’t get along with each other, I want no part of Christianity” everyone will see us together, arm in arm, working together for God’s realm on this earth, in spite of our disagreements, knit together in Christian love. They will hear us shouting together, everyone, sometimes clashing, but still together, still saying,

“We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how ’bout you?!”