June 21, 2014

Two Takes on One Feast


The Day of Pentecost, Year A (June 8, 2014)

Acts 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:13b-13, John 20:19-23

Today’s readings present us with a classic conundrum that is often found in when reading the Bible.  Today we have two strikingly different stories about a singular event in the history of our relationship with God.  Now, this is only a problem if we are looking to find the definitive narrative for the events that took place in that looked room.  Why wouldn’t we want a definitive narrative?  When we know something to be certain it is easier to put our trust and our faith in it.  We rely upon those concrete experiences of our lives.  We live in a culture where facts are a priority and the ultimate truth is prized.  Facts give us comfort and a foundation upon which we can defend our personal actions and ideologies.  But, when we crack open our sacred texts we often don’t find fact.  Instead we find that these were the writings of people trying to make sense of the world in which they lived.  They documented the stories of their time, handed down from generation to generation like priceless family heirlooms.  Through this process new details were added while others were forgotten.  They documented their varied relationships with God, both the good times when they constantly felt the presence of God and also the hard times when they felt an absence of God’s presence.  And perhaps most importantly the authors of the New Testament documented their experiences with Jesus who preached a radical message of love and inclusion.  While the historicity of these stories cannot be definitively pinned down, what we put our faith and hope in is that these authors experienced the living God among them as a real presence in their lives.  It is easy to believe in what we can see and touch, but it is faith when we believe without seeing.  The experiences of the disciples were unlike any other event in history.  What we know about the event in today’s readings, the events that have been come associated with Pentecost, is that something extraordinary happened in that room, and while we have two very different stories about that event, they both point towards our calling to live as the Body of Christ.  These stories point to how we are to spread the Good News of Jesus and to live out our commitment to Christ.  And it all begins with sharing our stories with others.

In the reading from Acts we have a dramatic narrative.  There are loud sounds, rushing winds, divided tongues, flames and even a miracle.  When I close my eyes and hear this story it sounds like something straight out of a movie.  If it were a Michael Bay movie the sounds would be deafening and the visual effects outstanding.  When I hear this story and insert myself into the story I imagine the disciples experienced chaos, confusion, and fear.  One minute they were in the room trying to figure out what was going on and then all of a sudden they see and sense something that is beyond their capability to accurately put into words.  So often when we have an experience of God we are at a loss for words, because our human capability to communicate pales in comparison to the actual experience of God working in our lives.  Something mysterious had happened in that room.  Something happened to the disciples unlike anything they had experienced before, something that was so amazing that it changed their lives.  From this story we find that each of the disciples were given the ability to speak a new and different language so that they could go out share their stories of the risen Christ.  We too have been given the gift of communicating with others, and it is up to us to share our story with others, even when our words fall short.

So, in this reading we are called to share our story, to be evangelists.  This of course is not an easy thing to do.  In fact most of us probably cringe when the word evangelism is uttered.  I think that is because we have a vague understanding of what this word means.  I think most of us don’t really know how we are to actually engage in evangelism.  We have an outdated model stuck in our head that may have worked a few decades ago but is no longer effective.  Or we think of the missionaries who knock on our door asking about our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  What is true about our lives is that each of engage in evangelism all the time, even when we are not consciously aware of it because evangelism begins with sharing our story.  When we share our story of how God works in our lives we are evangelizing.  When I say that we must share our story with others I don’t mean you have to walk up to every stranger you see or go door-to-door asking if they want to hear your story.  What it does mean is being aware of your interactions with others and looking for the right opportunity to share how God is present in your life.  Once we start sharing our stories with others we will quickly find that the “others,” those whom we would rather avoid have similar experiences, and while no two are alike, they are nonetheless formative in our relationship with God.  There is healing and meaning making in our shared stories and experiences.  But in order to share our stories we cannot just sit and wait for the right opportunity.  We cannot wait for the world to come to our doorstep; we must be active participants of our faith.  We too must be seekers.

This leads us to the Gospel reading and our second account of the events of Pentecost.  This story from John’s gospel is markedly different from the first narrative.  In fact this might be the antithesis of that experience.  In the story that John presents there are no loud sounds or flashing lights, there are no grand theatrics.  Instead we have a much more mysterious presentation of the event.  In John’s account we find the disciples hiding behind locked doors out of fear.  The tension was palpable as they all wondered what was going to happen to them next.  And then as if out of nowhere Jesus appeared among them and said “Peace.”  Jesus knew that the disciples were afraid so it was through his calming presence that tensions were relieved.  In fact in all of his post-resurrection appearances to his friends and disciples his first words to them are Peace.  This simple word coming from the risen Lord must have been comforting in a time of tribulation.  This was necessary so that Jesus could give them the confidence to head out into that hostile environment and share their story.  If they were to truly live out their commitment to Christ then the disciples could not just hide behind locked doors, only to share their stories with their close friends.  They could not be passive, waiting for just the right opportunity to share the Good News.  Instead, Jesus sends them out so that they could be practitioners of their faith.  From this story we see the events of Pentecost in light of John’s perspective of love and peace.  What we can take away from this reading is that we are called to go out into the world so that we can share our stories, to live our lives as followers of the risen Christ.

So as you can see we have two very different accounts of a singular event that was extraordinary and unlike any other in history.  So which one is most accurate?  Which one is more believable?  Which is the definitive, undisputed story?  Frankly the historicity doesn’t matter, what matters is that God came into our world, to live among us through Jesus.  This was unlike anything God had done for us in human history.  God sent the Holy Spirit to be among us and to dwell in us.  The events of Pentecost is yet another example of God’s desire for a relationship with us.  We can continue to ask questions of the texts so that we can dig more deeply into that event but the most important aspect of Pentecost is where it leads us, the direction from which we can take a bearing.  With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we have been given many gifts and the strength to engage in the mission and ministries of the church.  These stories about the events of Pentecost point to our call to become members of the Body of Christ and in our epistle reading for today we get some understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world.

Paul is writing to a church in trouble.  The church in Corinth was facing internal division.  Their focus and frustration was on their differences instead of focusing on their shared ministry.  In order to illustrate the need for each member in the church and to put an end to their divisions Paul creates an illustration by using the body as a metaphor for the need for inclusivity.  Paul states that these differences that make each of us unique are necessary to the life of the church.  Each of us has been blessed with different gifts and skill sets all of which are needed if we are to live out our call to ministry.  This was true for the Christians in Corinth, and it is still true for us today.  Each and every one of us is vital to the mission of the church.  We all have an equal share in the ministries of the church.  It is not for just a few people.  It is for everyone.  Each of us has been blessed with the varied gifts of the Spirit.  God has endowed us with unique talents and skills and each of us have a place at the table.  It requires us to recognize our gifts, to hone them, and then to offer them to the world to the glory of God.

Regardless of what actually happened in that room, it is clear that we are given directions towards deepening our commitment to Jesus.  We are called to share our story, because it is through personal connections that we can begin to help others.  We are called to go out into the world, to be active participants of our faith.  We are called to share our gifts with others.  So what are your gifts?  How have you been blessed by the breath of God?  Perhaps the better question is how are you offering your gifts back to the world?

In a few moments we will renew our baptismal vows.  We will reaffirm the basic principles of our faith in the living God who has been, continues to be, and will forever be among us.  And we will once again make promises about how we will live our lives in the world as living reflections of the love of God.  If you are looking for a way to offer your gifts to the world, then these promises are a good place to start.  As we say these words I want you to think about what they mean, and more specifically what they mean in your life and your commitment to following Jesus.  We have been freely given precious gifts and we are called to share those gifts with others.  The world desperately needs what you have to offer.  How will you live as a member of the Body of Christ?