The Birth of New Life

PentecostSunday_wide_tActs 2:1-21 NRSV

Here are just a few things my mother taught me…

 My Mother taught me about ANTICIPATION…

“You just wait until your father gets home.”

My Mother taught me about RECEIVING….

“When we get home, you’re going to get it!”

My Mother taught me to MEET A CHALLENGE…

“Answer me when I talk to you! And don’t talk back to me!”

My Mother taught me LOGIC…

“If you fall out off that swing and break your neck, you’re not going to the store with me.

My Mother taught me HUMOR…

“When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”

My Mother taught me about GENETICS…

“You’re just like your father.”

My Mother taught me about my ROOTS…

“Shut that door!  Do you think you were raised in a barn!”

And last but certainly not least, my Mother taught me about JUSTICE…

“One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!

And, of course, all of our mothers taught us something even more important—something about this wonderful gift we call “life.” There is absolutely nothing any of us ever did to earn or deserve this most precious gift. But here we are!—Inexplicable gifts from God, birthed through our mothers.

Pentecost is often referred to as the day the God gave birth to the Church—the day when the outpouring of God’s energy through the Holy Spirit swept down like wind and fire and touched every one who had gathered for the Jewish festival. New Testament professor Beverly Gaventa writes that the essential message of Pentecost is:  “Sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life!”

And this new life came in dramatic, indescribable fashion. Gaventa writes: “It is as if not even the most lavish use of human language is capable of capturing the experiences of the day.” She writes: “All of the stops on the literary organ are employed: a heavenly sound like rushing wind, descending fire, and patterns of transformed speech.” That’s because there are just no words to describe this sudden, unmerited, irresistible gift of new life!

Brooks and Jenny and Chase, Pentecost is like holding precious little Andrew White in your arms: feeling his soft skin pressed up against yours, smelling his sweet head, listening to his precious sounds. There are just no words in any language to describe it.

If only we, living today in the 21st century, could have been there on that day. Think of what First Christian Church could be, rather would be, if we could have been present on the Day of Pentecost. Think of impact we would have in eastern North Carolina and in our world if you and I received this indescribable gift of the outpouring of God’s energy. Think of all we could accomplish together for the honor and glory of God.

But we were not there, were we? Unfortunately, we were born nearly 2000 years too late. The Day of Pentecost was just a one-day, one-time event in human history, and we missed it all! God simply does not work that way in our world anymore!

Well, I don’t believe that, and I have this sense that you don’t either.

Theology Professor, Robert Wall, points out that the Pentecost experience of God’s Spirit occurred not only once, but is repeated several times in Acts. The images and language of Pentecost, Walls says, “are routinely recalled to interpret subsequent outpourings of God’s Spirit as the constant testimony to God’s continuing faithfulness.”

In the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, we read that after Peter and John laid their hands on the people of Samaria, they received the Holy Spirit.” They received sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life.

In the tenth chapter of Acts we read that while Peter was still preaching, “the Holy Spirit came on all who had heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”

Again, in the eleventh chapter Peter says, “As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us in the beginning.”

In the nineteenth chapter of Acts, after Paul baptizes twelve people in Ephesus, we read:  “After Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”

Throughout Acts we learn that Pentecost, the gift of sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life is not a one-day, one-time event in human history. The gift of Pentecost is an experience which is repeated and repeated often in our world. And it is still being repeated today.

The good news is that we have experienced the possibilities of Pentecost, the promise of the birth of new life, on numerous occasions. We have all experienced those special occasions where we were showered with the inexplicable gift of new life, sudden, unmerited, and irresistible. We have all experienced new beginnings, fresh starts and second chances.

The exhilarating discovery that a new baby is on the way.  The miraculous birth of that baby. The dedication of that baby in a worship service. The excitement of a new job.  The anticipation of a new school. The possibilities of a new marriage.  The promise of new friendships. Yes, we have all experienced the grand possibilities which come with new beginnings, fresh starts and second chances.

And it is not only in the special events of life that we experience these possibilities. I believe when we consider that all of life is a gift of God’s grace, there is no event which is so ordinary that the Spirit of God is not present in it. Frederick Buechner writes that God’s Spirit can be found in the most common of places, “always hiddenly, always leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.” Because all of life is a gift of God’s grace, inexplicable new life can be experienced everywhere!  Buechner writes that it can be found “Taking your children to school, and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend.  Trying to do a decent day’s work.  Hearing the rain patter against the window.”

Yes, the possibilities of Pentecost are everywhere, but I believe it is most real right here in this place we call church.

On this day as we dedicate Andrew to God, our thoughts are turned towards family—our parents, grandparents, our children and grandchildren. We cannot begin to count the number of times we’ve experienced the gush of new life within the context of family.

However, sometimes I think we need to be reminded that Jesus’ concept of family was often much broader than ours. One day while he was teaching, someone interrupted him and said, “Your mother and brother are waiting for you outside.”  Jesus turned, and pointed to the crowd and said, “Here are my brothers, here are my mothers.  Here is my family.”

Yes, I believe that here, in this place, with our family of faith, the power of Pentecost is most real—as we worship and fellowship together, but also as we serve and reach out together.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that in Acts we read that the gift of the Holy Spirit often came after Peter or Paul laid their hands on others. I believe one of the best ways to usher in the possibilities of Pentecost is by reaching out and personally touching others.

God’s energy is released and sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life comes when graciously serve a meal to someone hungry, when we tenderly caress the forehead of someone in the nursing home, when we gently hold someone’s hand in the hospital, and when we empathetically embrace someone in the funeral home.

Pentecost comes when we, the body of Christ, lay our hands, which, by the way, are the hands of Christ, on all who are in need. Pentecost comes, when we seek out someone who has wronged us offering a handshake of forgiveness or a hug of mercy, offering the grace of friendship. Pentecost comes when we reach out and hold the hand of an outsider.

Pentecost—sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life comes. New beginnings, fresh starts, and second chances can come to us in the ordinariness of life, and most specifically, through the many opportunities we have as the body of Christ to offer personal touches of grace to one another.

And the really good news is that this sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life comes to all of us with faith in Christ when our lives on this earth are complete.

Peter, in his sermon, recalls the words of the prophet Joel. He recalls the signs Joel says are a prelude to disaster—blood, fire, darkness and smoky mist. However, the death and destruction prophesied by Joel is transformed on Peter’s tongue into a declaration of new life.  For Joel, these signs of the outpouring of God’s Spirit are a prelude to disaster. For Peter, with faith in the risen Christ, these signs of God’s energy released are a prelude to the redemption of humankind.

When each of us comes face to face with our own deaths, God, with the power of Pentecost, redeems our deaths and replaces our deaths with sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life.

Pentecost—this is our hope.  And this is our purpose.  May First Christian Church, who may not have been present on that day nearly 2000 years ago, but has, in so many ways, experienced this power of Pentecost nonetheless, work together to share this gift of new life with this community and with our world. May we share it with our words, but also through the laying on of our hands, so that sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life may rain down from heaven like wind and fire and touch everyone!

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