Ashamed of the Gospel

not ashamed

Matthew 10:24-29 NRSV

For a year and a half, I have been preaching that the church needs to re-discover its mission to be the church, to be the body of Christ, to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world. As Christ, we are to continue his self-expending, self-denying ministry in this world, doing the very same things that he did while he was on this earth: bringing healing to the sick, hope to the despairing, comfort to the troubled, grace to the sinners, and life to the dying.

But as I mentioned last week, we have our doubts.

We may say things like: “Seems like Jesus is really asking a lot of us. I ‘m no so sure I am ready. I have some things that I need to work out in my life first. My faith needs some work. I have questions. I have so much to learn, so much to figure out. And besides that, I have some very personal issues to deal with. I sometimes have a problem with anger. Sometimes I act or say before I think. So right now, if you don’t mind, until I can get my own self more together, learn a little more, grow a little more, I think I will pass on on making a commitment to be the embodiment of Christ in this world.

But, as you may remember from last week’s sermon, if Jesus can use Judas, the one who betrayed him, and Matthew, the tax collector, to be the church, then surely he can use you and me.

This morning, I want us to look at another disciple. The first disciple listed by Matthew in this chapter, Simon Peter.

You know, Saint Peter. The one Jesus called a “rock” and said, “on this rock, I will build my church.” The one Roman Catholics recognize as the first Pope. Perhaps you’ve heard of St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Peter: the one whom Jesus loved and trusted to carry on his ministry in this world.

Well, let me tell you a little more about this Peter fella.

One day, he is out on boat with the other disciples. It is the middle of the night, and there’s this big storm. The wind is howling. The waves are crashing against and into the boat. And as you could imagine, they were all scared to death. But then, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water, saying to them to have courage and fear not.

But Peter…Peter has some doubts. Peter has some questions. Peter needs to work some things out: “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come out on the water.” And Jesus responds, “Peter, you of little faith.”

Later, Jesus is instructing Peter about discipleship. Jesus talks about being humble, about lowering one’s self, even pouring one’s self out. Jesus talks about selfless, self-expending, sacrificial love, being with and for the least of these.

But Peter…Peter has some issues. Peter has some things to learn. Peter gets into an argument with the other disciples about which one of them was the greatest.

After Jesus prays in the garden, surrendering himself to the will of God, Jesus does not resist arrest. Jesus practices what he preaches and turns the other cheek.

But Peter…Peter loses it. Peter acts before he thinks. In a fit of anger, Peter fights back. Peter draws his sword and begins swinging it at Jesus’ captors, cutting the ear off of one.

The entire chapter of Matthew 10 has Jesus warning the disciples, including Peter, that they must be prepared to carry a cross. And if they followed him, if they did what he did, loved who he loved, a cross would be in their future.

Jesus essentially said:

“When you preach the word of God that cuts like a sword; when you love all people and try to teach others to love all people; when you preach a grace that is extravagant and a love that is unconditional; when you talk about the need to make room at the table for all people, even for folks called “illegal” or “aliens”; when you stand up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized; when you proclaim liberty to the oppressed and say that their lives matter; when you defend, forgive and friend sinners caught in the very act of sinning; when you feed the hungry with no strings attached; when you tell lovers of money to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor; when you command a culture of war to be peacemakers; when you tell the powerful to turn the other cheek; when you call religious leaders, hypocrites, and then point out their hypocrisy; when you criticize their faith without works, their theology without practice, and their tithing without justice; when you refuse to tolerate intolerance; when you do these things that I do,” says Jesus, “then the self-righteous-powers-that-be will rise up, and they will hate. They will hoist their colors, and they will grab their guns. They will come against you with all that they have, and they will come against you in name of God. They will do anything and everything that is in their power to stop you, even if it means killing you.”

In Mark’s description of this scene, remember it is Peter who has some serious issues with that.

Peter says to Jesus: “No way! Stop talking like that. This is not right. You are crazy. We will not let this happen!”

It is then that Jesus responds to Peter with some of the harshest words ever attributed to Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.”

Jesus, calls Peter, “Satan.”

What in the world?

He never called Judas who betrayed him or Matthew the tax collector “Satan.” Why Peter?

What was truly Peter’s problem. Jesus seems to know what it is. And his problem is greater than doubt, a lack of understanding, or poor anger management.

What is it that is really keeping Peter from being the church, being the enfleshed presence of Christ?

Well, what is truly keeping us from being the church, being the embodiment of our Lord?

After Jesus is arrested, Peter goes into the courtyard of the High Priest. It is a cold night, so he gathers with some folks who had started a fire to warm themselves. A servant girl begins staring at Peter and says: “This man was with Jesus. He traveled around with him doing the things that Jesus did, saying the things that Jesus said.” But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not even know this Jesus.”

A little later, another saw him and said: “You are a disciple, a disciple of Jesus who defended, forgave and friended sinners. You welcomed strangers, visited prisoners, clothed the naked, gave water to the thirsty, and fed the hungry. You restored lepers, elevated the status of women, gave dignity to Eunuchs, and offered community to lepers. But, again, Peter denied it.

About an hour had passed and another man began to insist saying: “Certainly this man was with Him, for he is a Galilean too. You called out hypocrisy on the behalf of widows. You challenged the status quo on the behalf of the sick. You disobeyed the laws of God on the behalf of the suffering.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”

You see, Peter’s denials, his refusal to take up his cross, had to do with shame. And perhaps this was Peter’s real problem all the while.

Peter’s failure to be the church in the world had nothing to do with his doubts and his questions, his personal issues, even his poor anger management.

Peter failed to follow Christ, because Peter was ashamed. Peter was ashamed of the gospel: What the gospel stood for, and for whom the gospel stood.

Peter was ashamed to love, because living among voices clamoring to take their country back from foreign invaders, it was more popular to hate.

Peter was ashamed to turn the other cheek, because it was more popular to draw a sword.

Peter was ashamed to identify with the least, because it was more popular to identify with the greatest.

Peter was ashamed to share his wealth, because it was more popular to hold on to it.

Peter was ashamed to side with the poor, because it was more popular to ridicule them for being “lazy” and “entitled.”

Peter was ashamed to welcome immigrants, because it was more popular to ban them.

Peter was ashamed to defend sinners, because it was more popular to throw rocks.

Peter was ashamed to stand up for the marginalized, because it was more popular to call them “abominations.”

Peter was ashamed to visit those in prison, because it was popular to dehumanize them.

Peter was ashamed to preach a dangerous gospel that demands risk and sacrifice while promoting change and causing trouble, because it was more popular to preach an alternative gospel that demands nothing while promoting peace, security, comfort and family values.

And according to Mark Jesus said: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

According to Matthew Jesus said: “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

So, are we ready to proclaim the gospel from the housetops? If not, what’s our excuse? We must remember, with Jesus, a lack of faith, having a lot of questions and some serious issues, or not having ourselves all together simply doesn’t cut it!

Could it be it is because we are somewhat ashamed? Are we ashamed of the gospel? Are we ashamed of what it stands for, and for whom it stands?

The good news is that Peter dealt with his shame. Peter decided to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world. And, this one Jesus called “Satan,” helped start the church, this very thing that we call the Body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.

And the good news for us this morning is that we still have a little time to deal with our shame.

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Preach, Raise, Cast Out and Heal

Heal-the-sick-300x200

Matthew 9:35-10:8

I think sometimes we need to be reminded of the strange way that the Kingdom of God was started on this earth.

Jesus begins his ministry ushering in the reign of God, and how does he do it?  Does the Son of God, the Messiah of the world, the alpha and the omega, the one through all things came into being, do it all by himself?

Nope.

Oddly enough, he calls together and sends out ordinary people like you and me to help him.

Master preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has written a wonderful meditation called The Preaching Life where she stresses the need for all Christians to recognize that they have been called to be ministers.

She writes:

Somewhere along the way we have misplaced the ancient vision of the church as a priestly people—set apart for ministry in baptism, confirmed and strengthened in worship, made manifest in service to the world. That vision is a foreign one to many church members, who have learned from colloquial usage that minister means the ‘ordained person,’ in a congregation, while lay person means ‘someone who does not engage in full-time ministry.’  Professionally speaking that is fair enough—but speaking ecclesiastically, it is a disaster. Language like that turns clergy into purveyors of religion, and lay persons into consumers, who shop around for the church that offers them the best product.

Taylor says we need to revive Martin Luther’s vision of the priesthood of all believers, who are ordained by God at baptism to share Christ’s ministry in this world.

All we have to do is sit down and study he scriptures to understand that this is just how our God works in this world. Nowhere in the scriptures do we find God saying: “Go into the world and make Christians. Bring them into the church so they can sing some hymns, sit and pray and listen to a sermon about being good, moral people. Form a type of club. Hire a full-time club president who is going to be there to plan activities for and to support the club members, making sure they are comfortable and happy.”

No, what we do find in scriptures is Jesus instructing us to go into the world and make disciples out of all nations. Make disciples, not Christians.

And what do disciples do? Sit on a pew every Sunday? Sing, pray, try to be good. Maybe attend a committee meeting every now and again?

No, they do what Jesus did. Nothing too big mind you. Just your ordinary raising of the dead. Just your routine healing of a disease. Just your typical demon exorcism sort of thing. They do things that change the world.

Seriously. That’s what it says. Read it with your own eyes.

Maybe this is part of our problem. Maybe ancient scriptures like this which don’t seem to apply to us are why we sometimes look more like club members than disciples.

Perhaps we are tempted to believe that passages such as this have absolutely nothing to do with us. For how in the world can we sophisticated 21st-century folk take these words about raising dead people and casting out demons seriously?

Jesus also sent the disciples out to heal diseases. “Does that mean we are supposed to have faith healing services? Put a billboard out on Garriott: “Before you go to the Emergency room at Bass or St. Mary’s, swing by Central Christian Church first!”

I guess we will also need to create a demon exorcism ministry team and put an ad in the paper which will read: “Know someone possessed by the devil? Call the demon exorcism team of Central Christian Church. We’ll make your possessed loved one’s head spin around until the demons are cast out and are gone for good!”

And then I suppose we need to create a resuscitation ministry team—A team that will be on call to receive calls from families of loved ones who just died? We’ll send out flyers to hospitals and nursing homes which will read, “Before you call the funeral home, call our resuscitation ministry team, and we’ll bring the dead back to life!”

So, we read this and think that just maybe we’re not supposed to take this passage that seriously. Maybe this is not what we are to be about. After all, it was written very different people who lived a long, long time ago, in place far, far away. How in the world can this passage be for us living in the 21st century?

But this is the Bible we are talking about here. If there is anything true, it is in here. We are baptized Christians and believe Jesus is Lord—he is our Lord.  And this is Jesus speaking here. This passage has to have something to do with us—perhaps everything to do with us.

Let’s look at healing diseases. Several years ago, Duke University did a study which revealed that people who go to church, people who have faith and a family of faith, people who are prayed for, statistically have a better recovery rate from major surgeries than people who are not a part of a church. Think of how many dreadful experiences you have had, how many horrible things you have gone through which made you say in the end, “I don’t know how people without faith and the church do it.”  Christians bring healing to people whenever they pray, send cards or flowers, and make visits or phone calls.

Now, let’s look at casting out demons. We need to understand that the problems that people possess really have not changed in 2000 thousand years. It’s just the descriptions of those problems that have changed. Demon possession was a diagnosis given to a whole host of problems. Most of these problems labeled demon possession had an oppressive nature. People who were said to be possessed by demons had a problem or a habit, perhaps an addiction that they could not break by themselves.

And of course that is still true today. On this day, when our thoughts once more are turned toward family, there are countless children, living right here in our city, who are bound, living in a cycle of poverty from which they can not escape. Drugs have taken their toll on some of their parents. Some have been abandoned by their fathers, some by their mothers. Some of their fathers are in prison. These children feel unloved, unwanted, and unclean. The demons of these children are many. They are in survival mode. And a way out seems impossible.

Unless someone intervenes. Unless someone becomes a mentor or a role model to these children. Unless someone answers a call to step in to befriend these children, include these children, tutor these children, read a book to these children, coach these children, love these children. Unless maybe a church dedicates themselves to these children.

Ok, perhaps we can understand how we called to partner with Jesus to fight the world’s demons and diseases, but how on earth do we raise dead people back to life?

I want to suggest that we do this all the time.

Tony Campolo tells the story of attending a funeral where the minister stopped preaching to the congregation and started preaching to the dead body. The casket was still open as the minister recounted Clarence’s faithful life and talked about how everyone would miss him dearly.

Then his tone changed, as he started talking directly to Clarence. He walked down and looked at Clarence lying there in the casket. He said: “Today, Clarence, we say good-bye. But this good-bye isn’t ‘so long.’ Clarence, it’s ‘until then.’” Then he closed the casket himself and said, “Good night Clarence, we’ll see you in the morning.”  Then the choir rose up and started to sing, That Great Getting’ Up Morning.

And when I think about it, at every funeral, I try my best to raise the dead. With scripture and prayer, I do all I can do to assure everyone that we will see them again.

And I will never forget how the dead was raised at the first Enid Welcome Table on Easter Sunday when one of our guests said to a volunteer: “Today, you have made me feel human again.”

The truth is that Jesus Christ gives all of us, his disciples, the power and the authority to partner with him in his mission and ministry in this world which includes, casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead.

But, you say, that’s still not for me. That kind of work was for the apostles. It was just for those special twelve disciples that Jesus called to follow him. They were special people, with extraordinary gifts and powers. I’m just an ordinary lay person. This passage is really not for me.

Let’s take a closer look at the list of these twelve to find out what was so special about them. Only two of the twelve here have descriptions in addition to the mention of their names (the rest of them are so ordinary that their names do not merit a description).

One name that does is “Matthew, the tax collector.” Matthew was a despised, disreputable, no good, low-life tax collector who took money from his own people to give to the Roman occupiers.

The other one with a description is “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” Jesus is either a miserable judge of character, or even his worst enemies are able to go out and work miracles in his name.

Think about it. There is nothing here to indicate that Judas failed to go out and preach, raise, cast out and heal. As far as we can tell, Judas had the same success as everyone else, including Matthew, the despised tax collector.

Beverly Gaventa says that this passage indicates that Jesus had a general rule for disciple-calling: “Only tax-collectors and traitors need apply.”

Jesus seems to only call sinners and nobodies to do his work.  Does anyone here really know who James, the son of Alphaeus is?”

If even these twelve can be called to do Jesus’ work, so can people as ordinary as us. The truth is: this passage, that may seem strange and outdated on the surface, has everything in the world to do with us.

Are you ready to take it seriously? “The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few,” said Jesus. God is calling every one of us to preach, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead.

What will be our response?

Let’s Dance

old-guy-dancing

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

2 Samuel 6

Modern Trinitarian thought uses a word spoken by Gregory of Nazi-anzus and Maximus the Confessor to describe how three can be one. These ancient thinkers referred to the inner life and the outer working of the Trinity as peri-co-reses. It means literally in the Greek, “to dance,” suggesting a dynamic, intimate relationship shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love.’ But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ has no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, [God] was not love…

 

And that, writes Lewis,

is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity, God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, a kind of dance…

Lewis continues:

And now, what does it all matter?  It matters more than anything else in the world.  The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this Three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: (or putting it the other way around) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his [or her] place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.

I want to assert that the the problem with most churches today is that there is just not enough dancing. For some reason, maybe it is from our Puritan roots, church people are too reserved and rigid. Most of us prefer to keep our faith personal, private, than let it all hang out for others to see.

There’s a great dancer in our Bible that I believe the church could learn a thing or two from. We read about him in 2 Samuel 6.

After David led a great army to get possession of the Ark of the Covenant to return it to Jerusalem, David and his army were so overcome with what was going on that they engaged in festive rejoicing and dancing. They were seized by what James Newsome, New Testament professor of Columbia Seminary calls “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy.”

The scriptures say that David sang and danced before God “with all his might.” He sang and danced before God with all that he had and with all that he was.

You might say that David was God-intoxicated. And when you become God-intoxicated, so filled with the Holy Spirit of God, there’s just know way you can keep it private.

When David and his wife Michal arrived home from the party and began preparing to turn in for the night, David, if he was anything like me, was probably hoping to hear some words of affirmation from his wife. Something like, “Honey, you were so wonderful today. As I listened to you sing and watched you dance in the streets, you just don’t know how proud I was of you! You danced your heart out! And why shouldn’t you have, you brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem where it belongs!”

However, the words David hears are something like: “David, you looked like a drunken fool.”

Perhaps David did act like an intoxicated fool. Uninhibited and unrestrained, he lost all self-control. Seized by “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy,” David held absolutely nothing back. David surrendered to the Spirit which had filled him.

David danced, charged by the rule of God. David danced, electrified by the justice of God. David danced a dance of total self-surrender. David danced, holding nothing back. David danced giving all that he had and all that he was to God. And there was absolutely nothing personal or private about this dance. This dance caused a scene. This dance created a fuss. This dance got people’s attention. This dance challenged the status quo. This dance disturbed the peace.

And Michal despised David for it.

This is what happens when one drinks what Paul calls in Ephesians “huge draughts of the Spirit of God.” This is what happens when one becomes God-intoxicated. There is no way to control it, temper it. There is no way to conceal it. There is no way to regulate it to two hours on a Sunday morning. When one becomes drunk with the rule of God, the love of God, one’s feet will inevitably move to the dance of the gospel, and one will be despised for it.

The truth is: the dance of the gospel is a dangerous dance. The dance of the gospel is a disturbing dance. Because the active affirmation the rule of God does not set well with the Michals of the world.

The dance of personal, private piety are easier steps to follow, aren’t they? The message of false prophets watering down the gospel of Christ as nothing more than a little dose of “chicken soup for the soul” is much easier to swallow. If we just get ourselves right with the Lord, if we pray right and live right, if we are good moral people, if we don’t drink, dance, smoke or chew or go with girls who do, then God will bless us and one day send us to heaven.

The dance of the gospel is radically different. The dance of the gospel are steps to the beat of a different drum. If we get right with the Lord; if we pray right and live right; if we lose all inhibitions and all restraint; if we completely surrender ourselves to the rule of God; if we love others as Christ loves us, unconditionally, unreservedly; if we question the status quo, if we disturb the peace; if we dance to the beat of this drum, then we will invariably upset some folks.

That’s a good question for all of us who are attempting to follow Jesus, is it not? In your walk with Jesus, are you getting any push back?”

The answer should always be “yes,” for the dance of the gospel is a dance of self-surrender to a radical beat. It is a beat of sacrifice. It is a beat of selflessness. It is a beat of self-expenditure. It is a beat of a scandalous love and an offensive grace. And to world, as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, if we let go and dance to this beat, we are certain to look like fools.

And as Luke warned us in Acts chapter 2 last week, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we may even be accused of public drunkenness, even if it before 9am in the morning.

We will be called drunken fools when we offer our friendship and our food to a group of people on a late Sunday afternoon who can offer us nothing in return.

We will be called drunken fools we spend valuable time volunteering at the hospital, visiting a nursing home, serving lunch in a soup kitchen, or spending a week of your hard earned vacation as a counselor at church camp.

We will be called drunken fools when we offer love and forgiveness to our enemies, when we give the shirt off our backs to complete strangers in need.

We will be called drunken fools anytime we love anyone with the self-expending love of Christ—whenever we love someone without inhibitions, without restraints, and without any strings attached.

We will be called drunken fools when we continue to challenge the status quo, question immoral systems of injustice, and disturb the peace.

For the Michals of the world despise this dance. And they will do everything in their power to stop this dance.

We have all heard their voices: loud echoes which discourage such dancing. “Don’t get too close to him. Do not give your heart to her. You will be sorry. They will only let you down.”

“Don’t love that man. He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it and will never reciprocate.”

“Don’t love that woman. She is too needy. She never does anything to help herself. She will demand too much.”

The voices of Michal say: “The system is not that broken. The poor get what they deserve. Most minorities have it pretty good in our country, and they are the real racists. Public education is not worth fighting for. Healthcare is not a right.”

The voices of Michal say: “Keep your faith private, personal. Keep it between you and God. Don’t stir up trouble. Just sit on a pew and look forward to going to heaven. Sing behind stained glass. Forget about being missional. Don’t worry about your neighbor. Don’t waste your time giving yourself away to strangers. Loving like that is crazy. It is too risky. It leads to too much pain.”

However, there is another voice, a Divine voice that was heard by David: “These are serious times, so let’s drink large draughts of the Holy Spirit, until we are all God-intoxicated! Let’s sing and dance in the streets with all we have.” It is a voice which says: “Let’s Dance!  Hold nothing back. Give yourself away. Surrender yourself to the beat of the heart of the gospel. Love. Love honestly and deeply. Love courageously and graciously. Lose yourself. Empty yourself. Pour yourself out. Question the systems of injustice. Defend the powerless. Stand up for the marginalized. Challenge the status quo. Disturb the peace.”

Will this love cause pain?  It will cause enormous pain. But the joy of God which will consume you will be so immense the suffering will be well worth it.

You’ve heard me quote the great Oklahoman theologian, Garth Brooks’: “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to have missed the dance.”

Dancing the dance of the gospel will inevitably bring pain. However, never truly following in the steps of Jesus to avoid that pain is never really living. There is no joy being a wallflower on the wall of life or being a Sunday morning pew-napper.

So, let’s get our backs up off the wall! Let’s drink huge draughts of the spirit of God, and let us dance!  Let’s go out and dance in the streets of Enid and have seizures of prophetic ecstasy!

Now, be warned! Qe will look like drunken fools, and we will suffer for it. But the immense joy of God, the joy of abundant life, now and forevermore, is well worth it.

We Need a Little Pentecost

john's ordinaiton

Acts 2:1-21 NRSV

Did anyone get what we were trying to do last Sunday afternoon in this place? Clergy, adorned in red stoles symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit, came from all over the Oklahoma and beyond to surround the Reverend John Wheeler in this place. Do you know we were doing in this area down front, laying our hands on John or on somebody that was laying their hands on John?

We were trying to bring John a little Pentecost!

Because Rev. John, bless his heart, certainly needs a little Pentecost—

-Graduating from seminary;

-Pledging a commitment to vocational Christian ministry;

-Dedicating his life to preach, not just any message, but the message of one who was forced to carry a cross for that message;

-Vowing to walk in the steps of the one who loved his neighbors with such a radical grace and inclusion that he was called a glutton and a drunkard who ate and drank with the wrong kind of people.

-Accepting the call to do the works of one who was run out of many a village for those works, who never made any money because of those works, and was arrested, beaten and crucified for  those works;

—Yes, Rev. John Wheeler, bless your heart, you certainly need a little Pentecost!

Pentecost is often called the day God gave birth to the ministry of all ministers—the day when the outpouring of God’s energy through the Holy Spirit swept down like wind and fire and touched all who had gathered for the Jewish festival.

New Testament professor Beverly Gaventa describes the energy that poured out that day as: “Sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life!”

And when you are called to be a minister, when you are called to be the church, to be the very hands and feet of one gave himself unto death, even death on a cross, oh how we need this life-giving power! Oh how we need a little Pentecost!

And this power 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!

And this is exactly what Rev. Wheeler needs as he commits his life to ministry. And this is exactly what our church needs today if it is to continue to be the church God is calling us to be.

Before last Sunday’s ordination, perhaps the only thing that has come close to Pentecost for John and Sally was the time they held their son Luke, and a few years later, Chloe, in their arms for the very first time: feeling their soft skin pressed up against theirs, smelling their sweet heads, listening to their precious sounds. Sudden, unmerited, irresistible, new life. There are just no words in any language to describe the immense power of it, the sheer miracle of it.

This is what Acts 2 was trying describe that day that new life came.

Don’t you wished you could have been there at that festival that day to get you some of that! Don’t you wished you could have felt the wind, saw the fire, heard the miracle?

If only we, living today in the 21st century, could have been there on that day. Think of what Central Christian Church could be, rather would be, if only we could have been present on the Day of Pentecost. Think of impact we would have in our city and in our world if you and I could have received this indescribable gift of the outpouring of God’s energy. Think of all we could accomplish together in the name the Christ who loved all and poured out himself for all.

But we were not there, were we? Unfortunately for us, 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. That is why we had that ordination service last week for John: to make it happen all over again!

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.”

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….”

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

The truth is that I believe we have experienced the possibilities of Pentecost on numerous occasions. We just didn’t know what to call it.

The exhilarating discovery that a new baby is on the way. The miraculous birth of that baby. The excitement of a new job. The anticipation of a new school. The hope of a new marriage. The promise of new friendships. Yes, we have all experienced the grand possibilities which come with new beginnings, fresh starts or 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 can be experienced everywhere, but perhaps, most especially, as we reach out to others in unconditional love.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that in Acts we read that the gift of the Holy Spirit often came after Peter, John 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 new life comes when we lay our hands on someone ordaining them to Christian ministry, but also when we graciously serve a meal to someone hungry, when we tenderly caress the forehead of someone in a nursing home, when we gently hold someone’s hand in a hospital, and when we empathetically embrace someone in a 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 to offer a handshake of forgiveness a hug of mercy, the grace of friendship. Pentecost comes when we welcome, accept and hold the hand of an outsider.

And the good news is that this sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life can come even in our darkest moments. Pentecost can happen, not just when something or someone is being born or reborn. Pentecost can come, not just with the sunrise of new day. The truth is that Pentecost can happen at what might seem to be the sunset. Sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life can happen even amidst the storm.

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. But for Peter, with faith in the power of the risen Christ, these signs of God’s energy released are a prelude to the redemption of humankind.

Thus, whether it be days in our lives, or days in our church, that cause us to despair, God, with a power called Pentecost, can redeem the darkness of even death into the light of life.

Pentecost—this is our hope.  And this is our purpose. May Central 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 our city and our world. May we share it with our words, but also through the laying on of our hands of service, so that sudden, unmerited, irresistible new life may rain down from heaven like wind and fire and touch everyone!