It starts with the waiting. We don’t know what the disciples were doing but, Luke writes, they were sticking together. After Acts begins with the Ascension – that Taylor spent time on last week – the rest of chapter 1 is a meeting of the early church’s nominating committee. Then, they wait.
Then, SUDDENLY, the sound, rushing, filling the house where they were. Layer in the echoes of fire and wind from the Hebrew Scriptures, winds blowing over the waters in creation to the people following a pillar of fire through the wilderness, and we have a dramatic scene. A tongue rested on each. Then, in an instant, the Holy Spirit shoved them out of that room, and folks who spoke different languages and didn’t understand each other all of the sudden could. They didn’t then speak the same language, their differences remained, but they heard the disciples speaking, and understood. Yet some were quick to be cynical, sneering, “They are filled with new wine.” They must be drunk. This is ridiculous. Peter turns, beginning his sermon, reaching back to the words of the prophet Joel. In those days, the Spirit will be alive among us, pouring out God’s gifts, inspiring us with passion. Visions and signs, and they’ll happen with everybody, old and young, men and women, all will point to God’s reconciling work in Jesus. “The Spirit, once the exotic possession of a prophetic few, is now offered to all.”
Now I love the church. And I really love this one in particular. But whenever I read this story, of a crazy Holy Spirit who sends us rushing out, who disrupts everything, I wonder. In the gospels I meet a Jesus who walked right up to guys he didn’t know fishing and said, “Hey, leave all that behind and come follow.” This Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, the body more than clothing?” This Jesus said to the young man who was very rich to sell EVERYTHING HE HAD, give the money to the poor, come and follow. This Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This Jesus stood firm in the face of all Rome had, and who went, willingly, to the cross. This Jesus asks everything of us, all we have.
Yet the church, in general, and this church in particular, that I love, is also pretty skilled taking that dynamic Holy Spirit and bottling her right up. ‘Decently and in order’ we say, making fun of ourselves, but we mean it. Yet every time I read this story I am convicted. I can’t remember the last time the church was accused of being drunk, completely unreasonable, filled with new wine. I am not trying to be flip, because alcohol and alcoholism is nothing to chuckle about. It touches us all, and it is important the church be a community that takes tending to our brothers and sisters seriously when the disease that is alcoholism rears its ugly head. I am talking about the church behaving in a way that makes the world wonder if our head is screwed on correctly. Most, change happens at a glacial pace. We had a 10-month committee to study the new hymnal when it came out from the denomination a few years ago. The Worship Committee studied like heck when we decided to do the absolutely radical thing of going to one service in the summertime. It’s amazing. Good, thorough processes are not unimportant things – we Presbyterians specialize in them. Yet most of these systems tend toward institutional stability. About conserving the good and not letting things get too out of hand. What would people say? We take everything interesting and surprising and scary, and set it aside.
But, as I said before, it does make me wonder. It makes me wonder what it might be like if we each listen a little more carefully to the Spirit’s promptings among us. To be a little more open. To allow yourself to be surprised. To let loose of the control we do love. To know that the crazy, ridiculous Spirit of Pentecost, no matter who you are or where your find yourself, has some work for you to do.
I don’t know what that means for you. It does mean that I want you to feel called to get engaged. Deeply engaged, in the thick of it, with others, for Jesus. That’s my personal challenge for you – and for myself – as we lean into the beginning of summer. Don’t plan a program or commission a study. Make sure when you’re gathering with friends this summer you are doing more than chit-chatting about your beach plans. Make the conversations matter. Commit to something you don’t have time for, for someone whose kids aren’t going to all the cool summer camps yours are. Take some time to breathe with people you love, read a book in the mountains. But let that rest also be a renewal of purpose, remembering WHO we are to be FOR, in a world of too much division and violence, of too much, still, too much racism and sexism, too much systematic discrimination, largely against groups of folks who don’t have the privileges we have. Don’t forget who we are for, in the name of Jesus. And find some people you can make a mess with, in a way that is profoundly NOT orderly, and that makes people wonder what the heck has gotten into you, because what you are doing is so beautiful but doesn’t make any sense. See what the Holy Spirit who broke in at Pentecost might do.
I heard a story a couple of years ago about Andrew Young – civil rights activist, former mayor of Atlanta, and former ambassador to the UN. He and his family were at an event at which Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, was speaking. Mr. Fuller spoke eloquently about some of the work Habitat was doing building homes in Uganda. Ambassador Young was so moved that, after the event, he thanked Fuller and placed a substantial check in his hand for their work. But Young’s daughter was so moved that she told her father she wanted to actually GO to Africa and work there, building those homes. Young said, “Dear, that is wonderful, but I already gave him a nice check for his work. That will be fine.” But his daughter kept pushing. Finally, he said that if she finished college and still wanted to go, they would help make it happen. Young hoped this would be enough, assumed she would forget. Crazy kids and their dreams.
But the dream didn’t go away. After college she was still passionate about going. So, before they knew it, they were in the airport saying goodbye. Young’s wife looked up at her husband as their daughter walked away, and he was crying. “I didn’t know this was going to be so hard for you, dear,” she said. And he responded, “I just realized that we raised our daughter to be a respectable Christian, and she has turned out to be a real Christian.” “I just realized that we raised our daughter to be a respectable Christian, and she has turned out to be a real Christian.”
As we come to the table here in a few moments. As we confirm five more of our extraordinary youth, it’s worth asking the question: As we glimpse the beginning of summer and the pace shifts a bit, who will you be? How will you serve? Will you be a respectable Christian, or might you dare being a real one, as we stumble through, trying to follow Jesus together.
All praise be to God. Amen.
 William H. Willimon, Interpretation: Acts, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1988 ), 35.