"Our Response to Divine Drama"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 30, 2004
Psalm 104: 24-35; Acts 2:1-21
For example, after the Israelites
left their task masters in Egypt, a day came when they found themselves
trapped between the sea and an advancing Egyptian army. God reportedly
Lift up your walking stick and hold it out
over the sea. The water will divide, and the Israelites will be able to
walk through the sea on dry ground. I will make the Egyptians so
stubborn that they will follow after them. Then I will gain honor
by my victory over pharaoh, his army, his chariots and his drivers.
When I defeat them, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord. (Exodus
God's apparent desire was to prove something to the Egyptians by destroying a portion of that nation's army. First, God made the Egyptians stubborn; then God destroyed them.
Unfortunately, this very
familiar story is not an isolated account, particularly in the Hebrew
Bible. The Scriptures are filled with episodes where various authors
have written about God as a Being who is capable of ordering the
faithful to perform despicable acts of barbarism, even rewarding acts of
ethnic cleansing, e.g., (2 Kings 10:18-27, 30).
In the New Testament, however,
Jesus accents the ever-expanding portrait of God with more kind,
forgiving and loving brush strokes. In the parable of the Prodigal Son,
for example, God is seen as the ever patient Father eagerly awaiting his
son to begin making better choices. In the parable of the Lost Sheep,
we find the Good Shepherd looking endlessly for the one sheep who has
lost its way. We find in Jesus' teachings the hint that those who have
found the pearl of great price can forgive 70 times 7, a quality
that is also part of God's nature.
What do these reported images and
actions of God have to do with Pentecost? Coming from a tradition and
heritage filled with stories that feature God's activity in physical,
observable and dramatic forms, we are provided with yet another episode
in our lesson today. Dr. Luke wrote, Suddenly there was a noise from
the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the
whole house where they were sitting. They saw what looked like tongues
of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all
filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages as the
Spirit enabled them to speak. (Acts 2:2-4).
This experience was a momentous
occasion for Christianity. This is the day historically when the
Christian Church celebrates its birthday. How much significance
should we place on the external phenomenon described in the Book of
Acts? Many believers want God to be dramatic; the more dramatic the
better! Do we experience God today surrounding us with such overt
drama? Is the God who engaged in displaying supernatural acts of
enormous power throughout our faith history the Being Jesus revealed?
We remember well the passage that
described the experience of the prophet Elijah on Mount Sinai. The
furious winds came that shattered rocks. There was an earthquake which
was followed by fire. The author wrote, "But the Lord was not in the
wind, the earthquake and the fire. God communicated with a soft whisper
of a voice." (I Kings 19:11-12)
We also remember the time when
Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus on a hike in the mountains. The
little band encountered something out of this world. "A change
came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes
were dazzling white. Then they saw Moses and Elijah talking with
Jesus." God spoke, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am pleased.
Listen to him!"
In spite of how dramatic this
experience was for the disciples to witness, Jesus appeared to be
undisturbed as though nothing unique had just happened. The disciples
were the ones who named the radiant visitors as Moses and Elijah; Jesus
never validated their observation. In fact, he told the three not to
speak of the experience until after he left the earth." (Matt. 17:1-9)
We can become so convinced that
the miraculous must come in some physical form that we might easily miss
God's invisible guidance. Equally, people who possess an appetite for
the more dramatic portrayals of God's mighty acts can become convinced
that they have been abandoned when God does not live up to their
Some of us need the wind, the
fire and the ability to speak in tongues. Some of us need God to part
the seas and to heal our relatives and friends. Yet will any of
these observances and skills enhance our ability to be the light in
darkness, to use words that bring peace or to bring a presence that may
dramatically influence the decisions of others?
One night a member of the
Sanhedrin came to Jesus and inquired about his power to perform
miracles. In describing the nature and direction of his power, Jesus
said, "The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is
like that with everyone who understands the nature of Spirit." (John
Our calling is to allow God's
power to work through us. We cannot define or determine how God's
will is being accomplished; we can only trust that it is. God can
even use our flawed nature. When mixed with God's creativity, our
mistakes can move mountains.
For example, Martin Luther wrote his 95 complaints about the Church in high Latin, hoping to inspire debate over its many unloving and out-of-line practices. Little did he know that someone would translate his words into German so that Luther's thoughts could be read by the masses. He regretted his mistake for the rest of his life. He never intended to damage or fracture the Church that he loved. Yet, had he not given the world his thoughts, there would not have been the badly needed, radical reforms that took place.
If we look for God in the wind,
fire and our speaking in languages that are not our own, we may lose our
sensitivity to God's ability to love others through our phone calls, a
meal taken to someone ill, an appreciative note we write or a ride we
give to someone needing to visit her physician. It is often the
whispering voice that gives guidance.
During the more recent
centuries, God's ways are mostly understood as remaining invisible. God
often uses the whispering winds of Spirit to evoke powerful changes in
our lives, the fruits of which we may never live to see.
What has caused our faith and the Church to grow has not been due to our exposure to Divine Fireworks, but through people who have been working quietly and effectively behind the scenes to heal the world and to build bridges between the world's diverse people. This understanding has the power to move mountains long after the winds, fire and tongues have ceased.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever present God,
as we gather on this Pentecost Sunday, we are filled with gratitude for
what we experience. We enjoy freedom, an environment created when
our spirits united and collectively declared, "This is the way we want
to live." We find your world, O God, a very challenging place
because humanity's values and points-of-view are not the same. We
find ourselves called upon to defend our freedom from those who would
enjoy nothing more than to take it away. So many of us have had to
lay down our lives for what we value and this weekend we gather to honor
our fallen brothers and sisters who have not died in vain.
We confess that we are very good at bending
the common rules by which we live. Each one of us has experienced
moments when we have chosen expedience and compromise over the truth we
know. We have not always been honest or just in our responses. We
complain when our will is sacrificed on the altar of inconvenience. Yet
standing in our midst is this pearl of great price that we call freedom
and we are in need of being reminded from time to time how easily it is
lost through our own neglect.
We pray that your Spirit will always remain visible in this church family, this community, this county, this state and nation because of the price others have paid to keep love's presence visible. Teach us not to judge humanity by the deeds of a few, but to celebrate our gratitude each day for what love has made of us. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .