Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

We are a people marked by stories strange and fantastic.  A God who appears in a burning bush, splitting apart the Red Sea so the people of Israel can walk through on dry land.  The sun standing still through the powerful intercessions of Joshua.  Men and women beyond the age of childbirth suddenly becoming parents to giggling babies.  And more than aged women, virgins too.  A young virgin called into God’s service by an angel, waking up the next morning with a baby in her belly and a song in her heart.  This baby more than human, divine too, a blending of human flesh with the fullness of divinity.  This baby growing up to be a man dead on a cross, then alive and walking through locked doors.

And we’ve certainly got a strange story today.  Disciples, women and men just like you and me, gathered in prayer awaiting a message from God.  But rather than a message delivered in stillness and silence, they received a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  And these once cowardly, once doubtful disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  They preached with fervor, with purpose, with strange tongues…they preached with the words of the Holy Spirit in languages not their own in such a way the crowd wondered if they were had been enjoying the wine stores early in the morning.

But they weren’t drunk.  They weren’t confused.  They were simply the vessels of a God who had something to say and decided to entrust this message to people just like you and me. `In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. Peter and the other disciples were simply vessels of a God who thought the world needed to hear, see, and experience the fulfillment of God’s dream.

And what a dream it is! Young and old, male and female, slave and free…all together receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who desires to set the world ablaze with the message of humanity’s redemption, humanity’s resurrection, humanity’s re-creation.  God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.  It’s a dream of a human family knit together by more than just power and prestige.  Those who built the Tower of Babel wanted control.  They wanted to exercise their empire of domination in the heavens.  Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.  So they built, brick by brick, a tower that testified to the all-too-common human impulse to conquer and control all that surrounds us, even the places we believe God to be. Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves. But the dream of God is not a human family united by oppression or domination.   God’s dream for humanity is not a people united by the forces of empire and control.  God’s dream for the human family is a people united by a kinship rooted in the outpouring of God’s grace and love…a love that is embedded, encoded in the minds, bodies, and souls of all of God’s beloved children, no matter how many differences there are, differences that unfortunately still divide and separate human beings from one another.

But these differences need not be points of division.  Rather, they can become living witnesses to the diverse, multi-colored, and multi-cultural family God has dreamed into existence.  A celebration of the varieties of gifts that come with human diversity.  A celebration of the truth that we, as the redeemed people of God, are stronger and healthier when we don’t all look alike, sound alike, and think alike.  A celebration of the truth all flesh, not just the flesh of those most like us, all flesh has received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  As a people who claim the birthright that comes with baptism of both water and the Holy Spirit, the fact that the world, including the Church, is still tarnished by painful fissures in the human family should be more than just a cause for lament.  It should be a challenge, a slamming down of the gauntlet, a virtual mic drop waiting for our response.

And we should respond with the same kind of fervor and passion Peter preached with at Pentecost: “People of the world, and all who have breath in their lungs, let this be known to you, and listen to what we say. Everyone is a beloved child of God, whose very flesh bears witness to the goodness and grace of a God who could wait no longer for us to ascend.  So God descended to us, in the flesh of Jesus, in the rushing wind and flames of Pentecost, and opened up the way of salvation for everyone!

And if we take Jesus at his word, there is nothing that can get in the way of showing a broken world that brokenness doesn’t have to define us, that broken people healed can break down the walls that break the hearts of so many of God’s beloved children.  For what we are tasked with is not just following in the footsteps of Jesus, but walking farther than he ever did while on this earth.  Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these. These stories have the power to shape us, to transform us, to expand our imagination and inspire us to make the dream of God an ever-more present reality in the world.  So what are you going to do, from this point forward, as a co-worker with the Holy Spirit, challenged to do greater works than Jesus himself…what are you going to do to make this grand and glorious dream of God a reality?

*A sermon preached on the Feast of Pentecost 2016 at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM.  The texts were Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21, and John 14:8-17, (25-27).

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