SERMON for Confirmation 2013:
Years ago someone once told me: “Pastor everything in my life is changing and the church is the one place that I can come where I know what to expect. Don’t let things change. I have enough change in my life. Please, not the church.”
I think that they left us disappointed.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came 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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…
Do you think things were about to change in the lives of the disciples? Yes, they did and then they continue to change and not in small ways, but in amazingly huge, life-altering completely re-defining ways – the one constant always being Jesus.
Just as they have changed at the church I grew up in – just as they have changed here and continue to change here. The Book of Acts from which we read today and from which we will be reading and preaching all summer long shows us a church in a constant state of change. Not change for changes sake, but a church that responded to the leading of a Spirit that refused to let the church just be. It wasn’t enough for the church to stay in Jerusalem – it moved within decades in all directions, across the Mediterranean and into Rome and Spain and eastwards and to the south and north. It wasn’t enough for the church to only welcome Jewish Christians and the Spirit led the mission to welcome those who grew up worshipping pagan gods and so the church became a church of Jews and gentiles. And these changes did not come easily or without conflict.
Any church in which the Holy Spirit is an active participant better get ready for change. And not just any change – we’re not talking about eliminating the age for first communion or killing Sunday school or changing out wafers for bread or swapping out hymnals for bulletins – or singing hymns written by people who are still alive rather than living in the 16th century, though all of those things and more stirred up some trouble in their day, here and elsewhere. Such things hardly count as a warm up for the Holy Spirit. Really. Listen: When the Holy Spirit is involved we better buckle our seat belts because the Holy Spirit flat-out does not respect a congregation’s self-declared speed limits or traffic signals – heck, the holy Spirit would likely challenge the definition of “road” that most congregations set for themselves and make its own way – a road in the wilderness – a way for the Lord and not for our comfort, our familiarity. It drives wherever, whenever, and however it wants and it invites the congregation in faith to follow.
How do we know if something we are doing is the work of the Holy Spirit? Because God blesses it: Lives are changed. Lives are transformed. The Gospel is proclaimed and lives and breathes and is embodied in ways that follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his teachings. How do we know if something we are doing is of the Spirit? Because when you look back on it, you realize upon reflection that every life for which we embodied the love of Jesus, we now see Jesus looking back at us.
And following the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness quite frankly should excite the bejeezus out of us because whatever the Spirit is doing is about God and God’s Kingdom: Kingdom work – holy and righteous and true. Look, who seriously doesn’t want to be a part of that? Coming to worship is a part of that – but as compared to all the Holy Spirit is about in and through the lives of Christians like you and me - being church is about the whole of our lives – it is a way of being and living in the world. What happens is falling prey to the temptation of living in the past where the Holy Spirit was at some point in history, but the Spirit has moved on and keeps calling out, calling people forward.
Folks, listen again to a bit of today’s reading: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came 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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…
Those disciples did not witness the Holy Spirit as spectators - they received the Holy Spirit and their lives were never the same again. How could they be? The Holy Spirit changes things – relentlessly refuses to let them be as they were. The Holy Spirit is like the ultimate Extreme Makeover for us and for our lives. Takes us as we are and goes about the deep and faithful work of re-making us into the image of Christ so we can embody Christ in the world.