A Pile of Stories

Today is Pentecost. And Pentecost is a day when stories pile up.

Today, Pentecost is a Christian holiday; but it didn’t start that way. In the beginning, ‘Pentecost’ was the Greek name for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which took place fifty days—pentēkostē means ‘fiftieth’—after Passover.

There was a story about grain. Right around Passover, the people would begin harvesting the barley. And fifty days later, right around Shavuot, the people would finish harvesting the wheat. And they would celebrate by offering two loaves of bread, made from the wheat that they had harvested, to the Lord, who brings forth grain from the earth.

And there was a story about the Torah. On Passover, the people would remember that the Lord had brought them up out of slavery in Egypt. And fifty days later, on Shavuot, the people would remember that the Lord had brought them up out of slavery to idolatry. And they would celebrate by reading the Torah: the ‘way’ that the Lord had given to their ancestors.

The grain and the law; bread for the body and food for the soul.

And today is fifty days after Passover. It is Shavuot. It is the day that the Greek-speaking Jews call Pentecost.

And Peter and his friends are gathered together in one place. They are remembering that the Lord brings forth grain from the earth. They are remembering that the Lord gives a way to the people.

And they are remembering that, right around fifty days ago, their friend and teacher was betrayed and arrested and hung on a cross and laid in a tomb. And they are remembering that, right around fifty days ago, he got up and stepped out into the garden…

…and added a whole new story to the pile.

And in that moment of remembering, fire and wind and spirit fill the room and the house and the disciples. And they start speaking in other languages. People from all over the world start understanding them. People from all over the world hear this amazing commotion and think that these people are filled with new wine.

And that’s impressive. That’s a bona fide miracle.

But then the Spirit moves. And Peter steps forward and speaks to the crowd.

We are not drunk. This is what the prophet warned us about:

“In the last days, God will pour the Spirit out on all flesh. Your sons and daughters—from the greatest to the least—will prophesy. Your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. And God will show portents in heave and signs on earth. There will be fire and smoke and mist. The sun will turn to darkness and the moon will turn to blood. And then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”

Dreams and visions. Signs and portents. Prophecies.

The bread for the body… the food for the soul… the new wine of the Spirit growing the kingdom.

I didn’t talk about this last week. I thought about not talking about it this week. I thought about putting it off for another week. But… I’m stuck with it. The Spirit moves, and I have to step forward and speak.

My very first Sunday in this pulpit as the pastor of this congregation was February 25, 2018. it was eleven days after a young man walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida… and killed seventeen people… and injured another seventeen.

And then, I told you that I was a little afraid. You see, at this point, for most of my life, it has not been a matter of if there would be another mass shooting, or another school shooting, or another mass school shooting. It has been a matter of when and where. And then, I told you that I was a little afraid that someday, the when would be today, and the where would be across the street.

Today is June 5, 2022. It is twelve days since a young man walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas… and killed twenty-one people… and injured another seventeen.

And now, I am telling you that I am very afraid. You see, I know some of the kids who go to school across the street. I have confirmed some of the kids who go to school across the street (in a few minutes, we are going to confirm a couple more). And in a few short years, I will have baptized some of the kids who go to school across the street.

And the thing is… those are my kids… those are our kids. And not just the ones who come to this church—not just the ones who we have baptized or who color in our Fellowship Hall or who we have confirmed—but all of them. Because there is no such thing as other people’s children.

And I am afraid…

I am afraid because there’s this litany for the wake of a mass shooting. It starts with a shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012. And it lists sixty-five incidents… in banks and offices and homes… in grade schools and colleges and military installations… in synagogues and mosques and churches… and it doesn’t even begin to capture all of the tragedies that have been brought upon us.

I am afraid because guns are the leading cause of death among people between the ages of one and nineteen. About two-thirds of those deaths are homicides. Almost another third are suicides. And a little sliver are accidents.

And I am afraid because there is a man in Texas making nineteen custom children’s caskets… and a priest in Texas performing twelve funerals over two weeks.

All because these stories pile up.

And the truth is that I don’t know what to do about that. But I also know that silence isn’t an option. The Spirit is moving among us… giving us dreams and visions… showing us signs and portents… commanding us to have some courageous conversations… 

Maybe, even, calling us to stand up… and speak out… and prophesy.

There were fifty days or so between resurrection and spirit. And then there were more. 

And one day, years after that Pentecost when the Spirit poured new wine out on the earth, Paul is sitting in prison and writing a letter to his old friends at the church in Philippi.

And Paul is sitting in prison because he keeps inviting people to be part of this community that the Spirit founded… part of this story that the Spirit is telling… part of these little consulates of the kingdom of God that the Spirit is opening.

And even as he is sitting in prison for inviting people to try this new wine, Paul writes to his old friends at the church in Philippi,

Rejoice. Always. Let everyone see your gentleness. Don’t be anxious. Take all of your stuff—all of your fears and anxieties and uncertainties—to God in prayer and in supplication and with thanksgiving. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Even as he is sitting in prison, Paul tells the people to rejoice. And even in the midst of our troubles, we are here to rejoice.

Today we are especially here to rejoice that two young people are about to stand in front of God and this congregation and join a covenant… the same covenant that many of you joined when you were baptized, or when you were confirmed, or when you joined this little consulate of the Kingdom of God.

You, Kalli and Max, are going to join the people of this community in the work of listening to the Spirit as it shows you dreams and visions and signs and portents.

You are going to join the people of this community is the work of being Christ’s disciple, and following in his way, and resisting oppression and evil, and showing love and justice, and witnessing to the work that Christ is doing in the world.

And there will be times when that is scary; there will be times when that is asking a lot.

But the truth is that the Spirit is moving. So hand your fears and anxieties and uncertainties over to God. Because, believe it or not, the world needs us—the world needs you—to stand up… and speak out…

…to tell the story of the redemption of the world… to add your stories to our testimony…

…to prophesy

…until, by the grace of God, the peace of God fills this whole world.

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