June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost & Confirmation


Last week we heard Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” a prayer that Jesus offers as he says farewell to his disciples and asks that the intimacy that he shares with his Father might also now be shared with his disciples. I asked us to imagine John the Evangelist imploring his people to cling to the beauty of this request, to embrace the miracle of what Christ is giving them.  “As you Father are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us.”  This is not favor or fortune that he’s requesting; it is life-affirming, life-giving, fear-quenching, hope-filling fellowship with a God of eternal greatness, love, and peace.

This week we have Pentecost and we celebrate that what was given to the disciples is also given through the disciples by the power of God’s very Spirit to you and me and anyone willing to receive it.  A great wind blows, tongues “as of fire” appear on the disciples, and the church is born as those disciples find themselves in ministry as they never expected.  They are speaking in the native languages of people who have gathered from all kinds of regions.  They are sharing the Good News of new life in Christ who destroyed anything that would separate anyone from God.

Awe and wonder descend upon the crowd, but some snicker and suggest that alcohol is to blame for all this talk. That’s when Peter takes the stage and reminds them all of the Prophet Joel.

“It’s too early in the morning for this to be alcohol,” Peter says. No, this is God’s Spirit being poured out just as the prophecy says.  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophecy.  Your young will see visions.  Your elders will dream dreams.”  A new age is breaking into the word; God’s victorious end has burst into the present, and whoever wants to can live in it.

It turned out that more and more people wanted to. And those people became the Church.  They were baptized as a symbol of their new life in the Spirit.  They worshiped with one another, learned with one another, prayed, served, and shared what they had with one another.  And as they did all of this the Spirit that they received became more and more the Spirit that they perceived, and the prayer they Jesus offered his followers became more and more the reality that they experienced.

It’s nice to celebrate Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday because here again the Spirit has been moving and Christ’s Church is growing. Six of our young people have been on a journey together since January.  They’ve had class time with me, learning about the bible, and worship, the sacraments, and the UCC.  They’ve ventured out to other houses of worship to see how others understand God.  They’ve had conversations with mentors and parents to hear how God has acted in their lives.  They’ve engaged in Holy Week and in service opportunities.  We saw The Shack together and talked about forgiveness, and they’ve done a very good job of being present and involved in the worship life of our church.  Throughout the process the guiding question for their reflection has been: based on this experience what is God like?  How does God think?  How does God act?  Where is God’s heart?  What are God’s priorities?  Their final project was to write a statement of faith wherein they share their answers.

Shockingly, no one felt real excited to stand up and read their entire statement to you. However, I received clearance to share excerpts with you.  So, it is with great admiration for our confirmands that I do just that.

“I think that God is a force, somewhat like what moves the Jedis to stop evil in Star Wars, but one of total love and giving. The force steers our lives and guides us in the right direction, one of compassion.”  Interestingly, one of the highly renowned preachers that I heard at the Festival of Homiletics a couple of weeks ago made pretty much the same point.  God is this amazing force of love and compassion, a force that will change our lives, a force that will change our world, if we have the courage and faith to tap into it.

“Based on all of the experiences we have been through, like the churches, discussions, and other trips, I feel that God is mysterious. Things happen in life that we might never understand.  Each person has a different though on what happened, whether it was good or bad, so we will never know, but we do know that God will always be with us and help us through whatever the situation is.  He will always love each of us through everything.  We will always have him with us no matter what.  God loves us so much he gave up his only son for us.  He will help us through the toughest times in life and will never turn his back on anyone.  We will be with Him forever.  When we live and when we die.  If we make a mistake, God can help us work through it.  That is who God is.”

Mysterious presence was a common theme. Here’s more on that angle: “God works in many mysterious ways.  We aren’t always aware of God’s presence, and we don’t always believe that God is there, but that is just because we may not be tuned in.  I believe that God is always around, and not just far off in the universe, but within everyone of us.  In a sense, it’s our decision if we want to tap into God’s message and presence within us or simply ignore it.  God doesn’t choose certain people over others, but seeks to level the imbalance between people and eliminate some of the inequalities.  God empowers and inspires us to help those who are less fortunate than us, so that they may be better off.  As for those who are less fortunate, God serves as a beacon of hope when there might not be any in their lives.  If we don’t know how to act, that is okay, because no one is perfect, and God will forgive us no matter what we do.  However, there is the example of Jesus, who was filled to bursting with God’s love, to guide us and remind us a little bit of how we should act.”  I love that image of Jesus, “bursting with God’s love.”  Might we burst with God’s love too?  Might the Holy Spirit fill us with love just like Christ?  Our author suggests that we can start small.  “Simply being aware of God’s presence ad force in the world is enough to feel something spiritually.”

Forgiveness is a strong motif in these statements as well. “The best part is that some people can do wrong things, and still be good Christians.  God, no matter what anyone has done, wants us all to go down the right path and end up in the right place.  No matter what you do, God will always forgive and give you another chance.  This is the great things about my faith.  God’s image is not that everyone is perfect, but that we can all learn from our mistakes and fix what we have done wrong in life.  He is always forgiving people for what they have done because he wants to set a good example for other people so that they will forgive too.”  Forgiveness is one of the great Jedi powers that we are given.  It was there at the very beginning of the Church and it remains with us now.  To do it right there is no doubt that we need to tap into the force of God, but when we do there is no doubt that the difference it makes is profound.

Here’s another: “When talking to my mentor about Holy Week, she helped me come up with the sense that God just wants us to come as we are and let him do something to impact our lives.” And, isn’t that exactly what happened at Pentecost?  God came to us where we were and spoke our language so that we might learn to speak God’s?

Our confirmand continues, “People often think the way God acts always is going to be huge – like something major that will change someone’s life. God can just act by the little things in life – what always is taken for granted.  It could be found hanging out with friends, and everything seems like it’s in slow motion and it’s only you and your friends having fun…  During Holy Week was the biggest place where God acted in my life.  It was an eye-opening experience where I felt personally connected with God and his love.  I realized how much he gives us.  The services opened up my world to being vulnerable, humble, and grateful to God all at the same time.  But, these feelings are to be felt every day, every service, and every time you feel God with you.”  (That is the best plug I have ever heard – and I’ve made a lot of them – for attending Holy Week services.)

I have just a couple more. “When I talked with my parents about how they grew up with having a church, I found out that they both had different ways of showing their faith.  Like, when my father was young he had a neighbor that was a minister, and he took my dad to church with him because his own parents did not go a lot.  Or my mother, the church she went to was very similar to ours, she went to classrooms to learn faith, and she sang hymns like we do now.  She used to go a lot with her friends and went to see how they practiced their faiths.  When my parents went through difficult times in their lives their churches were there for them when they needed someone besides their own parents.  When my mom’s father died her pastor was there for her if she needed to talk.  Also, when my dad’s brother died his pastor/neighbor was there for him and after that his church became like another family he could go to for help.  Church helped my family in many ways and impacted their lives.”  (That’s also the best plug I’ve heard – and I’ve made a lot of them – for valuing your church community.  This is what God creates on Pentecost.)

Finally, one of the statements includes a testimony, which we’ll see if we can fit into the collection that we’ve been working on. “When I was going through a tough time, I felt almost hopeless.  However, I knew I had God, I knew I had someone holding my hand, and I was not alone.  For a while, everything seemed like such an impossible mountain to climb, but I had Him, God.  He was there to help me bear that weight.  He was there to be my backbone.  Somehow, He brought me closer with drifting friends; He strengthened the bonds between existing friends, too.  He gave me the strength to climb over those mountains.  Eventually, I reached the foot of the mountain, safe, proud, excited to continue.  God filled me with an incredible feeling of joy and pride.  Of course I encountered some rolling hills after that mountain, but that’s what life’s all about, and God gave me strength and love.”

The same confirmand writes, “As I mentioned before, God is there to hold our hand and guide us through anything. Within His role of guiding us, He teaches us how to make the world a better place.  He teaches us through the stories in the Bible that making and maintaining relationships and treating others with forgiveness and love are the keys to unlocking a more ‘holy’ world and community.”

I think I’ll end there because I find that to be a particularly inspiring thought. We have been given the keys to unlocking a more holy world.  Christ has given us these keys and as we live in the Spirit, perhaps bursting with God, we will do just that.