Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 7:37-39
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 31, 2020 – Pentecost Sunday
The changes became real this week. It was a burst of light into the fog of the war we have been waging with the enemy in us and among us.
We hadn’t wrapped our heads around it as it came upon us. We probably still have a long way to go. But now is the time for us to humble ourselves to the need to understand what is and what is not…and to commit ourselves to the cause that has been thrust upon us by history and circumstance.
So it is time to speak what we see and do all we can to let the truth be known, to break the fever of blindness in others, and to do all we can that nothing like what we have been through ever needs to happen again.
That is a rough summary of what Peter had to say to those who were in the public square the day he spoke at the Pentecost feast of harvest…the time of gathering in what we have done to renew life everywhere. It also sounds eerily like what we might say to future generations about what we are going through now.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. The details change but the outline of history is a story of struggle and survival, and new ideas are an adaptation of truths that humanity has lived with for thousands of years.
Of course, history doesn’t repeat itself every generation. It all seems new, but it is a retelling of the old story in a new context. We think we are special, and we are…but it’s not like we were the only ones who have had to make our way with our wits…to get through by the skin of our teeth.
Here are the disciples, so frightened they don’t want to leave their house until they realize that the choice they have is whether they will play dead for the rest of their lives or live fully until the end of their days.
We have been given the gift of life. What we do with it is up to us, but we have friends who have gone before us, to show us the way…to be with us as we find our way and raise a new generation of God’s own image to follow in our footsteps… and the footsteps of those who have gone before us.
Rarely, though, does a generation get the chance to see this gift of life illuminated in such a precious way. Like those who were with Peter on that great day, we find ourselves in the company of people from every nation, speaking in our own regional tongue…and still knowing what we are all going through…struggling to understand the great events of our own day.
A new understanding is emerging… but it is an old understanding being retold…relearned…redeemed. But no matter what happens to us…no matter what people say…no matter what they do or we do…the truth is still the truth…forever.
Peter quotes the prophet Joel in telling the assembly that young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams…but what he is saying is just another way of expressing what I have just said.
And he says then what we have come to see unfolding around us in our own time. It is a new thing …but it is an old thing, too.
My grandparents went through World War I and the influenza pandemic. I remember Grandma Hyer, moving back to Montana from Arizona in 1983.
Her mother had moved her, her two sisters and her brother to Montana in 1907 after her father had been killed in a workplace accident. There was no safety net, no worker’s compensation…so they moved from Chicago to Montana to live with Grandma’s Banderob cousins.
My mother spent her first seven or eight years across the street from the Huntley Methodist church back when it was new…and the land was fresh. My mother and father and Aunt Dona drove down with Grandma to try to find the old house…it was gone…so we went on to the cemetery to check the grave markers to be sure they were being well tended and still in good condition.
It was a remarkable experience to walk through that graveyard with her, deep in her 80s and me midway through my 30s. It was like she was at a class reunion, saying this friend had died in an automobile accident, that one never came back from the war, and another one had died of the influenza…they were just fine one day and dead 24 hours later.
History was not a bunch of dates and names and places after that for me. It was a bunch of people doing the best they could to get by and get on with their lives. And there was an ebb and flow to it all.
So it was at Pentecost…a bunch of people doing the best they could… coping with the uncertainties of this world and leaning into the truths that had been handed down from one generation to the next.
But now, here was Peter, citing the scriptures, recalling the wisdom of the ages and revealing them in a new light…the light of Christ.
He was without sin but he was put to death by those who were full of sin. He made himself known as the precious gift from God with miracles, wonders and signs performed in them…through them …among them.
He was the one without blemish, beautiful and perfect but destined to be a sacrifice by the circumstances and the prejudices of that day. Here was the lamb of God.
But we did not bow down to him. People want to believe what we want to believe. We believe what we hear most often. We see things the way we wanted them to be.
So it was then…and now.
We failed to see him for who he was...still do. We killed the golden goose, the one who brought us riches and could have made the whole world rich if only we had honored him… listened to him…followed him…bowed down to him.
But we did not…we could not. He made it too clear…too simple…too undeniable…that God loved us… even though we did not deserve it …even though God had great plans for us that would bring us to greatness, too.
Peter and the other disciples had seen the truth. This day that Peter stood in the square and proclaimed Jesus the son of God, that truth had set them free…and he offered that freedom to all who would open their hearts and minds and lives to Jesus…to all who would call upon his name and be saved.
I stand in a sanctuary this morning that could comfortably hold 175 worshipers. Now we are required to limit the congregation to no more than 10 people. Tomorrow the limit will be 50.
But we have a fellowship hall that has a 75 inch screen and can hold another 20 with social distancing… and we have a 55 inch screen now ready in the lower level…what I like to call ‘our catacombs’ …where another 20 people can sit.
It’s not the same, but it is a sacred place to tell the holy story of God and Israel, Israel and Christ, and Christ and all humankind…God intervening in history…to redeem …even us…here and now.
A new adversary has arisen to interrupt the story as it echoes down through the ages…but we push back with faith. We have a wonderful band of friends who are seeking a way to gather without getting too close…to remain apart and yet be one…as the disciples and those gathered around Peter became one.
Your leadership team has been flexible and steadfast…listening to all concerns and finding a way to comply with all laws and directives we are bound to obey.
On the cover of our bulletin this morning you can see how the chairs have been spread out in our worship area…so we can be together without being too close… so the story can go on.
When Rick Trembath told us he would lead this work, I have to confess I did not see his point. We could mark chairs with tape or taped on signs to show people where they could and could not sit.
It would be easier. This was more work than we needed to do. But Rick wanted it to be right, and he got his team here…and they made the adjustments…and here we have it in front of me now.
But his efforts and the labors of those who helped him became something that have served another important purpose now.
I have been attending a lot of Zoom meetings lately. I have chosen to sit at the entrance to our sanctuary with our beautiful worship space behind me as a backdrop. I like it here…and many, many people in our community have been inside our church now without ever setting foot across our threshold.
Friday I was zooming a meeting of the Mountain Sky Conference United Methodist Foundation and we were talking about the impact the pandemic had been making upon churches and worshipers.
I found myself telling them what I have often told you…that our neighbors and our nation and the world need the church now more than ever.
We are the mortar that holds the community together. As Paul puts it in his letter to us this morning, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
To make the same point to that group of Conference leaders, I said, “Look at my sanctuary! This is the challenge we face!”
Then I realized all they could see on their screen was me. So I held my laptop up over my head so they could see the beautiful but mostly empty room behind me and I repeated, “Look at my sanctuary!”
When I set the laptop back down in front of me, I was shocked by what I saw. They were seeing for the first time what the corona virus meant to our brothers and sisters in Christ…to Methodists in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado…and throughout the world.
They were shocked at the reality of the situation, and Rick, you are the one who made it possible for so many leaders to see…for the first time…in a new way…what we are up against. You gave many leaders their first glimpse of a new normal for an old movement. You and your crew were Peter in the public square…proclaiming Jesus the Christ…the Messiah…the Promised One.
His young followers have their visions and his old followers dream their dreams…but we are now called to tell the story to a world that is old…but new…in a new…but old…way.
But this morning, I can tell you that Peter and Jesus’ followers were even more hard pressed then than we are now to carry the message forward.
We have a lovely room and a beautiful building to draw all people closer to the story…to invite them to come and pray and sing and immerse themselves in the waters of Christ’s own baptism…to drink waters that will never make them to make their story God’s story as they make God’s story their story.
So this morning, we stand in the marketplace of ideas…in this sacred place and everywhere YouTube can be seen…and we say to those who do not believe:
What you see happening today has happened before, and what happens here this morning will happen everywhere to the last syllable of recorded time.
Visions and dreams stand together with their arms around each other’s shoulders as the story unfolds once more…for a new generation…in a new way.
Jew and Greek, slave and free, we recall our own baptisms once more, and those of our children…and our grandchildren, mingling our visions and our dreams…our hopes and our fears…our memories of parents and grandparents as we retell the story…to our children and our grandchildren…to our neighbors… and to the stranger we meet in today’s socially distanced market place of ideas.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …and through me…this day? Amen.