Sighs Too Deep For Words
Acts 2:1-21; Psalms104:24-34, 356b; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:25-27; 16:4b-15 May 23, 2021 – Pentecost Sunday
Words are only a rough representation of reality. But they point us in the direction we think of as reality.
Physicists use numbers to describe the physical phenomena they observe, trying to come up with a complete understanding of the Universe, from a human point of view.
They have told us things were there before we even imagined could be there. The earth revolves around the sun…the planet Pluto…gravitational waves. But they, too, are only pointing toward a beginning of understanding.
The fact that humans even try to understand is heroic. It is humbling to realize that God calls us into the mystery of life and invites us to sit and wonder how it came to be…what it is…and how we can live in peace and harmony…with each other…and our world.
All these things go beyond words and numbers…but we are working on them.
One of those times when words could not explain reality was in the day of Pentecost…the church’s birthday…the day the Holy Spirit came upon those in Jerusalem.
It wasn’t so much what was said that amazed everyone so much as the fact that everyone could understand everyone, even though they were speaking in a dozen different languages.
It is the opposite of the Tower of Babel that many people from many villages tried to build to heaven. They were trying to be like God…to equal God…and their pride led them to a terrible fall.
Here the disciples had remained in Jerusalem at Jesus’ instruction in spite of the danger it posed to them. They humbled themselves and found themselves in the presence of something they could not explain… but they knew that it was powerful and true.
The other church I served, at Huntley, discovered a stamped metal ceiling above the drop ceiling in the sanctuary. They opened it up, along with the top 1/3 of the huge windows on either side.
A member in the congregation asked if she could express her hobby and create and install stained glass windows where there had been frosted glass before. All of this takes place over a course of years, but two of the last windows had the United Methodist cross and flame in them.
The Sunday after they were installed was Pentecost. I remember getting up to start the service and I was struck quite speechless…or at least I was no longer going to say what I was going to say.
I told them that they couldn’t see this from where they were sitting, but as I looked out on them, the season was just right, the sun was at just the right angle, and the hour was just right that those flames in the cross and flame was casting tongues of fire on them.
Because they had protected the outside of the windows with plexiglass, it acted to multiply the number of flames that were out there. It was one of the scariest things that ever happened to me.
The problem wasn’t that it was meaningless. There was too much meaning in it. I wanted to find a safe place to keep me from what was going to happen next… whatever that was.
I looked for those tongues of fire the next Sunday…and the next Pentecost… but I did not see them again.
But I know I saw it and I cannot explain it. Some people might speculate…as the nonbelievers in the square did that day…that my faculties were impaired.
But it was only 10:00 in the morning, and other people could see them, too, when they turned around and looked.
What could we do? Believe our eyes …or the passage from Acts we were about to read…or both? It was so powerful experience. We had stepped into a timeless moment we would remember for a long, long time.
It’s been over 15 years now and I still remember…not the thrill of being right…but the fear at what might happen next.
That same fear gripped those who were gathered in that street in Jerusalem, too. When Peter quotes their own scriptures to them…the prophet Joel predicting the sun would turn dark and the moon would become red, and God’s spirit would be given…that was all they could take.
They ask, “What are we to do?” Peter tells them to repent and be baptized and thousands of them were.
Jesus told the disciples about this happening before it happened. God has already judged the rulers of this world…and they aren’t the last word.
There were a few other odd things like that that happened at Huntley, and there are hard to explain things that happen here, too. I think things like this happen more than we notice because we are busy doing other things.
I have told you my call story many times, about how I found myself praying for God to show me something at the same time my friend, Mike Brown, was praying for God to show him someone.
If you recall, when we realized that we both might have been praying for the same thing at the same time and we both found it the next day…in the needs of each other…we were both scared, too.
My reaction was to begin the Ministry Inquiry Process…to do my best to find out whether I might have a calling to serve a local church …or maybe, two. Then the coincidences really started happening…or I started to recognize that they were happening…and the rest is…still…a mystery.
The disciples were going through that, too, when they boldly stepped out on that first Pentecost day after Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead.
Something strange but important is happening here. They can’t put their finger on it. It doesn’t have a name, but they can feel it in their bones…in their hearts…in their souls.
These largely unschooled fishermen, tax collectors, and maybe a tradesman or two, can sense how powerful their message is, but they are not historians or rhetoricians or political strategists.
But they know what this truth from the son of God has meant to them and all it has done to give them purpose and strength.
They want their loved ones to have it. They want their friends to have it. They even want strangers in a strange land to have it…remember Philip jumping into the chariot to tutor an Ethiopian eunuch on the underlying meaning of the scriptures.
If the word of Jesus Christ did not get spread all across the land… across all lands…to all people, then all they could say was it wasn’t because they hadn’t tried.
If you think a message of compassion and devotion is a hard sell today, think of what it was back then. Life was harsh and it was a lot easier to find pain than acceptance.
But underneath our gruff, defensive mannerisms there is all the compassion and selfless devotion that God had for the world the day Jesus of Nazareth was born. I saw this again last Thursday, and it popped up in the strangest place… without warning.
I was at my Walk to Emmaus Men’s Fourth Day group. It’s kind of like a Wesley Covenant Group. We pray, we talk about the Word last Sunday and the Sunday to come. We offer encouraging words when we have them, and we just sit with each other and listen when we can’t…hold each other in prayer through the week.
I can’t remember who was talking but they were interrupted by a loud crash and then there was what sounded like the groan of stressing metal.
I looked out the window across Highway 93 and here comes a great big Peterbilt diesel with a full load of logs, headed in a northbound direction.
But the cab is tilted to the left because the front axle has been broken by the impact of the crash and the bottom of the truck is scraping a deep gouge in the pavement, making another scary noise.
As the cab is tilted, the whole truck, load and all are veering toward our side of the road. He might get a couple of the cars the guys have parked out in front.
Then the rig is turning, like its going to come up the street and the other guys head for the window to get a better look while I am edging back toward the kitchen to be sure I am out of the way.
I can see it in the side windows now as it wipes out a vehicle in the street and goes into the back of the Spinnakers café building. Now we all go outside and while I am trying to piece together what has just happened and how it happened there suddenly appears a middle-aged woman in a black quilted jacket who starts telling us to stay away and don’t touch anything until the law enforcement arrives.
She knew what she was saying and she spoke with great authority…so much so that everyone was doing what she told them to do. She was the person that we needed at that time and she was doing her part… stepping out of the crowd and speaking order into the chaos.
But the images that really burned themselves in and have stayed with me most vividly were of people who had just had their vehicles hit, their lives threatened and their buildings impaled.
They were seeing what was happening but they weren’t shouting at the drivers or screaming about what it was going to cost them. One of them was leading the driver of the small SUV who, the Interlake said the next day, had probably drifted across the centerline and hit the logging truck, to a place where they could just sit down away from traffic …and people and breathe..
The other one was of someone who had taken the truck driver by the hand, and they were steadying him and leading him into the building his truck had just hit so he could sit down and do the same thing.
They should have been jumping up and down calling these people names, but they were full of compassion, just looking for a place to let those who were in shock and pain gather their thoughts together again.
These were not trained emergency responders. They were people who saw a great need and stepped up to give their neighbors…strangers though they were…some help.
There are no words for that. There are no words you can speak to anyone who is going through that. All you can be is a caring human being in a surprisingly hostile world, to take them by the hand and show them a place to sit down and gather themselves about them.
Strangers in Lakeside were ministering to each other last Thursday, with sighs too deep for words…with hearts filled with love.
When we don’t know what to do or what to say… and our humanity has been tested once again…the Spirit rests upon us like tongues of fire and human beings speak to each other with sighs too deep for words.
That divine spark is still in human hearts this week, in the year of our Lord 2021. It burns within us this moment, too, and it tells us what to do, in good times and in bad…in sunshine and rain…and it – the Holy Spirit – has been speaking to you since it was unloosed on that great day of Pentecost thousands of years ago… and it – the Holy Spirit – has been praying for you…and all those you can help…and all those who can help you…every hour of every day ever since.
It is praying for you…even as I speak to you with words…with sighs too deep for words.
Norman Maclean concludes A River Runs Through It with these words:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us – through me – this day? Amen.