Come Know My Joy

Jun 9, 2019 by

Sermon for Pentecost by Paula Papky for MacNeill Baptist Church

Genesis 11:1-9                     Psalm 104:24-34, 35b                               Acts 2:1-21

 

I have a poet friend for whom poems seem to write themselves.  She tells me that words just pour out of her onto the page.  Sometimes I wonder if the Holy Spirit, like my friend at her desk, just can’t hold back; if, as for a poet, words just burst out.  I wonder if, like an artist, the Spirit expresses herself in colour and form, in fire and dove, because she must; if like a composer who hears an inner melody, she must explore and express herself in notes.  I wonder, is the Holy Spirit, The Divine Feminine, bursting with words and notes and images, unable to hold back, needing to communicate something important?  Picture her like Archimedes climbing into the bath, displacing all that water, bursting with the word, “Eureka!”

Now imagine that band of twelve apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, and words pour out of them so wild and fast that we know they’re in a state of ecstasy.  They could have danced, or grabbed a paintbrush or turned cartwheels.  But these are middle-aged men in the ancient middle east and so they communicate the presence of the Holy Spirit with words – and, miracle of miracles they’re words everyone can understand.  I mean, what would be the point of merely speaking in tongues what sound like nonsense words when what they have to communicate is a tremendous state of joy, of euphoria, of life that has new purpose and meaning.  The Spirit speaks through them so powerfully, as unstoppable as a hurricane.  It’s as brilliant as fire:  red, orange, yellow.  All their senses are awakened.  And then, they begin to see the way forward.

This outpouring of the Spirit is just what they need to show them the shape of the mission ahead of them.  That mission will be healing and teaching, just as when Jesus was alive but their experiences will be filled with dreams and visions.  The whole story of the Acts of the Apostles will contain visions.  Luke writes that in those days and years it will be just as the prophet Joel had spoken so long before:

God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

It’s as if the Prophet says, “and everyone who hears will know of the God who brings life, the same God who saves life from being mad, sad, unjust, confusing.  They will know the One who says, “Come, share my joy!”

Today is all about speech; it’s about speaking.  First there’s that story of the Tower of Babel that follows the story of Noah and the great flood.  The descendents of those who were saved, who came out of the mythical ark, were spread far and wide.  Still, they spoke just one language among themselves.  But apparently they’ve lost their ability to talk to their God, or even to remember God.  Can’t you just imagine some of Noah’s descendents calling a meeting and striking a committee for a large building project.  Maybe one of them asks, “What would be the point of building a high tower?  We’ve already built ourselves a city.”  And someone answers, “We’re capable of so much more!  I myself am a stable genius who knows about building towers.  Everyone who sees our tower going straight up to heaven will know by how much we’ve exceeded our human potential.”  And someone calls out, “We’ll be like gods, looking down at our city and the little people scurrying about.”

So now God, who’s been watching and listening, says to Godself something like, “This is just the thin edge of the wedge.  Next they’ll want to fly.  They’ll think they can rocket to the moon and sell real estate there.  What will get their attention?  I know!  I’ll mix up their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech.  Then we’ll see whether they’re like gods!”

And according to the story, that most precious gift of speaking to one another is taken away and its loss puts distance between them; they scatter all over the world.

You may remember that Douglas Adams uses the Tower of Babel story to comic effect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  He creates the Babel Fish.  You just slip it into your ear and instantly you can understand any and all languages.  So brilliant that it’s proof of the existence of God, he asserts…and also the non-existence of God.  You’ll have to Google “Babel Fish” if you want to know more.

In the second chapter of Acts, we get the flip side of the Tower of Babel story.  You might say the twelve disciples find their tongues.  Look how we’re already caught up in ambiguity!  The tongues are not only the organs of speech.  There are tongues of fire on each one’s head.  Like the Tower of Babel story, this one has its fantasy side.  But the writer we call Luke is writing long after Jesus’ death, after the fall of Jerusalem, when the early church is scattered all over the Roman Empire, from Egypt to Turkey and Iran and Greece and Rome.  They’re struggling to get their message across, to speak of Jesus and his mission.  What will they say to a world of many languages and cultures, a world of many gods?

It’s not too great a stretch to link up their problem with our own.  How do we speak to a modern world to whom the languages of imperialism and capitalism and racism and birtherism and individualism speak so loudly?  Enter now:  the Spirit.  The same one as at Pentecost.  She speaks, even today.  Listen.  You may be able to hear her right now.  We aren’t in a trance as those twelve were.  We’re just contemplating a story.  The Spirit had to calm their fears.  They used to have Jesus to talk with.  They could tell him their fears of unjust rulers, of being in debt, of losing everything, of dying.  Now they’re scared.  But when the Spirit comes upon them she speaks about the way ahead.  She gives them hope.  She assures them they will have to power to speak and act.

And isn’t this just what we ourselves need to hear:  that we aren’t speaking into a vacuum or in a way that people will dismiss as crazy talk or even drunkenness?  The Spirit may speak to us in a different way, most likely through stories or songs or prayers.  And if we find our tongues and speak our Spirit-filled messages of hope, we will likely be met with resistance.  We may have to change and adapt.  But we won’t lose sight of our main goal:  to care about one another; to receive the ones who come our way needing help and healing; to keep our ears open to the One who speaks of life and how to grab hold of it.

I have to confess that I’m fascinated by all the stories in our Scriptures that have to do with trances and visions.  There’s the one where Jesus gets his feet wet, for instance.  You know the one.  Jesus gets out of the boat and walks on the Sea of Galilee.  The disciples are all in a trance when they see Jesus walking on the waves.  Or there’s Mary, frightened by the vision of an angel who tells her she will have a child to be called Son of the Most High God.  And Mary speaks that line Heather Briskin, mother of six, famously spoke on several Christmas Eves:  “But how can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Visions don’t explain everything.  In fact, sometimes they present more questions than answers.  But that doesn’t mean they are not real and to be trusted, if tested by the community and found to convey truth.

Few people in North America experience visions.  Yet 80% of people in the rest of the world do experience them.  They expect to have them.  They even invite them.  Sure, sometimes we North Americans do confess to close friends that  we’ve experienced a vision.  Or we might take seriously a dream.  Or we might have a sudden insight into ourselves or a problem we’re working on.  Especially at crossroads in life, certain insights can be gained about what comes next.  The next step for those 12 disciples, after their paralyzing fear and grief at losing Jesus, is to take this gift of the Holy Spirit and move beyond their comfort zone, beyond Jerusalem, into places where they don’t know people, don’t know how to meet with strangers and speak about their experiences with Jesus.  It’s as if they have an energy that’s life on fire; they feel impelled as by the powerful wind of the Spirit.

So, what about us?  What can help us through the crossroads of our lives?  I remember the crossroad I came to when I was in grade 12:   I just knew, that year, that I wanted to go to university and be an English teacher, even though no one in my family had ever gone to university.  It was a strong inner impulse, a fire, that has never left me, even though I’ve responded to other impulses over the years:  to write, paint, sing, preach.  But I guess I could say I still have a strong sense of being called to be a teacher – and I’m thankful for that insight.  And I know some of you young people are at a crossroads, too, where you wonder what’s next.  What path will you follow?

What I hope is that you won’t discount what you have learned and experienced here at MacNeill.  Remember how scared you were the first time you read or spoke or acted in front of all of us?  You gained in confidence as you did this over the years.  Remember the first time you played an instrument in worship or sang or stood beside me at the communion table?  I hope that confidence you learned with us will continue to grow in you.

I hope that you will carry us in your hearts as you leave home to work or go to school; that you will remember that we loved you, and that won’t stop.

I hope all the years of worship and Bible Quest will have opened you up to some of the things that are important in life:  a sense of self-worth; a passion for justice whenever people are put down or whenever they just can’t look after themselves and their families; a sense of compassion for the very people Jesus cared about:  the poor, the sick, the excluded, the stranger, the prisoner.  When you sense that impulse within you, that fire, to help set the world right, you may call it a hunch or an inner voice or just a niggling feeling.  Or you may want to be bold and think of it as the Holy Spirit.  You are more than a brain and a body.  There is within you Spirit as well.  Let her give you a right heart, whatever you believe.  She can bring you joy.

It is this invitation to joy that the Holy Spirit offers all of us this day of Pentecost.  It’s as if she says, use my energy, my fire, my voice, for the next stage in your life. Amen.

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