This is a shorter version (you are welcome) of a sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho on Pentecost Sunday. June 8, 2014. It was preached from the text of Acts 2:1-21.
The Apostles post-resurrection are a fairly reluctant group. They keep hiding out. They keep sending motions back to committee. They aren’t ready to do the whole ‘go and be my witnesses to all the world’ thing. That is… until the matter gets taken out of their hands. The Holy Spirit literally swoops onto the scene from stage up-above and gets them going. A violent wind… as tongues of fire… speaking and hearing in all manner of languages and breaking down all kinds of barriers.
The crowd becomes confused how this group of people could be doing all of this – this group of nobodies from Galilee… this is hardly a group of people expected to be so worldly, educated, and articulate. It’s like they’re a bunch of people from Idaho. And yet here they are showing off a flare for the dramatic with worldly inclusivity (old and young, slave and free, men and women, heavens and earth are all wrapped up in this spiritual awakening). The presumption of some in the crowds is that they must be drunk, a move that is natural because we have a tendency to meet the miraculous or mysterious with disbelief and mockery whether its unexpected healing or Jesus’ head on a piece of toast.
This is a rousing call by the Spirit of the Lord to celebrate all people, to bring down all walls and all divides both real and tangible, and those deeply rooted in the coding of our hearts and minds.
This is a rousing call to celebrate life.
I have had a tough transition from May to June. It isn’t unique to me or this month in particular, I’m in one of those kind of times – but so are many people, and many more than that who have had far worse. But here I am.
We went into this month with challenging family medical issues. Surgeries. Complications. Insurance battles. Add to that our own church community has had three members die in the last two weeks, and then over the weekend, I lost a good friend. My across the street neighbor growing up – Mike. Mike was also the younger brother of my best friend for life, and the two of them became like my brothers as I grew up with only sisters. He had overcome his own childhood disease and illness and become a fine young man, teacher, coach, husband, and father of twin one year old girls. And then in one fell sweep a massive and unexpected stroke took him from us.
So all of this is going on for me and in the midst of that Caroline and I had planned a night out for a late celebration of our anniversary. My middle sister and brother-in-law are in town so like it or not they got the kids for a night and we booked a hotel… a mile down the road. We went out to dinner and our conversation was mostly about my younger sister still in the hospital for a third straight week, and about Mike. After dinner I took a break to call my Dad to check in on my sister and what the new plan is (we get a new plan several times a day). We hung up and then Caroline and I went on a late evening sunset walk along the Boise river and my dad texted me one final thought:
“Celebrate life, celebrate each other.”
There is fragility to life. And that fragility can make us scared, cynical, fearful. That fragility can make us despair. And we can respond to the fragility of life by doing everything in our power to secure safety. We can try to build the thickest walls, and have the strongest guards. We learn to doubt, we do not trust, we disbelieve good news. We can obsess about death…
Or… we could choose to celebrate life.
Celebrating life doesn’t deny death; it isn’t a denial of the suffering and the agony. But we do not let them rule us either. Celebrating life is an intentional choice in spite of fear, anxiety, and doubt. It is courage. It is a bold choice to limit the sway and power of death. Because as victims we can allow tragedy more power than it’s due. We allow it to kill not once, but twice. First it kills a beloved reality – be that a loved one or something about our life we cherish. Then it kills our spirit… our hope…. our ability to celebrate life. And we live in fear. To live “with fear” is probably unavoidable but to be ruled by fear is the second death, the death we perpetrate on ourselves.
What I believe attracts me to the poetry of the Psalms or to African American spirituals is the very resistance to this second death. They do not give in to despair. Certainly they speak of suffering, loss, and struggle. They wrestle with the “how long, O Lord” of injustice. But there is a hope that is transcendent to their current misery. In the midst of pain they do not allow hope to die as well. The cling to, they proclaim, they celebrate hope. We may die, but will never cease to celebrate life.
Celebrate life, celebrate each other.
In the wake of Jesus’ death he knew his followers would struggle with this kind of celebration – resurrection or not. He knew that despair was a difficult enemy to keep at bay. And so he promised them that one would come who was life itself. That the Holy Spirit would come to them as a comforter, as an advocate, as a mighty wind that was the very breath of divine life and that it would sweep them up in empowering celebration of life.
And – ready or not – they are now caught up in a bubbling over of the cup of life, an ascendant celebration of life and each other whose tenor was so lively and audacious that the crowds think it must be drunken revelry. And Peter says no this isn’t the foolishness of alcoholic public indecency in some kind of avoidance of the world. Oh its drunkenness he says. Its foolishness for sure. It’s even a dance of public indecency. But the only thing they are drunk on is life, and it’s the foolishness of hope that will not give in to death, and a celebratory dance of each other – of all life.
Celebrate life; celebrate each other. Amen.