Pentecost is a momentous occasion in the church, but one that was tricky for me to wrap my head around. I will not lie to you, I was writing my sermon up to the Saturday before. What I mainly remember about Pentecost from two decades in the church is: 1) wear red and 2) is the start of mission in the church. Both of those things I got, I went out to Target and bought a red cardigan and I sat down and thought of the importance of mission in the Presbyterian Church. But I also wanted to make sure that it was MY voice being heard up there, not just the voice of the websites I googled and the resources I found. I didn't want to preach what people fully wanted to hear; I wanted to preach what I wanted them to hear. So, without further ado, here is the text of my sermon. It's not groundbreaking in any way, I'm sure. But I wanted to remind us Presbyterian who choose mission time and again why we do it. Sometimes we get tired or feel that we aren't being heard. Maybe we are told we are filled with new wine. But even if we are hoarse in our stories, they still need to be told. You can choose to read the sermon or listen to it at the YouTube video below. I hope you enjoy.
We, the Hoarse Disciples
When my parents got married, I don’t think they really thought through the fact that two lawyers living under one roof would spout out more lawyers into this world. When I say that both my parents are lawyers, this is typically the time that I get pitiful stares and people apologizing to me for my life; I thank you for that. But what I also got out of this deal is the desire to hold my ground on issues that make me passionate. It also makes me partial to shouting “OBJECTION” at random intervals, but we won’t get into that right now.
If there is ever a prominent story in the Bible that shouts “Notice my passion!”, it’s the Acts story of Pentecost. Pentecost is seen as a new creation of church and also as the birthplace of mission for us. There are tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit comes down like wind, and people speak different languages. It is a time where we wear red to symbolize the fire that continually burns in our hearts as we speak for the church. And I really enjoy this time of Pentecost, but I remember growing up in my home church and retaining a specific part of this story over and over each year.
See, when I get excited and passionate about something, I really want to find a sturdy rooftop and make some kind of speech. I want to show people the gravity of blessings or the seriousness of situations. Again, that’s the lawyer genes in me. But I never want to keep silent. And here, here is this place where the disciples are gathered, this amazing moment happens. They are greeted by the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire rest on their heads, they begin speaking different languages. But instead of staring in wonder at each other, instead of making some S’mores, these men of God run out into the streets to share a bit of Heaven with those they see.
But it is how the disciples are greeted that has always resonated with me. “They are filled with new wine.” Sneers, jeers, and jokes. That’s enough to make me want to pack up my soap box and go eat some ice cream in front of Netflix. I just shared this amazing thing with you, a holy moment that will change my life and yours, and you call me drunk?
How many of you have been put in a similar situation? Here is something you truly believe, you left your nets and boats to follow a completely new path, and you are ridiculed? This is your whole life, your heart that you are showing, but it just got trampled because what you are saying is a little too scary for some people to handle right now. I mean, it’s early Sunday morning, some people don’t have coffee in them, it’s hard to take in.
I’ve personally had my moments of hardship in this arena, but I’ve also personally witnessed other people’s hardship while they stand on their soap box. As a Young Adult Volunteer, I wake up every morning and go to work because of my students. I work for YMCA Educational Services, we are housed in three locations around New Orleans and offer free Adult Literacy services to whomever is willing to put in the time with us. I have quickly found out that I am on the front lines of New Orleans. My students are homeless, unemployed, single parents. Many can’t get on the internet without help, some have stories of abuse in their lives, others have watched their parents die. But what they all have in common? Education. They all see education as a resource for them to succeed in their community. They each come to our classroom to learn about fractions, comma usage, and fact vs. opinion so that they can check off education as a goal for their lives.
My students are not in the minority of citizens with no education and no high school diploma. There are dozens of adult literacy programs throughout the New Orleans area bursting with students. But do we hear often about these success stories? If you open the newspaper this week, will you read about a 40-year-old man getting his high school diploma? Probably not. To most people that’s not a success story, that’s a loss.
That’s not how I see it, though; and that’s not how the YMCA or our students see it either. Here are these people, these citizens who come into our classroom and say, “help me, please.” But they are also saying something else; they are saying that they were failed the first time around. These are men and women who desperately want an education but they couldn’t get the resources they needed while they were in the school system. That is an extremely powerful force; hundreds of stories, all the same.
My students want to be heard; they want to make a difference. I’ve had students come up to me and say, “I don’t want this to happen to my daughter like it did to me.” They relate to the constant story of education in New Orleans. Each one wants to make a change, even small, to make sure that one day adult learning centers won’t be needed. But have you heard their stories? Or are my students being told that they are filled with new wine?
Each of my fellow YAVs, I’m sure, has a similar story to mine. We have each been placed in front of situations or hurdles that we didn’t imagine. Before we began our respective jobs, many of us went to orientation in upstate New York with all the YAVs traveling nationally and internationally. We had small groups, we read Bible Studies and sang in worship, and we heard keynote speakers from all walks of life. One of them said this statement which resonates with me still: “you are not there to give a voice to the voiceless. They already have a voice. You are there to walk beside them and understand their voice and help it be heard.”
I find these words so hard to live by mainly because I want to fix the entire world and bake cupcakes at the same time. But I am just one person, and I don’t have a band-aid that is big enough to go around the world. More importantly, I’m not the only person who wants to put on that cape. The disciples definitely had some superhero desires in them; the NOLA YAVs, we all secretly have matching capes in our closets. I’m sure you all do, too. We all have these Christian Capes that we must wear to show that we are not afraid to go out of this place.
“They were all together in one place.” That’s too convenient for God to pass up. Just like the Tower of Babel, where all people had one language and built a tower to live in together. God said these words: “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” Staying all together in a tower is too easy. So God blew all the people around the world and confused the languages. Now, that can be seen as kind of harsh; I mean, if I was living in a tower with all these cool people and then God said, “JK, I have another idea,” I wouldn’t be that happy about it.
But see, we are chosen, we are all together in this one place. We are not all the same, we all have different voices and different strengths. And we are not exactly bringing the most satisfying information to the world. Peter, when he spoke to the crowd, definitely said some hard truths. He mention blood and fire and smoky mist, he said “the sun shall be turned to darkness and moon to blood.” Now, I’m not saying go out and tell your neighbor that’s mowing the lawn that the moon’s going to turn to blood soon. But Peter is speaking harsh truths that end with this: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We can’t be silent, we shouldn’t be silent. I might speak Parthians, you might speak Medes or Elamites. My students will speak a language all their own. We each bring something to the table, we each were given a tongue of flames. My flame is different from yours. But that only means we need each other to share the church. That only means that we should go out from where we are comfortable in a room with all our friends and share this amazing knowledge we know with the world.
And the world might say that we’re drunk, they might be grumpy that particular morning because there was decaf coffee only or they had a fight with their significant other. But the point is that we are speaking harsh truths, truths that must be shared. We are showing the world the good news that was shown to us. The good news through a man that died on a cross 50 days ago. It is the good news that we are the church, our mission is in the church, and our mission is throughout the world. And we will walk alongside each other to make sure all are heard because Pentecost is a time where we remember those 11 men in that upstairs room who could have just kept quiet for a few hours but instead shared the word of God with Jerusalem. We are the hoarse disciples, but I’m still going to put on my cape each day. And I hope you all are there with me, too. Thank you.