The Day of Pentecost – June 4, 2017
In the forward to a collection of her sermons, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes of her wish that she had been called to some other vocation. “All it takes is one day’s headlines to make me wish I had gone into a more practical line of work,” she writes. “I would like to know how to close a wound or set a bone. I would like to land an airplane full of rice and chickens in the Sudan…But no, I am a preacher – a public speaker of the gospel – and the story is all I have.”
The headlines of these past days – from teenagers leaving a concert in Manchester, to Coptic Christians on a bus in Egypt; from three men trying to protect girls on a MAX train in Portland, to people walking on London Bridge, which must have felt like it was falling down – well. I do not share the same wish as Barbara Brown Taylor, because I have never wanted to do anything more than the vocation to which I am called, right here with you. But I will confess my desire for some good old fashioned deliverance from what feels like a siege on our world and on our souls. I will confess my desire for God to step right in, Old Testament style, in the language of the psalms, with some smiting of evil and terror and general meanness; with some – God help us – protecting of what is innocent and beautiful.
I have joked (not joking) on occasion about wanting some of those Wonder Woman bracelets that can deflect bullets and swords and all manner of bad things. And I have to tell you, as Grace and I sat in the theater yesterday watching that movie, my desire for those bracelets has not lessened. And my wish for a superhero God who puts things right, who delivers us out of so much that is wrong…well, that wish has not lessened either.
I don’t know what kind of God the disciples wish for when they lock themselves away in that upper room, but I can only imagine they are hoping for some kind of deliverance, some kind of protection, some kind of escape from so much that is wrong.
God does show up, but those disciples don’t get delivered anywhere after that crazy moment of Pentecost.
They are locked away, out of fear that what happened to Jesus is going to happen to them. And God blows into that room with wind and fire. God the Holy Spirit lands on them, bestowing the sevenfold gifts that the prophet Isaiah promised: wisdom and understanding, counsel and courage, knowledge and reverence and wonder.
The disciples speak words they don’t know, confusing the people who do speak those languages, because they know the disciples aren’t native, aren’t fluent. The people hear and understand and are confused by their understanding…so they chalk it up to new wine. Except that it’s only 9:00 in the morning.
Even after all that, though, the disciples still don’t go anywhere.
A crowd of people hears Peter proclaim the faith, hears him connect the works of Jesus to the promises of David, the father of the faith. They hear and are converted and baptized. They continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.
They go on to become a community, those earliest Christians (who didn’t even call themselves that, yet). They share their gifts, they help and heal each other; they fight over money and food, they experience signs and wonders; they screw it up, and then reconcile and begin again. Through it all, they would have to use the gifts that the Holy Spirit had kindled within them: wisdom and understanding, counsel and courage, knowledge and reverence and wonder. They have to use those gifts, and share them, or they wouldn’t have made it.
Here’s what did not happen, though: they didn’t have a superhero God step in to smite the bad guys and scoop up the good ones, to deliver them from everything that is terrifying and tragic.
The disciples are still plagued by attacks from without, by fighting within.
When Jesus shows up in the gospel of John, he doesn’t carry the disciples away to safety. He doesn’t take them out of the hostile city where they are hiding, doesn’t build impenetrable walls around the house that holds them. Instead, he breathes the Holy Spirit into them, and sends them out into that very city, to face what will be. “As the Father sent me,” he says, “So I send you.”
Paul writes to the church at Corinth in our second reading today, a community that is fighting and stumbling its way toward becoming church. Paul names their charge: “You have gifts that come from God, to be shared for the good of everyone,” he writes. “Wisdom and knowledge, healing and the working of miracles, prophecy and discernment.”
“We are baptized into one Body. We are many members, in Christ.”
The Holy Spirit does not blow into that gathering of scared and heartbroken people on the day of Pentecost to carry them all away. Instead, the Holy Spirit gives those scared and heartbroken disciples gifts that allow them to stay put right where they are. The Spirit gives the promise of the Paraclete: the promise to come alongside, to abide through it all. And because the disciples receive those gifts, because they allow themselves to be sent into the very spaces that terrify them, they become agents of miracles themselves.
Sometimes the stories of the bible feel so far removed that they become almost caricature. We know how it turns out, right? Noah’s boat is finally going to hit the shore. The Israelites will be able to get through the Red Sea on dry land…and Pharaoh’s soldiers will not. The wise men will go home by another way. On that third morning, the stone will be rolled away from the tomb.
I don’t tend to feel the same immediacy with scripture that I do with the headlines. After all, I know, now, what it’s like to be on a bus in the Middle East with 40 people on our way to a monastery. I have ridden the MAX train in Portland many times. I have taken my daughter to a concert. I have walked on a bridge on a crowded summer evening.
That was then, I want to say, and this is happening right now. And we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we don’t know how this is going to turn out.
And what about those Wonder Woman bracelets?
And we worship a God who is faithful.
“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” Jesus says.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” Paul writes.
My friends, the story may be all we have, but the story is everything. Because the story is promise. And the Promise of Pentecost is not deliverance from, but accompaniment with. Those disciples don’t go anywhere when God the Holy Spirit blows and blazes into their midst. They stay put, and God works through them to build the beautiful and broken Church that abides, even now. They stay put, and God equips them and stays with them through it all.
The Promise of Pentecost is not that we will not suffer, or that God will magically deflect every obstacle…bracelets or not. The Promise of Pentecost is that God equips us with good gifts that allow us to stay put: even and especially when we’re afraid. It’s the promise that “in the Holy Spirit, God comes to us to be with us and for us, to use all that we have and (all that we) are” because God so loves the world.
 Barbara Brown Taylor. Gospel Medicine. Boston: Cowley Publications, 1995. xi.
 Thanks to David Lose for this essay that set the frame for my sermon, in addition to the quote http://www.davidlose.net/2017/05/pentecost-a-with-not-from/