A sermon preached at the Celebration of Ministry Service during the Annual Meeting of the Maritime Conference of The United Church of Canada in Sackville, New Brunswick on Pentecost Sunday, May 30, 2004.
It all begins at a Conference. Pentecost is an annual meeting. Everyone returns every year like clockwork, fifty days after Passover. Everyone knows what to expect. Old friends. Business. Worship. Crowded agenda. Not enough time. And then something totally unexpected occurs. The Holy Spirit - the vital energy of God - charges the community with voltage, with juice, that catches the neighbourhood off guard. Do you see? Pentecost is not locked in history like a fly trapped in amber. This dangerous text in Acts tells the story of a church being overtaken by God here and now.
The text notices three signs of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the community. The first sign is that “all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit”. This is surprising to us. We are used to speaking of spirituality on an a case by case basis. We imagine that certain individuals among us are particularly gifted. We suspect that some of us have yet to receive the Holy Spirit. But notice the bewildering events of Pentecost. All are filled with the Holy Spirit. All y’all receive charisma - spirit. Notice the root of that word charisma. It comes from the word “charis” which means “grace”. To be a charismatic church is to be a people who are gifted and filled with the grace of God: a people who do not flee when Good Friday ends life as we know it; a people who do not give up on God when they find themselves living through a long Holy Saturday of absence; a people who trust deep in their bones that God will act to redeem lives and churches that are as good as dead and that Christ will yet reconcile relationships that seem beyond all hope on an incredible Resurrection Sunday in God’s unpredictable time. This is a Holy Spirited pentecost people whose faithfulness through trouble, whose hope in the midst of deep despair and whose love of the loveless is wonderfully bewildering.
The text notices that everyone in the congregation - everyone in the conference - participates in the saving work of the Holy Spirit. Not one is left out. And the text notices something else. Neighbours are amazed at the testimony that emerges from this gathering. A Pentecost church cannot help but talk. We have labelled such telling “evangelism”. But this labeling reduces the vitality of telling and whispering and emailing down to a marketing campaign for new members. Pentecostal speech is not an ‘ism’, it is not a revitalization technique or a strategy for growth. This spirited speaking is the announcing of God’s power to save in every language known - every spoken language, every signed language, every musical language, every body language. You name it, the spirited church speaks it: Traditional and Contemporary, Liberal and Conservative, Maritime and Western. It is not the form of speech that makes the message relevant. It is the amazing news that is put into speech that catches attention. In a world in which God’s power to save the poor, to heal the afflicted and to redeem the nations appears to be extremely limited the gospel of “God’s deeds of power” is “amazing and perplexing”. To be honest, we inside the church regularly find this gospel as perplexing as do our neighbours outside the church. This is the reason that we commission and ordain language speakers and teachers among us. You are who are about to be set apart for ordered ministry in the church are called to a crucial ministry of voicing and enacting the amazing news of the gospel. Do not be surprised and do not despair when you find the church suffering from amnesia. We have been mightily tempted by other so-called gods to imagine that the good news is found elsewhere. We have gone running after idols that promised success and satisfaction only to find ourselves hungry and thirsty and lost in a far land. Laura, Pix, Catherine, Karen & Pamela - do not be afraid. Christ is calling you into servant leadership of and for the church at this crucial time and in this crucial place. Wait expectantly upon God for guidance. Dare to trust your voice and your life as a sign of the coming reign of God. Place your hope and faith in Christ’s promise to walk with all who share the burden of the cross, who do not turn away from the ache and grief of the world.
Of course, lives lived like this cannot help but be noticed. And that is the third sign of the Holy Spirit that the text names. The text tells that on Pentecost the neighbours imagine that the congregation has been into the sauce. They think that the church needs to sober up. I imagine that leaders of the church - lay and clergy, young and old, rural and urban - who live in hope through catastrophic Fridays and long Saturdays in courageous expectation of God’s new Sunday will surely cause others within and beyond the church to ask “what does this mean?” Such gospel lives are not sobered by despair, but are drunk with hope in Christ. Breaking bread at Christ’s Table, drinking from his cup of suffering and of joy we find ourselves already living in the future that God intends for all peoples. Here at the Welcome Table there is room for the last and the least. Here at the Banquet Table old rivalries are reconciled, ancient hurts healed. Here at the Thanksgiving Table orphaned souls find home at last. Here at Christ’s Table the full voltage of God’s energy - the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead - raises up the church as a bewildering, amazing and astonishing sign of the Kingdom come, a living testimony to God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. May it be so. Amen and Amen.