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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost - June 4, 2006

Pentecost marks the end of the Easter season which is the biggest celebration of the church year.  It takes us 50 days, 7 weeks to unpack the joy and mystery of Easter as we consider the resurrection of Jesus and what it means.  For Christians, Easter is the core story of our faith with its message of hope and new life, the ability of God to make all things new, to bring new life and hope out of brokenness and chaos, new life even out of death.  I would argue that while the Bible as a whole does speak with a variety of voices, this voice of hope and new life founded on God’s steadfast love and mercy is the one that continues to resurface above all the others.

So as Christians we should be people who anticipate and look for God at work in the world in new ways.  We should eagerly watch for God breathing new life into the world and into our own lives, God doing new things; the God of Easter is a God of newness, a God of change, a God who upsets the expected order of things. 

When God makes changes in the expected order of things in Bible stories, we’re mostly OK with that; miracles and resurrection and Pentecost wind and tongues of flame, we accept things like that.  We may wonder sometimes but then we accept it on faith and move on.  When things seem to be changing in our world or our lives though, if we’re challenged to think differently about something that we’ve long held to be true, that gets a bit threatening.  So what we tend to do when things closer to us are changing is to cling to that which is familiar and reliable.  It’s the natural thing to do.  We appeal to a predictable God who is old and established and unchanging. 
For some, part of the attraction of church is that they want it to be something comfortable and reliable in a world that is changing, and not necessarily in ways they like. 

So as much as we proclaim the promise of new life, we kind of like the predictability of old life and so we want things to fit into categories that make sense to us without challenging or changing us too much. God actually active and at work in the world, the power of the Holy Spirit on the loose among us, do we really want that??

The people assembled in Jerusalem on that first Day of Pentecost weren’t sure that they wanted it.  The coming of the Holy Spirit had been promised to them by Jesus himself, but when it arrived, some of them anyway did exactly what any rational person would do: they denied it.  Hearing people speaking in languages they had no business knowing, “they must be filled with new wine” was the logical explanation.  The effects of the abuse of alcohol was a category well known to them so explaining what was going on in those terms made the event more understandable, more familiar and therefore safer.

 The trouble is, legitimate manifestations of God’s newness at work, strange as they may seem, will not accommodate themselves to any safe, familiar explanations because such accommodation denies the possibility of God doing a new thing.  Remember, Easter faith is about God doing something new.    

So it was left to Peter, the leader and voice of the church at that time, to bear witness to the unsettling energy and presence of the Spirit active that day.  He too was dependent on familiar categories for his explanation, but the category he chose was Old Testament prophecy, though he chose a part of that tradition not well known or much understood.  He quoted Joel, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” That’s the part of this text that we like.  But then, talk of “blood and fire and smoky mist; the sun turned to darkness, the moon to blood.” 

Strange stuff, strange images; it’s poetry so I don’t think we interpret it literally, but even as poetry proclaiming the work of the Spirit, it’s not a comforting picture that is painted.  This doesn’t sound like any Advocate or helper, terms Jesus used in talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit.   If we are resistant to the working of newness in the world, we are especially resistant to the working of newness that sounds this frightening.

What Peter was doing, using these words of Joel, was announcing the Holy Spirit as a potentially disruptive force in the world, and that’s what it is. The Spirit can bring order to chaos, that’s true; the Spirit moving over the waters in the creation story of Genesis so that waters that were formless and void become part of an ordered creation proclaimed to be very good.  That’s the Spirit bringing order to chaos. 

But the Spirit sometimes brings chaos to the comfortable orders of our world speaking out of the dark suns of despair, the bloody moons of fear, not as an end, but to call us to see visions and dream dreams, to imagine the possibility of something that is truly new, and not just a rearrangement of that which is familiar.  But that’s exactly what scares us, that’s why we’d rather cling to the old familiar categories and come up with more rational explanations instead of acknowledging that the Holy Spirit has been turned loose among us as something other than a soft blanket of reassurance.

The Holy Spirit turned loose in the world strips God of any tidy predictability we might like to impose and most of us don’t like that very much.  We acknowledge the freedom and sovereignty of God but then get upset when the dark suns and bloody moons show up.  We want to control things, even God, but it seems that sometimes God wants to remind us that we’re not in control.  The Spirit blows where it will and how it will, working newness in ways that we can’t predict or control if only we could just get out of the way.  But that’s hard, because all of us, to one degree or another want control.

It’s also hard because how do we know when it really is the Holy Spirit at work and not something else, some other spirit, some illness within us, a bit of undigested meat as Mr. Scrooge suspected?  There is a discernment process that must take place and that is a process that isn’t usually quick and easy.  It takes prayer and an openness to the possibility that the Spirit is at work, rather than a rush to explain things based on familiar categories.  It means not trying to control the work of the Holy Spirit, but giving it room, giving it breathing space.

In my entire adult life I think there has only been one time that relinquished control of what was going to happen to me.  I had some control in deciding what college I would go to and then what graduate school I would attend.  I had some control and some choice deciding where I would apply for teaching jobs and then which job I would take.  I had some control, I think, in deciding to go to seminary and choosing which seminary I would attend.  I had some control, I think, in deciding to get married in the midst of the decision to leave teaching and go to seminary.  The one time I relinquished control was on filling out the papers that would be sent to bishops to determine where I would be assigned upon graduation from seminary.

I checked off the little box that said “Open to all.”  I still put down some preferences which you were allowed to do.  I was still grabbing for some control.  What I didn’t realize was that when you checked off “Open to all” you might as well not waste any time putting down preferences because it doesn’t really matter.  Open to all trumps any preferences. 

I was not thrilled when I was assigned to the Northern Great Lakes Synod.  This was not my plan.  It seemed like a dark sun or a bloody moon to me.  But I didn’t resist it.  I trusted that the Holy Spirit was at work in that conference of bishops and so remained open to the possibility that this was where I was supposed to serve, that God was doing a new thing in my life.  It worked out pretty well.  To my surprise I liked the Upper Peninsula; I liked the people; I seemed suited to the kind of ministry one does here.  Despite that I fought it; after a few years I went back to Massachusetts where I still thought I belonged, but the pull to come back here was pretty strong and here I am.  The best explanation for all this that I can come up with is, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit knew better than I did what was good for me.

Today we honor this year’s high school graduates.  I think some good advice for you is that you not try to control everything that is to happen to you.  Remain open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit doing something new in your life, maybe taking down paths you hadn’t thought you were going to take.  Don’t be foolish; there is that process of discernment of the spirits that you have to take seriously; as Neil Young, one of my favorite singers, says, “If you follow every dream, you might get lost.” 

The good news though, is that with the Holy Spirit, you’re never really lost; it just may take awhile to figure out where you are.  From lostness and brokenness, from dark suns and bloody moons, the Spirit does new things.  That’s the God we worship and proclaim, the Easter God who does make all things new.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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