It is a joy to be here this morning and to have the honor of preaching today. And what a joy to preach with five babies, and even more so, their parents, anxiously waiting for me to finish so they can do their part! Doug recommended that I go no longer than 25 minutes this morning, so fear not!
And we gather this morning for this deeply festive day, the day of Pentecost, often called the birthday of the church. We join the disciples as they waited after Jesus ascended to heaven, waited together in Jerusalem for his promise, the promise of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The gift and promise, which his friends and followers desperately needed. As we reflect on Jesus’ return to heaven, just 40 days after the stunning events of the crucifixion and resurrection, it is hard for us, with the privilege of hindsight, to connect with the anxiety and even fear his friends and followers must have felt as Jesus disappeared into the clouds, leaving them with just the promise that the Holy Spirit would come to them soon and that they would have, as the Gospel of Matthew tells us the authority to go “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mathew 27:19). They did not want a promise they wanted HIM. They knew, as we do, that they were lost without Jesus, that they fell short, they failed, they wandered off so often when he was WITH them, now he was gone, how could they possibly do as he told them and go out to the ends of the earth and tell his story and share his love? So they did what Jesus told them to do, they did what they could; they waited, together, in that Upper Room. I try to connect with the stillness of the air that day, the quiet as the group sat. Below, out on the streets of Jerusalem they could hear crowds passing by, Jews from all over the world in the capital for the Festival of Weeks, perhaps they could hear snatches of conversations in different languages as the crowds moved past their gathering place. Waiting, wondering, praying, waiting….and then in that still, quiet air, absolutely nothing moving, like the air we have experienced this week, breathless, the glare of the sun making everything baked and tired and motionless…..the lesson from Acts tells us, SUDDENLY, a rushing wind, energy, freshness, hope, urgency in the air, awaken, rousing the disciples! And tongues of fire, touching each of them, the Holy Spirit! This is it! And from anxious lethargy Jesus’s friends now leap up and go out in to the streets, the Holy Spirit pushing them forward, each of them speaking in a different language, telling of “God’s deeds of power”, a glorious chorus of voices in a variety of tongues, a hint of which we got in our beautiful, multi-language lesson this morning. People stop, they listen, they are amazed that these Galileans can speak to them, and tell them tales of God’s wondrous works. And then a few start to sneer, to mock the disciples, saying they are drunk, out of their minds.
But then who steps forward but PETER. And the Acts passage tells us that Peter “raised his voice and addressed them”, the crowds on the street. All through the Gospels we see evidence that Peter had a gift from God, the gift to speak and speak up. Peter, of course, had been a fisherman before he met Jesus, and we do not know if he was a person to speak and speak up in those years on the water, living an ordinary life with his friends and family. But in the gospels we hear many stories of Peter speaking: asking questions, some foolish and some profoundly wise, we see him calling out to Jesus in terror as he tries to walk on the water during the storm on Lake Galilee, so recently we heard him at the Last Supper protesting Jesus washing his feet, and boasting that he was ready to die with Jesus, and too we heard him speaking up and so profoundly failing as he used his gift of speech to vehemently DENY that he had ever even known Jesus. Peter’s gift from God did not arrive fully developed, he had to try, to make mistakes and to fail, to look at those failures and learn, and try again to speak and speak up. And now on this crucial day, this day of Pentecost, Peter “raised his voice and addressed them” he used his gift for the good of God’s world and to preach God’s word. Through his errors and missteps and failures Peter learned, and was prepared at this moment, to use his gift.
Our passage from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians speaks of gifts too and urges the Corinthians, and us, to appreciate the great variety of gifts among God’s people. Paul was writing this letter in response to a loaded question the Corinthians had asked him. They wanted to know if glossolaia, the gift of speaking in tongues was, as they assumed, the ‘best’ gift to have. As often happens with us humans, whether we lived in Corinth or Richmond, we start out trying to be supportive of others in our community, but then we devolve into useless comparisons, jealousies, factions, and proclamations of “my gift is better than yours”. Part of our humanity, our sinfulness, our need for God is this core tendency to step on one another, even with our gifts! We, like the disciples watching Jesus ascend to heaven, know that we are indeed, lost without God. True in Corinth and in Richmond! So Paul gently but firmly tells the Corinthians that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services but the same Lord”. All the gifts are equal and he goes on to tell them that, the way to discern the good of a gift is not by ranking, but by seeing if the gift is given “for the common good”.
Which brings us back to this wonderful flock of babies! Each has gifts from God within them to be given for the common good; but those gifts are not fully developed and ready. Like Peter, like all of us, these little ones will spend their lives, coming to recognize their gifts, trying, falling, failing, and trying again to know how they are called to do God’s work for the common good. In a few minutes we will baptize these 5, and there is a line in the service, as you probably know, that asks ALL of us:
“Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” Our answer is: “We will.” But as you say those words I hope they will be more then routine, that you will look at these 5 wonderful little ones and commit, as part of this community, to help them learn their diverse and wondrous gifts from God, to support them when they try and fail, when they wander, when they forget, as we all do how to use those gifts, and to celebrate with them when they use their gifts “for the common good”. “We will” is a shortened version of all of that! So let’s practice now, so our hearts are in our line…Remember it is “WE WILL”…..on 3.…1…2…3…. We will! AMEN!