Rev. Teri Peterson
Be The Body
Acts 2.1-8, 11b-21, 37-47
23 May 2010, Pentecost and Confirmation
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep.
God’s Spirit of wisdom danced before the Creator at the beginning of time, making delight the first emotion this world knew.
The Spirit of God hovered over the waters again at Jesus’ baptism…and again at every baptism celebrated, as we claim God’s grace is for all—as many as the Lord our God shall call.
And now the Spirit dances again, this time in tongues of fire and wisps of wind, inviting us all to dance along—out of the safe spaces, the sanctuaries, and into the streets where people long to hear good news of hope, to see what peace and justice and community look like, to feel God’s breath rushing through the streets and commanding our attention.
On that first Pentecost, the disciples weren’t sure what to do next—they only knew that they needed to stay inside, where it was safe.
On this Pentecost, we seem to think we have everything figured out, and if we just stick to the plan and follow the bulletin, then everything will be safe.
But the Spirit of God has other ideas.
You see, God has called a people to be the Church—to be the Body of Christ, to love and live and serve as Jesus’ hands and feet, to reflect God’s glory, to BE the people of God right here, right now, whether it’s safe or not.
Sometimes we seem to think that the Church is a building—a place where we go.
Sometimes we seem to think that Church is something we do—we show up and say the right words and then we’re done.
Sometimes we seem to think that the Church is an institution that exists serve us—like a vending machine giving us whatever programs, kind words, and comfort we might need…but never offering words of challenge to us, our beliefs, or the way the world works.
Sometimes we think the Church is just another social club or just another non-profit agency—we join the group and give a little money to the cause and forget about it until the next mailing comes.
But none of these things are the Church. The Body of Christ isn’t an institution, isn’t a cause you join, isn’t a vending machine, isn’t a few magic words a week. The Church is US. A living, breathing, ever-changing organism made up of US. And the Body of Christ has a mission—it’s God’s mission, and we have the privilege of participating in it.
That mission is pretty simple, really: Do Justice. Practice Compassion. Walk Humbly With God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
That’s it—love. justice. compassion. humility.
That is what the Spirit blows into our lives to give us, and to call us to do and be.
This morning several of our youth—people who have been nurtured by many of you, who have taught Sunday School, helped with confirmation class, offered encouraging smiles, led youth group, shared conversations at potlucks, served in mission, and prayed for them—these youth will stand before this congregation, this part of the Body of Christ. Together we will remember the promises we made at their and so many other baptisms—promises to nurture and guide, through word and deed. We will remember God’s promise of grace and gift of community. And we will look for little tongues of fire—another kind of baptism, this one a calling to join in this mission God has set forth, to do our best to live into the vision of God’s kingdom.
This calling will take us out of the sanctuary. It will take us out of our safe places, and the wildfire of God’s love will jump the barriers we have set up, and our task will be to fan the flames. The Spirit is moving, dancing, blowing, and calling us to be The Church—the church that offers challenge alongside comfort, the church that serves rather than being served, the church that gives generously and loves generously and lives generously, the church that is the Body of Christ rather than just an institution, the Church that is gathered in order to be sent out.
In Jewish tradition, the festival of Pentecost commemorates God’s giving of the Torah—the law, especially the ten commandments—to Moses on Mount Sinai. The festival isn’t about receiving the Torah—it’s about God giving it—because while the gift happened at a specific point in time, the receiving of that gift takes a lifetime. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the same. On Pentecost God sent the Holy Spirit to the church—a Spirit who had been living and breathing through all of creation and throughout all our stories, but now has a particular role enlivening the Body of Christ. But our receiving of the Spirit and her gifts, our living into that calling, our process of being filled and refilled to overflowing—that takes a lifetime. And that is what the church is for—to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can let Life Abundant spill out into the world. As new people join this dance, as the gifts within the body grow and change, as the body lives and moves and breathes and works, we continue the lifelong process of receiving God’s Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is at work, even now, even here, calling us to be the Body of Christ. Will we go out and live the good news?
May it be so.
(image is this sermon in wordle form: wordle.net)