Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Gibberish or Gospel?" Message for Pentecost, June 12, 2011

Acts 2:1-21
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? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—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 servants, 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 God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Holy One shall be saved.’

John 20:selected verses
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw him. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As Abba God has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Child of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Will you pray with me? Holy One, send your spirit of fire on each of us; make us to blaze with your Holy Spirit. Descend upon us and release us to be your people in truth and freedom. Open our mouths to speak your message of love; teach us the language to use so that your children will understand your truth. In your own name we pray, amen.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

Well, perhaps Lewis Carroll isn’t taught in school anymore… But some of us knew it—could even recite it along with me!

But for those who don’t know Carroll nonsense poem, it sounds like gibberish. He said it wasn’t, just that he had used new words. “Brillig,” for example, means “late afternoon, around teatime.” And “slithy” means “graceful and slimy.” They are words, he said—just that the rest of the world didn’t know what they meant—not yet.

I think that must have been something like the experience of that crowd on that first Pentecost. There was something familiar in what they were hearing, but only some of them could understand some of it—others could understand other parts. Maybe a few understood all of what was being said. But for everyone, much of what they heard was nonsense. They didn’t know what it meant.

The definition of nonsense is different for each of us. What is normal and acceptable, and part of everyday for some individuals is incomprehensible to others. The difficulty arises when we use what we think is usual language and someone else thinks it is nonsense.

The wisdom of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost was in the varied speech—language—of the disciples. The same words that were gibberish to one person were words of life and wisdom and salvation to another person. The disciples spoke in many ways—and every one of them was understood by someone.

That tells us something about how we are to be disciples—not locked into one speech, one way of operating, one language, if you will. We have to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit, who cannot be controlled and moves through and in us through God’s will. Each of us has our own way of communicating, our own understanding of what is nonsense and what is not—and therefore, we can each reach out to different people.

Depending on our own lives and circumstances, perhaps we “speak the language” of others: maybe people with addictions; or parents; or single people; or new Canadians; or people of a certain age; or with disabling conditions.  God can use all our circumstances for good ends—each of us has an “audience” who will understand what others might consider to be our nonsense. God speaks through us as God wills.

I have a friend who lives by a lake that is populated by geese—Canada geese, actually. They aren’t really my favourite bird, much as I like water birds like swans and ducks and herons. Geese tend to be noisy and messy and aggressive, especially when they have goslings. It’s difficult to walk by the lake sometimes, because the geese will attack—and even if they aren’t around, the benches and picnic tables are a mess from their droppings. They do what they like, they own the lakeshore, they cannot be controlled.

It is not a mistake that in Celtic Christianity, the wild goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. I think we can see why—wild, uncontrolled, free to move, always on the wing, just passing through, under no-one’s control but God’s.

That first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit made her presence known in no uncertain terms—and in a way that was wild, messy, unpredictable—under only God’s control.  Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were so unruly that people thought they were under the influence of something else entirely—that they were drunk, first thing in the morning! Well, perhaps they weren’t drunk on wine—but they were truly under the influence of the Spirit—wild, crazy, uncontrolled, nonsense.

How often do we let the Spirit influence us like that?

I know, we’re calm, well-behaved mainstream Protestants, plus we’re Canadian—we don’t create disturbances, we don’t speak in tongues, we don’t get unruly—or not very often, anyway.

But just as someone doesn’t have to fall down to be drunk, we don’t have to utter unknown languages to know the Holy Spirit is moving with and through us.

When I answered God’s call to ministry, I was under the influence. When MCC Windsor called me to this pulpit, some people thought they were speaking nonsense. Other people have their stories, I know—when God called them, spoke to them, moved their hearts and spirits to do what seemed nonsense to the world around them.

And yet, here we are. The Spirit is wild, uncontrollable—like the breath of God, blowing where God wills.

One of the things Jesus commanded the disciples to do was to baptise. This was a shorthand for “welcome others into this group.” Baptism is the sign of joining God’s community—the community of Christians, the church with a small c. It is God’s act, through the Holy Spirit, wild, uncontrollable. Many MCC’s offer baptism at every service—they recognise that the Spirit cannot be channelled and may chose another day than Easter, Pentecost, Homecoming or All Saint’s to call someone to baptism.

Today we will be welcoming a new member to this community; on her behalf, her parents will renounce all that separates us from God. In her baptism, we call upon the Spirit to be present for and with her—in gibberish and nonsense, in wild drunken joy. We remember our own baptism—whatever age we were—and give thanks for that unruly Holy Spirit that brought us home to God.

In the name of the wild goose called the Holy Spirit, amen.

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