"Praying for the Wind to Blow"

May 18, 1997 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Acts 2:1-21

In the gospel story as we have received it there was a day when all heaven broke loose. Through the eyes of our children earlier in worship, we tried to imagine what it must have been like. Sometimes we adults get bogged down in the details and don’t allow our spirits to soar, which is what this story entails. It’s about people who are set on fire. It’s about a mighty wind that blows, like the whirlwind out of which God spoke to Job. You recall that fellow, don’t you? He is every man or woman who has wondered why bad things happen to good people. In his own Old Testament book, Job persistently demands of God: Why? When the Lord finally responds - out of a whirlwind, mind you - the speech doesn’t really answer Job’s question at all. Even so, he is given what he needs to move on from that point - out of the whirlwind...

It was a similar wind that blew through that upstairs room in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost. Actually, I have no idea if that is exactly where it all happened - an upper room, that is. The details are a bit sketchy, as if to say that they’re not as important as what then happened.

The book of Acts, the story of the early church, begins with a goodbye. Jesus, who had risen from the dead, said his farewell with a promise that this was but the beginning, not the end. Returning from Mt. Olivet where he gave his leave, the disciples spent a lot of time in their rented apartment. It wasn’t just the 11 remaining "official" disciples (remember, Judas Iscariot was no longer among them). The wider band of followers was there with them, including all the women and the family of Jesus. It says that there were about 120 of them. Whether they all were crammed into that upstairs room is not exactly clear. They had business to do - picking someone to replace Judas. Other than this they may have been clueless. What now?

It says they spent a lot of time praying, though it doesn’t say what they were praying about or for. They weren’t scattered, though, each one closeted in their own little space. They were, as it says, "all together in one place." Could it be they were wondering "why?" No, it wasn’t "why do bad things happen to good people?" They had just experienced the opposite - good things happening to bad people: Jesus embracing the very people who put him to death; loving his followers who denied or ran away from him in fear; forgiving even as they stretched him out on a cross. No, they probably weren’t pondering in prayer why bad things happen to good people.

The resurrection was, no doubt, still a vivid, though confusing memory. How? Why? Maybe those questions were in their minds as they prayed. Or, more recently, they could’ve been praying their way through the question "why did Jesus leave?" After all, it was obvious this was only the beginning. If even death couldn’t stop this Messiah, then the sky was the limit. Why leave at this point? How were they supposed to know what to do without Jesus? Yes, he had promised that a Holy Spirit would come, but what on earth (or in heaven) did that mean? Maybe there was a bit a grief going on - not the mourning that took place after they put his dead body in the tomb on that dreary Friday before the first Easter - but the grief that accompanies any kind of change. In order to step into the new, you have to let go of the old, which is never easy.

Again, we don’t know what they were praying, all together in one place. Likewise, we don’t know exactly where it was they were praying, whether it was like a bunch of sardines in that upstairs room or in the entire building. It just doesn’t say. What it does say is that out of a whirlwind God spoke. Unlike with Job, we aren’t privy to the words. But God touched each person right where they were sitting. And an amazing thing happened. Now, it’s important that we not get blown away by the details. After all, how can one adequately put such things into words. "Divided tongues, as of fire ... resting on each of them," how would you visualize that? This is language of the imagination, which is why kids pick it up so much easier than we do.

These folks were set on fire, all of them - not just the "official" disciples. Furthermore, it is all of them who then speak for God. Don’t get so wrapped up in this business of talking in other languages that you miss what’s happening. It’s not the experience of speaking in tongues that is the big deal, as significant as that was. What’s most important is that everyone is given a good word to speak, and they share it in a diversity of languages, a multiplicity of ways. Every single person. Not just an elite few.

When Peter later tried to explain what was happening, he reached back to the prophet Joel, words with which we began our worship this morning. "I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh": young and old, men and women, even those who are caught up in slavery. The inexperienced will receive such wisdom that far exceeds their years. Those who thought they’d seen everything will be empowered to see something altogether new - to dream once again. Even the rotten things that happen to good people will somehow fit into the larger picture of what God is about in this world. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord," all who reach out to God because of Jesus, "shall be saved." That was the promise Peter saw being realized that day.

Of course, the details always catch us. Face it, it was a messy experience. When the wind blows, the house is a mess. Maybe that’s another reason kids might like this story so much. When they’re on the loose, their primary concern isn’t "clean up." I shudder, for instance, whenever two or more are gathered in our playroom. There are times when a call to the President to declare a "National Disaster Area" is contemplated. Kids are messy. So is this Pentecost story. If you’re looking for order in your life, maybe this isn’t the text for you. However, sometimes our desire for order also gets a bit out of hand. "Cleanliness" may be "next to Godliness," as John Wesley once said, but it can also be quite sterile. That is, the messy times in our lives, when it feels like things are beyond our control, are often the periods when we grow the most, when something new is born. It may not feel that way at the time, though. On that first Pentecost many were quite perplexed. Many still are.

It’s interesting that we have this scripture before us on this day. In this account, as we have received it, Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from all over. It says, "devout Jews from every nation under heaven" were there to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, a Jewish holy day. This is a text some of you pray is not the scripture you have to read when you take your turn as worship leader. Some real tongue twisters reveal where these folks called home: "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." These visitors to Jerusalem, it says, heard the disciples speak in their own home language. I’m sure they had quite a story to tell when they returned to their families.

South of Egypt is the modern day African nation of Kenya. The Holy Spirit has been at work there as surely as this wind as been blowing in our land. In 1955, the same year in which I was born, Daniel Ngugi became the sixth child of his parents who lived in the village of Gatanga. As an adult he heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and responded to God’s call. His church called him to ministry, and eventually the Holy Spirit blew him across an ocean to the United States where just last month he graduated with a seminary degree. He has a vision of returning to his homeland and starting a new mission, where people can learn a trade, where medical assistance can be provided, where God’s good news can be shared.

Last Wednesday your Executive committee met with Daniel to see if God was calling him here to be our summer pastor. I believe that, in so calling him (as we have), we are moving with the wind of the Holy Spirit. He will begin his work here on June 2nd. I pray that you will accept him as a brother-in-Christ, that you will seek to listen past his accent and hear the Spirit speak in your own language, that you will look past the color of his skin and the differences between our two cultures and allow God to "move in our midst" (as we so often sing) in new ways. He comes to us ordained to the ministry by his church in Kenya, having served among the Mennonites and the Brethren, most recently as the summer pastor of the Moorefield, WV Church of the Brethren last year. When I spoke with the pastor’s son there, he said Daniel was "cool," about as rousing an endorsement as one might get from a teenager.

This new development excites me. My only reservation is that I won’t be here for a good portion of the summer. This really feels right, as if God is a part of it. Do you know what I mean when I say that? We’d interviewed another person, but I came away feeling like if we had called her, we primarily would have been just "filling the pulpit." As important as that may be, is it enough? Where’s the wind? After last Wednesday night, I feel it blowing. I hope you will also.

A few years back, as I was looking ahead to this sabbatical time you are providing for me, I dreamed of an exchange of ministers, me going to Nigeria, and a pastor from there coming here. That didn’t become a reality, for a number of reasons. Still, perhaps God has had something similar in mind, to provide us a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit, and Daniel is part of it. I pray that is so. I was intrigued by his shared vision of what he intends to do when he returns to Kenya. Some of you are aware that I’ve been struggling myself with a sense of vision. It’s natural in mid-life (which is where I am) to be in this place, trying to "dream new dreams," as the prophet Joel said, to seek a vision - a word from the Lord - without which the people (myself included) perish, as the author of Proverbs wrote. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, for time and space away from ministry to be renewed, to spend time with my family, to seek out God’s vision for my life and our life together in Christ. May the wind blow. Pray for me.

Please pray, also, for your denomination. Major changes are coming before Annual Conference this July, at which I will serve as your delegate. Perhaps you’ve been reading about them in the "Messenger" magazine or elsewhere. At our council meeting this afternoon, I will be sharing what I understand to be the issues involved, seeking clarification and counsel from you that I might serve rightly. Suffice it to say, for now, that I am in basic agreement with the need for change. I, like many others, have concerns for the process for how it is being done. Pray that the wind of the Holy Spirit will blow through that Conference. I have a feeling it’s going to be a messy experience (I almost wish I hadn’t offered to be your delegate). Then, again, that birthday of the church so long ago, was quite messy, too. However, that very wind has propelled the church of Jesus Christ for a couple thousand years, and the forecast says that in these last days God will continue pouring out this Spirit, as messy as it may be at times. Will we see that as good news? I pray so, whether it be in the wider church, or in this congregation. Amen.

1997Peter L. Haynes

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