|| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Message preached May 27,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Acts 2:1-21
Order of Worship
listen to it in mp3 format
In 8 days, I will watch the last of my four children walk across the stage of Loch Raven High School and receive her diploma. Tell me, those of you who have been a part of that same drama with your own children, amid all the pomp and circumstance, were the tears streaming down your face a trickle or a flood? Why do we cry at such occasions, especially those of us who don’t hold our emotions in check? “It’s sheer happiness!” we may say. And, indeed, what a joy it is to see someone we love, almost more than life itself, make such a significant step.
In the back of our minds we juxtapose this image of them in cap and gown against the picture of them in a big, fat diaper taking their first wobbly steps. Doesn’t it seem like only yesterday that they sat on your lap, soaking up all the attention you could give them? They’re not exactly lap sitters anymore, are they? Children grow so quickly, don’t they? One moment they’re here, the next they’re gone. Poor me!
What? Is there a tinge of self-pity in those tears we shed? You bet! For all the relief we may express that they have grown and no longer require of us what they used to, there is also the grief over a past that will never be relived. Indeed, poor me. I’m losing my baby. Of course, the reality is that this baby was never really ours to start with, that she or he has always been God’s child (first and foremost) and only entrusted to our care for but a season. This fact is shadowed by our emotion. Poor me.
Those of us who do the stepping out, into college or elsewhere, we’re not crying. The whole world seems wide open at this point, ready for the picking. Ahead lies freedom, new frontiers, possibilities that wait for us to jump into them. Why should we cry? Unless, of course, we choose to look back. Who looks back, though? Behind us stand weepy parents, and their pictures of us at all those awkward stages of life. Behind us lies dependency, and living by “their” rules (as well as their money). Ahead of us lies freedom, and responsibility (gulp!).
How well I remember the day I turned 20. To be honest, I can picture that event better than I can my own high school or college graduations. A counselor at Camp Swatara, I was leading a group of children on a day hike along the Appalachian Trail. One particular song plagued me the entire walk, running through my head, almost beyond my power to shut it off.
“Life, so they say, is but a game
Never again, I thought as I walked, will I ever be a teenager. Poor me. In spite of all the mistakes and pains of those years, the awkward bumbling of youth, I mourned the loss of that time in my life. Poor me. Anyone recognize that refrain? I daresay each of us sings it, in some way, shape, or fashion, all along the path of our life’s journey, even at the bright and shiny moments. It’s part of the mix of things that causes those tears to pour at graduations and weddings.
The first Pentecost was like a graduation. The disciples of Jesus, having completed three years in his “walking-by-faith” academy, which built upon their years of tutelage as children under their parents and under their local synagogue’s rabbi and elders, and upon the school of hard knocks which each of them had entered as adults in various fields of endeavor, the disciples of Jesus were graduating. As they flipped their figurative tassels from one side of the mortarboard to the other, they became apostles. The responsibility for passing on the message of Jesus passed into their hands.
I wonder if any of them thought, “we may never pass this way again.” Did they look back with nostalgia upon those star-struck days walking with their rabbi Jesus, as he brought good news to the poor, proclaimed release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, an end to oppression (Luke 4:18)? As we marvel at the amazing tale of the Holy Spirit blowing through this band of believers, pushing them out of their holy huddle into the streets of Jerusalem to speak his message for all to hear, we need to remember that for them an age was passing that they would never see again. Every fresh start brings with it an ending.
Did they approach that ending with a “poor me” attitude? Well, if you read between the lines, yes. When Jesus left them physically, they just stood and watched. Indeed, it was an awesome sight, I’m sure - one that cannot adequately be described in words or portrayed on a screen. However, if there wasn’t a bit of “poor me” in their upward gazing, why would an angel need to pull them back to earth with a question? “Why do you just stand there looking up at any empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly - and mysteriously - as he left.” (Acts 1:11, The Message)
A shift happened, as they moved from “poor me” to “pour upon me.” You see, Jesus had promised them, just before he left, that they would receive power, that they would be energized from the very source of all energy, to equip them for the steps that lay ahead. “They that wait upon the Lord with trust, will receive new strength,” promised the prophet Isaiah (40:31). Wings like eagles to carry good news, legs that can run without getting weary to deliver God’s message, this strength surpasses youthful hormones.
Now, I hate to break it to those who have already graduated, or will soon do so, that this is probably the pinnacle of your physical prowess. From here on, so they say, it’s all downhill - no matter how well you keep your body in shape. Instead of stepping into the “poor me” mode, however, realize that there is a strength available more powerful than any energy drink.
“Pour on me your promised Holy Spirit.” Is that what the disciples prayed as they waited in that room on Pentecost? Who knows, it doesn’t say. Certainly, though, their attitude was more great expectation than self-pity. God is on the move. Do we live with that kind of attitude? Even when the day seems darkest? We may not be able to see what is really happening, but we believe with all our hearts that God is at work - even in us.
On Pentecost God did, indeed, pour upon the disciples. The words describing what happened, however, tend to get in the way. In the language of the Hebrew Bible, the word “Spirit” is “Ruach,” the very sound of which almost makes you feel the force of a mighty wind. The New Testament Greek word for “Spirit” is “pnuema,” from which in modern English we attribute such things as “pneumatic” tools - implements powered by the force of air.
The wind of God blew through that room, it says. Then storyteller Luke shifts metaphors. After all, what word can adequately describe such things. He says, “tongues as of fire” rested on each person. We’re talking about basic elements here, folks - wind, fire - trying to describe God’s power. Those disciples were set on fire and blown out of that room into the future God had waiting for them. Even the barrier of language couldn’t get in the way of doing what God was calling them to do, their vocation.
Yes, Pentecost was like a graduation day and, if you will, the “valedictorian” who spoke on that day was Peter. Mind you, this disciple had been no straight “A” student. Face it, before attending Jesus’ walking by faith academy, he had been a simple, hardheaded fisherman. God, however, saw something different, and had other plans. Peter spoke with an eloquence that may have startled all the rest of the disciples on that day. Speaking the truth isn’t a matter of knowing the right words to say, but of knowing the truth behind the words. Or, better put, “knowing the One who said, ‘I am the truth.’”
Well, amid Peter’s graduation day speech, he mentioned the prophet Joel, and brought up yet another way of describing the Holy Spirit. Joel had earlier spoken of a day when God’s promise would be realized. His words were originally addressed to a time when God’s people experienced a devastating drought, complete with a plague of locusts. In turning to the Lord, Joel said, God’s people would experience the rains pouring down from heaven, ending their suffering. In addition, Joel foresaw a day when, like rain from heaven, God’s Spirit would be poured out upon all people. (Joel 2:28)
Peter repeated these words, lifting up yet another metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Like wind it blows through us. Like fire it burns within us. Like water it pours upon us. The Spirit is God’s energy, “comforting” (that is, “fortifying”) us, giving to us, as Isaiah said, the strength to mount up with wings like eagles, to walk (run even) and not grow faint. “Pour on me.” Are you receptive? Are you open to receiving such strength? One of the struggles of youth is that we can believe too much in our own invincibility. We can trust too much in our own newfound strength. After all, isn’t that pretty much the gist of every graduation speech? “Go forth and conquer!”
With age, however, comes the realization of the limits of our strength. It often is easier then for a door to open just slightly to God’s strength. In some ways, we need the “poor me” stage to get beyond to the “pour upon me” stage. However, the stages of faith do not end there. God’s wind blows, the fire burns, the water pours, the Holy Spirit empowers for a purpose. And that purpose does not revolve around “me.”
The next stage of post-Pentecost, post-graduation faith is “pour me” (spelled p-o-u-r, not p-o-o-r). The disciples gathered all together in that room received the breath of God to speak the good news, they were given the blaze of God to spread the passion, the rain of God fell upon them that God’s blessing might cover the earth. To Abraham and Sarah God had much earlier promised to bless them with descendants and land. However, the long range purpose of that promise was that - in them - “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) God’s Spirit is poured upon us today, in order that it might pour upon all people.
The question, then, is “where and how does God want that which we/I have received to be poured out?” Such is the central question behind the word “vocation.” What is our calling from God, our “vocation?” Each person, we believe, has a vocation. It may not be what earns you your bread, but it is more important to you that any dollar sign that becomes attached to your name. What is your vocation? Where and how is God intending for the ever flowing Spirit within you to be poured out upon others?
Of course, such a question depends upon our first being open to receive and rely upon that power, that strength which blows, burns, pours from beyond us, that Holy Spirit which helps us to move from poor (p-o-o-r) me to pour (p-o-u-r) me. Are you open to receive and believe and conceive?
-revised and reused from 6/11/2000
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
return to "Messages" page
return to Long Green Valley Church page