Monday, June 13, 2011
Genesis 12: 1-9; Acts 2: 1-21
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
June 12, 2011 – Pentecost Sunday
(After 2+ years this church found its settled pastor, who will begin in August. I chose to leave now to spend the summer with my husband and daughters and to give the congregation both an opportunity to self-govern for a while and to open some space between myself and the new pastor. This was my last sermon to the Woodmont congregation.)
Some of you may remember that on my first Sunday here I said that as an interim pastor I would operate rather like Nanny McPhee. I quoted these words: “When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I must leave.” The first statement makes it difficult to stay, the last more difficult to leave. But both accurately describe the transition a congregation goes through during the interim process. More than that, both statements describe a life of faith; a life lived in community with God.
Living with God means a life of comings and goings. It may look like we’re staying put for a while, but actually God is always getting us ready for the next adventure. Like a garden or a forest or an ocean or a galaxy, there’s a lot going on that we don’t always see but things are changing and moving nonetheless. Everything, everything is on its way to somewhere else—constantly—always moving, always changing. It only looks like we’re standing still because time seems to move so slowly. The universe is about 15 billion years old and it’s still evolving, still growing, and our knowledge of it still expanding.
Yet when we look back on our lives, a speck of years in the span of existence, it seems all of it has occurred in the blink of an eye. How quickly these past two years have gone by and yet while we were in the middle of it, didn’t it seem like this day was so far away? Inevitably leaving is part of the plan, at some point in time, in whatever way. Eventually we all leave what is known and go into the unknown.
When God told as then Abram and Sarai to “go”, God wasn’t telling them to go so much as to leave. Leave behind all their family, their familiar fertile land in Sumer, in the delta of the Euphrates; leave behind the inheritance of his father’s land for a land that God would show them, a unfamiliar place, a land in which they would be strangers.
For many of us this is not good news. Leave? Just because God said so? Leave for a place far away, with no idea what it will be like, giving absolute trust to a God who only a few chapters back destroyed almost all of creation and humankind with a flood, then scattered a burgeoning human race by confusing their language.
But now God makes promises of blessing and descendants to Abram, and God makes good on those promises. We see the relationship between God and human beings change and grow. However we know nothing about Abram, about what kind of man he is. When God last singled out a human being for a special calling, which was Noah, we read that he was a good man, a man of integrity in his community and that he ‘walked with God’. But we have no such recommendations for Abram. Perhaps he was simply in the right place at the right time.
And so Abram, at the age of 75, leaves everything he knows, taking with him his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, all his possessions, animals and slaves and sets out for the land of Canaan. And he doesn’t make the journey in one huge push but goes in stages: one step, one day at a time. Ever since then, God’s people have been on the move, whether for survival or exile or to return home or to leave once more.
Even in the Pentecost story we get the unmistakable feeling that everything is changing for the disciples. Jesus has been raised from the dead and has has ascended into heaven. They have gathered together as Jesus taught them but then suddenly there is a gust of wind and flame. Whenever a wind blows through, when flames are burning, nothing is ever the same as it was. It would have been comical, almost comforting if they had been drunk on wine instead of filled with the Holy Spirit. Instead we have a group of disciples who are now compelled to preach, to tell the story of Jesus, their story—to anyone who will listen.
Even more than that, they can now speak to anyone in their own language—yet another sign that soon they will be leaving their beloved Jerusalem, their families, the inheritance of their fathers and mothers, their faith tradition as they had always known it, and go to the foreign lands of the gentiles.
In Jewish tradition the day of Pentecost is a celebration of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses 50 days after the exodus. Now God is giving another set of marching orders so transformative that they cannot be denied. And yet we’ve all done our best, from time to time, to keep this story quiet, as fascinating as it is to us, even though, perhaps even because, it has the power to change the way we live our lives. We may resist the movement of the Spirit but sooner or later we’re going to have to leave what is known and venture into the unknown. Leaving, whether physically or spiritually, is how we grow.
Woodmont UCC, the story of Jesus living in you, your story is on the move. It always has been and always will be. The wind blows where it will and on you will go. Today you are opening a door and crossing a threshold to a world, a place yet unknown. As the good doctor once said (and I’ve edited this a bit):
“The Holy Spirit is upon you!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And with Jesus in your heart, YOU are the ones who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’ve got too much heart to think any street is a not-so-good street.
And who knows? God may not go down any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, God will probably call you to head straight out of town. It’s opener there in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy and gutsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.
You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And the holy church gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a church lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How many angels on the head of a pin?
And if you go in, should you turn left or right…or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up their mind.
You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across a weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for the budget to grow. Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for a committee-free night or waiting, perhaps, for enough money or a pot to boil, or a few more members or a string of pearls, or a pastor who wears pants (perhaps you’ve had enough of girls!), or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
No! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll move beyond all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where the Worshiping Musicians are playing. With banner flip-flapping, once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you were made to fly!
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are Fall Fairs to be chaired. There are races to be run. And the miraculous things you can do with God’s call will make you the church-iest church of all. Glory to God! You’ll be as amazing as grace can be, with the whole wide world watching you sing! Glory be!
Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.
I’m afraid that sometimes you’ll have lonely times too. Things you can’t do ‘cause you’ll work against you.
Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll resist quite a lot.
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though the powers that be growl. On you will go though your sinking hearts howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems with God as your North Star.
You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with some mighty strange birds as you go. So be sure to speak up when you speak. Speak with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And when you dance, always forgive when someone mixes up your right foot with their left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(One hundred six and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
Folks, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Barrieau or Burrows or Bray or Bob, Jason, George, Eric, Frank, olé!
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!