Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Acts 2: 1 – 8, 11b – 21 
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
June 8, 2014 – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Dance by Glenda Dietrich

Though I’ve had multiple courses in French and Italian, I can only speak a little of each and understand about as much. The only Spanish I have is from mission trips to Mexico when I played the card game Uno with orphans who were fluent in their second language, Spanish, their first language indigenous to their native people.

So when, as a young seminarian, I visited my friend Heike in Germany, with no German to speak of, literally, it was rather like wearing earplugs, as though I was submerged in a pool of water and everyone else was on the patio.

It was during Holy Week and the Easter holiday, when all of Heike’s brothers and sisters were home. Having a guest in the house meant even more special foods and family outings. After Easter dinner, I was treated to a museum that was once the ancestral home of a local prince. We had toured one part of the house and were waiting in a courtyard for the second half of the tour. Heike, her younger sister Simone, and I were looking at a guide of the museum and speaking English to one another.

We were so engrossed in our conversation that we did not hear Heike and Simone’s father trying to get their attention…in German. Imagine in your mind’s eye a tall, balding German man, about 250 lbs., whose first name is Helmut and his last name is Pitz; who has not spoken one word of English since I arrived, who seldom speaks even when his whole family is gathered for a holiday. Before we were aware of it, he had walked over to our little threesome. He ducked his head in between Heike and Simone and said with a thick German accent and the driest wit I have ever heard, “You understand me when I speak German, yah?” Heike and Simone’s mother was laughing so hard, her face was beet red, tears streaming down her face.

Have you ever been so absorbed, so in the grip of something, that your attention was fully focused, to the exclusion of all else?  Worship is to be such a time, when we are invited out of time and space and our lives and into the kingdom of God; that for a temporary moment, heaven and earth meet.  I know that when I am reading a good book or creating art it seems as though all time has stopped and I am completely in the moment.


Years ago I was on a silent retreat in Gloucester, MA. Our retreat leader, a Jesuit priest, informed us that if we were grooving with God, if we were in the Spirit, to by all means stay with it, to not interrupt a sacred encounter with the Divine only to attend one of his talks. Later that afternoon I found myself in such an experience. I was down by the water, on the edge of a 12 ft. drop while the tide came in, huge explosions of waves crashing against the small cliff. As the water erupted into fountains of saltwater spray, I whooped and hollered and thundered my joy into the air. Before I knew it, two hours had passed.

If someone asked you when was the last time you had been in the grip of something, to the point that you had no choice but to surrender, would you be thinking of a positive or a negative experience? When we hear the words ‘in the grip of’ and ‘surrender’ and ‘seized’, they tend conjure images of being powerless, of having no control, perhaps under the power of an addiction, overcome with emotions like fear, anger, or grief.

But aren’t we in the grip of, seized, surrendered when we fall in love? Or on a roller coaster or a water slide? Whitewater rafting, skiing, or sledding? Making music or a rock concert? When Andrea wanted to go to her first rock concert, she chose a three-part concert of Night Ranger, Foreigner, and Journey. So of course there were plenty of folks there who were my age and older. Five or six rows in front of us was a man with more hair on the sides of his head, all of it gray, and a shaggy beard. During the entire concert he stood, both arms in the air, waving back and forth. He was in the grip of the music, seized by the lyrics and the driving beat and good memories, leaving him no choice but to surrender to all of it.

Is this a rock concert or Pentecostal worship?

Pentecost was such a moment for the disciples. It’s why Pentecostals are called Pentecostals. Pentecost was the day in the life of church where the disciples experienced direct contact with God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost was the festival when Jews celebrated the giving of the law to Moses from God. Now the law would be written not on tablets but on human hearts, God’s law of love lived out in human lives and in community. God would no longer dwell solely in a temple but in relationship with humankind and all of creation.

It was a transcendent event, unpredictable, mesmerizing, when all those gathered were in the grip of the Holy Spirit, seized by a power greater than themselves, and they surrendered to it. It required a letting go of ego and the remembering of an old promise as told by the prophet Joel.

Are there promises of God that we cling to, that we would surrender to if we found ourselves in the grip of them? Does God still have the power to astonish us, in big and in small ways that we may overlook or discount? Our brains have become accustomed to special effects and constant technological upgrades that we have come to not only expect them but to be even more wowed the next time, and find ourselves in the grip of frustration when they fail us. Technology has become a prominent means by which we human beings transcend our circumstances. There are times that technology takes on the role of a god, a god who is at once both rational and logical, and fleeting and capricious, and its temple is the Internet.


If heaven is to meet earth, which is what temple meant to those Jewish disciples, is not the first place we would witness this miracle is in our own lives and in our life together? Our culture sells us on the false promise that to transcend, to be seized is to experience a high, to get high, feel a rush, to be drunk with power or drink, to buy more and more, faster is better, busy is the best, and to get it all on camera, to post it on the Internet.  Usually this is harmless.  We try to keep our balance.  Sometimes though we get seized.

Remember when the YouTube video series “I’m Schmacked” came to the university campus last fall. It was a perfect storm of opportunity, mob mentality, and the desire to be seized, in the grip of something larger, more powerful than oneself, and surrender to it.  I can understand the yearning, the hunger of events like these.  Most of us live ordinary lives, extraordinary ordinary lives, and yet there are those of us who yearn for something more, to live this one wild, precious life and live it large. If this is the only life we’ll live, we want our years to mean something, make a mark, leave an imprint.

But fame is fleeting. Today’s viral video is replaced by countless more. New lasts only a few minutes. Yet this temple, the one we live in and the one we worship with, this community, is where heaven and earth meet, and this is the promise Jesus leaves us. We are not left orphaned, we are not alone, nor will our lives ever be the same again, for our lives and our life together are temples of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God. Lord Jesus Christ, take our hands and work with them. Take our lips and speak through them. Take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you and for all your people, for your name’s sake.

How does that grab you?



OnBeing with Krista Tippett:  May 29 broadcast of interview with Ellen Langer and the science of mindlessness and mindfulness

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