The Crazy Experiment
May 20th, 2018 (Pentecost)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Acts 2
Every time I read the Luke’s account of Pentecost I wonder what it was like for those disciples who’d experienced it. What was it like to be in that room with the sound like a rushing wind? What was it like to experience a flame of fire resting on your head? What was it like to find yourself filled with the ability to communicate the Gospel to everyone across barriers of language and culture? How did that singular experience alter who they were, who they became, how they lived? Couldn’t Luke have given us each disciple’s personal story? Told us what was going on in their minds, their hearts, their spirits?
But Luke doesn’t. We don’t know how Johanna or Bartholomew or any of the Marys or John individually experienced their Pentecost moment. We don’t hear their testimonies. Even Peter, in his great sermon, never tells us what he individually felt, what he individually experienced.
Instead of individual testimonies Luke provides a story of communal formation; a story of how, driven by the Spirit, disciples and new converts alike form a transformational community, a community still serving as a model for our church today.
A few days ago I ran into a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while. She grew up in our church but has moved in different directions. Now she attends one of southern Mahoning County’s larger congregations. I know from previous conversations she likes how the church where she goes delivers a profoundly, personally moving experience each Sunday. They have a big worship budget and use it well. She likes their theology emphasizing a personal relationship with God, something she rarely heard growing up. But she misses working with the other women to prepare funeral dinners. She misses knowing who’s worshipping with her and being known by them. She misses feeling part of a community larger than herself, of finding God through those sitting next to her in the pew, of having fellow disciples who will walk alongside her through the ups and downs of life.
Conversations with other neighbors, however, go in the opposite direction. These neighbors tell me stories of broken Christian communities – places where they were shamed, shunned or judged. They tell me how they’ve developed a profound personal, Spirit filled relationship with God outside of community. They tell me how the last thing they will ever do is join a church, how the last place they want their kids to be is in a church, least they get hurt as they’ve gotten hurt. But they want their children to have the same profound personal relationship with God as they have – a relationship whose foundation came from the very same communities as caused them pain, the same communities they have rejected, the same communities they felt rejected them.
I’m certain every one of the disciples had a profound, individual experience on Pentecost. As the fire danced, as the wind rushed, they were transformed, empowered and renewed – each in their own way. They’d already had a personal relationship with Jesus. They’d literally walked with him and talked with him. They’d literally called him their own. The Spirit magnified and sustained their existing relationship. She healed them, empowered them, encouraged them and gifted them in ways they’d never experienced before.
In a similar way each of those convicted by the Spirit during Peter’s great sermon had their own individual testimonies. Each, in that moment, experienced Christ in ways profoundly personal, profoundly transforming. They became born again. Yet again Luke shares nary an individual testimony. Instead his story is one of community, of communion, of becoming together the body of Christ in the world.
The young, Spirit filled church quickly found this transformational community thing wasn’t easy. External persecution was nothing compared with the challenge of dealing with each other. Congregation members eager to belong but reluctant to share lied to the others about their generosity. Long established cultural prejudices led some to feel discriminated against even as the congregation preached equality in Christ. Fights broke out over who could lead, over who was Jesus, over who controlled the story, over who could receive baptism, over what it meant to be a follower of Christ.
Yet they persevered, driven by their individual experiences with the Risen Lord, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the radical experiment of community we continue today. We’ve been engaged in this experiment for over 2,000 years and it hasn’t gotten any easier. Here in Columbiana County we’ve been engaged in this experiment for only a dozen decades or so, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. We’ve made our share of mistakes.
We bear the scars of those times when we’ve put our individual transformation experiences over those of the community and wounded our sisters and brothers in Christ. We bear the scars of those times we’ve minimized the importance of the Spirit’s transformation and forgotten what our community was about. We bear the scars of those times we’ve allowed worldly thinking, worldly prejudice to blind us to the ways of Christ. We bear the scars of those times we’ve forgotten Christ’s message of love, of grace, of reconciliation, of hope for all, regardless of where we’ve come from, regardless of where others think we may be going.
But then the moments come when we feel the power of the Spirit blowing through our lives. Sometimes it comes in a moment of radical individual spiritual renewal. More often or not it comes through those around us. We see Christ in our neighbor. We feel supported during a hard time. We directly feel the prayers of our sister in brother in Christ. Christ speaks to us through a long ago learned song, a bible story freshly read. We feel the power of the Spirit and we long to share the experience, to pour ourselves back into community, to continue this crazy experiment of the World As It Should Be.