A New Thing
June 9, 2019 (Pentecost)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Both Chris and Jan heard the sound of the rushing wind. They were in Jerusalem for the annual festival of Pentecost or Shavu’ot. Shavu’ot was when they brought the first offerings of the year to the temple. With the other festival goers, they said the prayers to celebrate God’s gift of the Torah to his people. And, like pilgrims before and since, they did a little business, met with family and friends and enjoyed being in the city.
Then they heard the wind. While they were still figuring out where the roar came from, they saw the people, men, women, even some children, pour out of the building as if it was on fire. But the building wasn’t on fire – the people were. They were singing and shouting and quoting the bible. They were talking about a guy named Jesus, about a new thing God was doing. They were talking on top of each other, over each other. They didn’t seem to make sense – yet Jan could understand each and every word.
Look at those idiots,” Chris said. “Drunk at this hour. They probably were up all night partying – stupid country hicks. They should be in the temple, praying. Solemnly remembering the giving of the Torah. Purifying themselves to make the sacrifices. Look at the example they are setting for their children.”
“I don’t think they’re drunk,” Jan said. “Something else is going on. Its weird – and I don’t understand it – but something is going on. Remember the rumors going around about the guy they crucified who they were saying came back from the dead? They’re talking about him. And they’re talking about this old prophecy – something about God pouring out his Spirit upon all people – average people, normal people. Something about sons and daughters prophesying. Something about old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions. Even slaves being embraced by God.”
“Stop that crazy talk,” Chris said. “If God pours out his Spirit its in the temple, through the priests, maybe through some prophets of old – but those times are over. They’re just drunk ruffians. God doesn’t work through people like that. Come on, lets go get breakfast. I need some coffee.”
“Wait a minute,” Jan said. “I want to see what is happening.”
“Nothing’s happening. You can stay if you want. I’m going to get coffee.”
A week ago Friday I went on retreat with several of the congregational leaders from East Palestine. That congregation is participating in a new church-wide initiative called Vital Congregations, and the retreat kicked off Vital Congregations among the participating churches in Northeast Ohio.
Throughout the retreat we read and reread these words from Isaiah:
Do not remember the former things, or consider things of old, we read. I am about to do a new thing.
A new thing. The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost and begins a new thing – that’s also an old thing. Its sort of like our basement.
In all the letters inviting our local political and business leaders to tonight’s Strawberry Festival, I gushed about our “new” basement. But the basement is not new – any more than the Holy Spirit was new on Pentecost. Parts of the basement date to 1920. Other parts date to the 1960’s. Our renovations added nothing to the physical space. We didn’t even change the room layout. Yet we go down there and it feels new. We think about our plans for the basement and it seems different. Where once we had kid’s club, we’re hoping to host a ministry to older adults. Where once there was a Montessori Preschool we’re planning to offer classes in prayer, in spirituality, in balanced living. Where once balls bounced for games of four square we’ll be inviting people to prayerfully walk a labyrinth. Three years ago our own prayer and visioning – our own Vital Congregations process – led us to see and seek new things. Those new visions, new dreams, new directions inspired us to dig deep into our pockets, work hard together, to create new space out of old space. To create room for God’s new thing to happen.
As we read and reread God’s promise through Isaiah of a new thing I kept thinking about those on Pentecost who were more like Chris than Jan. Those who looked and saw drunkenness instead of an amazing movement of God. Those who couldn’t conceive, couldn’t imagine God doing something new or different. God stirs, but we want placidness. God disrupts, but we want stability. God calls, but we want to stay home, to remain in our routines. God brings change into our world, into our lives, into our relationships. We want the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Even if yesterday hurt, today’s filled with pain and tomorrow looks bleak, a new day, a different day can seem scary, threatening, a dream we’d really rather not come true.
But through the hurt, through the pain, through the bleakness God continues to do new things. The Holy Spirit, who blew the earth into being, continues to blow, continues to stir, continues to call our daughters and sons to prophesy, continues to give dreams to our old men and visions to those who are young, continues to empower even the lowest in society, to name them a God’s children, give them holy voice. The Spirit moves whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not, whether we agree or not, whether it fits our world view – our concept of God, of church, of holiness, of spirituality, of religion, or not.
God’s doing a new thing in our midst. We’ve sensed it for a few years now. We’ve tried to change our attitudes and our way of relating to each other. We’ve developed some new programs. We’ve worked really hard on our building. But that’s just the beginning. The Spirit is still blowing. In each of us individually. In us as a church, as a community. Can you feel it? Can you perceive it? Can you accept it? Can you celebrate it? Because its happening. With us, or without us, its happening.