Sunday, June 4, 2017

This Week's Sermon: "Fifty Days"

Acts 2:1-13

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. 

5 There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!” (Common English Bible)

Pentecost Sunday 2017

Last week, we spoke of the good and kind souls living thousands of miles away in Manchester who responded with compassion, love, and openness to the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert that week. But Carrie Frank is not a good and kind soul living thousands of miles away—she is a good and kind soul living right here in Longview’s interstate neighbor, Rainier, and was recently the subject of a very touching and moving profile in our local paper.

In response to last year’s terrorist attack at the LGBTQ nightclub Pulse in Orlando that killed nearly fifty people, Carrie decided to do more than mourn—she decided to act, to show that people from all over cared about those who were lost and those who remained. The owner of a pottery store and an artist by trade, she handpainted over one hundred mugs bearing the names of the victims, calling them “cups of love.” She was determined to send them to the survivors and the families of the deceased. But then she hit a snag—she had no way of knowing to whom to send the cups of love to ensure that they made it to the correct people, families, and households. And I’ll let the writer of the profile on her, The Daily News’s Madelyn Reese, pick it up from there:

Dejected, Frank gave up for a time. Then just before Easter she contacted the Orlando police department again. That’s when she got in touch with administrative assistant Dorothy Patterson and told her about her “cups of love” project…Patterson was able to get Frank in contact with someone who would help her—the Orlando United Assistance Center…

Thanks to Patterson and officials in the police department, Frank will send off the cups next week (sic). The cups are filled with rainbow-colored jelly beans donated from the Jelly Belly Co., and the cups will be shipped through the Kelso J.C. Penney’s bulk shipping account.

The mugs are individually packaged, so all the center needs to do is write the address of each family or survivor on the box and send it off. Though the project has been delayed many months, Frank said it was “meant to be” because the cups will arrive near the one year anniversary of the Pulse tragedy.

“I’m actually really happy that it happened the way it did,” Frank said. “It’s going to be more meaningful, I think. I hope that it’s more meaningful to them now, a year later, they are remembered.”

What had originally hoped to be a rapid show of compassion turned into more of a commemoration through the passage of time. Still meaningful—very meaningful, in fact—but it is meaningful in a slightly different way than before. Which is a good way of summing up the importance of today, Pentecost Sunday, for the Christian church.

Pentecost celebrates the day that the Holy Spirit came to the assembled believers in Jerusalem, fifty days after Easter. Which begs the question—what were they all doing in Jerusalem to begin with?

Pentecost, like Good Friday, fell on a Jewish festival day—in this case, the Feast of Weeks, which was a commemoration of the giving of the law to Moses at Mount Sinai, just as the Passover (when Good Friday falls) is the commemoration of the liberation from bondage of the Israelites under Moses.

But that isn’t how the Feast of Weeks actually began—it evolved into a celebration of the giving of the law. Before that, it was a harvest festival, as Bible professor Paul Walaskay explains: “The Day of Pentecost (fifty days after Passover) was also known as the Feast of Weeks, an agricultural festival in which the community celebrated the gathering of the first harvest (wheat) and offered thanks to God for nature’s bounty (Exod. 23:14-17; 34:18-24).” It is a holiday that may not be quite as prominent on the calendar as Passover, but is still nonetheless important, as evinced by the number of Israelites who have gathered from all sorts of places to Jerusalem in order to celebrate this holiday together.

So what became a holiday commemorating a spiritual harvest—the gathering of God’s Law upon Sinai—has its roots in also celebrating a physical harvest—the first wheat harvest of the year.

Yet, as the story of Carrie Frank ought to teach us—in huge, flashing neon—spiritual harvest ought to be able to lead to physical harvest. Her good faith and her belief in goodness led her to creating the physical gift of the cups of love—a harvest of physical fruit, as it were, from spiritual seeds.

It has taken her most of the past year to get these cups of love out to their intended recipients, though, and if that seems too daunting a timetable for you to try to reap a harvest of fruit from your spirituality, then why not try to take on the more modest timetable of Pentecost itself?

Fifty days after the redemption of humanity in the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit arrives to the disciples who have assembled in Jerusalem for the festival. Fifty days from today is Monday, July 24.

What can the Holy Spirit do through you in the next fifty days?

Because believe me, the world needs the Spirit working through you as surely as it does the Spirit working through any of us. We’re mourning the loss of two Good Samaritans to the violence of white supremacy in Portland, we’re grieving the carnage and loss of life of back-to-back terrorist attacks in England—first in Manchester, and now yesterday deep in the heart of London—and we’re facing down epidemics of addiction and poverty and homelessness here in Longview…what can you do in the next fifty days to put even the smallest of dents in these soul-sized problems before us?

For sometimes, being able to minister, and to be a net force for good in the world, isn’t about being the one to fix something. It’s about being the one to minister to something, or to someone, in a way that empowers them to rise up themselves, to find their own inner strength, instead of us waving a magic wand.

The cups of love are not going to bring back to life the dozens of loved ones who went to their graves that night in Orlando nearly one year ago. But those cups will at least offer something of value—a message of hope, of love, and of unconditional compassion to the soul-sized gaping void that I promise you still remains in the lives of the people who lost someone at Pulse, or at Manchester, or at London Bridge.

The Holy Spirit coming to the disciples wasn’t meant to fix the reality that Jesus was gone—He ascended to heaven ten days previous—but instead was meant to be something new entirely. The Holy Spirit didn’t necessarily fill the void left behind by Jesus. It equipped the disciples to move forward without the bodily incarnation of Jesus right next to them.

So how might the Holy Spirit be equipping you to plunge forward into the next fifty days in spirit and in truth? We have lived the fifty days since the crucifixion and resurrection—what about the next fifty? And the fifty after that?

Before you know it, you may well have taken some small calling and made it into something good and something great in God's sight.

Such are the ways of the Spirit.

Such are the ways of a Pentecost church.

And such are the ways of God who loves you so much that God will not leave you alone.

After all, Jesus has since ascended to heaven.

But the Spirit remains.

And the Good News of Pentecost is that the Spirit always remains.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
June 4, 2017

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