Text: Acts 2:1-21
Theme Verse: "That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency…” (Acts 2:14)
Marketing companies are the best at getting you to believe that life is pretty boring, mediocre and uneventful without the product they are selling. It was recently reported that 90% of athletic shoes marketed to give you an edge up on the field of competition never saw a single exercise session. Their biggest use? Looking good at the mall. Pentecost is known as the birthday of the church, marking the occasion when the Holy Spirit filled the movement with new vigor to become the vessel they were intended to be. No more stagnant faith. No more looking good for sake of appearances. This Spirit nudge caused Peter to stand and proclaim the Good News. This nudge-gift of God fuels us still. Ready to stand?
reader: Becky Wright
preaching: Rev Mark Briley
He once parallel parked a train. He gave his father, ‘the talk’. He lives vicariously through himself. He has won the lifetime achievement award, twice. In museums, he is allowed to touch the art. He is … out of a job. For the last decade, Jonathan Goldsmith has played The Most Interesting Man In The World in a popular series of ads for Dos Equis. His catchphrase — “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis” — has worked its way into pop culture lore. But his reign is ending. The last ad staring Goldsmith in the role sent him on a one-way trip to Mars. Goldsmith loved the role and sees it as the biggest break in his career. “It only took 50 years,” he joked. “An overnight success.” Before being so interesting, he worked various jobs including a stint as a garbage truck driver, a series of villainous appearances in Westerns and years spent outside of Hollywood altogether. The 77-year-old has no desire to retire from working or being altogether interesting. While Dos Equis sales more than tripled after the campaign took off, the company is looking to contemporize the campaign. What could possibly be more interesting than the most interesting man in the world? I guess we’ll wait and see.1
I’ll admit to loving the campaign. Several of my friends appreciate the one liners and I’ll often get a text message out of the blue from one of them with a new one they’ve come across. “When in Rome they do as he does.” “In a past life, he was himself.” “If opportunity knocks and he’s not home, opportunity waits.” Always entertaining. And it worked! Marketing companies are the best at getting you to believe that life is pretty boring, mediocre and uneventful without the product they are selling. It’s all in the slogan, right? “Just Do It!” “Get out of the old; get into the cold,” “Betcha can’t eat just one,” Meow Mix: “So good, cats ask for it by name.” They all suggest, “We’re not that interesting, we don’t do it (whatever it may be), we’re into the old, we coward to the dare of discipline, and we’re not smart enough to speak cat.” We’re supposed to buy these things because the last thing we want to do is lead boring, mediocre, uneventful lives. And, truth be told, we often are aching for that next thing that might fill the void we have inside.
Enter Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter. Pentecost was one of three annual agriculture festivals in the Jewish liturgical year. Jewish men living in a 20 mile radius of Jerusalem were mandated to attend. It was an early summer harvest festival where people gathered their first fruits and offered them ceremoniously to God. In the Christian Church the event we read about in Acts 2 marks Pentecost as the birthday of the Christian church – the gifting of the Holy Spirit to empower the movement. The Jesus-movement lands in Jerusalem on this occasion doing what churches do I suppose – having committee meetings, debating over carpet colors and voting on which elder gets to tell Brother Bob – “No shirt, no pants, no service.” They’re missing the good ol’ days already when Jesus was leading the way. Now, it’s all they can do to get together as a church and try to keep the utilities paid. It’s just sort of an uneventful place where the people leave worship looking as dead and bored and straight-faced as they did when they came. The church needed a nudge. Well, they got a little more than they bargained for.
First, there was the sound. It was deafening but nobody could identify what it was. What is that sound? They all blame somebody else. Our instinct is to point fingers. Then, like a wildfire, whoosh, the Holy Spirit swoops through and the energy is back — it felt like it did when Jesus was with them but… he’s not. What’s happening? The bickering and boredom and mediocrity – gone. They start talking to one another again – and not about the weather but about the mission. They’re laughing and preaching and singing and making plans and remembering what Jesus said would happen. “This must be it. The Spirit Jesus promised.” They spill outside because the building itself is no longer the focal point – the Spirit’s movement and mission is primary. The mood and noise was such that the neighbors stumbled out on their lawns in their pajamas. What is up with the Jesus people? Somebody says with a smirk, “Wine must really be flowing.” Peter is taking this all in. In this moment, the flash backs of his walk with Jesus are filling his mind. The time Jesus called him “Satan.” The time he gave Pete a name he preferred to Satan: the nickname of “Rock”. The time Peter cut off the guy’s ear at the moment of Jesus’ arrest. The time Peter bailed on Jesus when it got dicey. The dive off the boat when Jesus, now resurrected showed up for a beach side breakfast. This is another one of those moments and he knows it. If the movement is going to move from its high-centered reality, Peter couldn’t miss the opportunity of this moment. This was the Spirit nudge that Peter needed. So – with the crowds pouring out to the streets to see what the ruckus is all about, “Peter stood.”
Now let’s just halt here for a minute. How many of these moments have you seized in your lifetime? I’ll admit to scanning the rolodex of my memory without much success. And this story made scripture and all so I’ll give myself a little grace from feeling like I’m without a “Peter stood,” moment. Maybe the drama of that moment isn’t as important as it is to simply respond to the Spirit’s nudge to speak or share or move or serve as the moment calls. But even a less dramatic response of standing for the cause of Christ may be hard for us to recall. Mark Hall calls our missing the nudge a “Slow Fade”… a slipping into apathy. Becoming stuck is never all that dramatic – if it were, then it would wake us up. Complacency is a slow gas leak. It’s like being robbed in the middle of the night a penny at a time – you don’t notice it for a while but at some point, you realize the piggy bank is empty. This complacency may simply be us becoming fine with fine; accepting the status quo and feeling no nudge to suggest another way is needed. Jon Acuff said it this way: “You’ll never hear a musician say, ‘Life finally got so comfortable and easy that I was able to create my best music.”2 Writers will tell you it was from strife and challenge that they rose to write their best work. The distance between comfortable and comatose is surprisingly short. But it’s safe. And we tend to like safe – sunsets and sailboats – not the promise of deep waters.
Peter stood. He cleared his throat and it’s hard to say we’d be sitting here today if he hadn’t. “Excuse me!” he shouts into the crowd. “I know many of you are in town visiting for the Feast of Pentecost – hope you’re enjoying the Food Trucks and carnival games – shout out to the Carnies!” I love a good funnel cake, don’t you? Anyway… Peter gets bold in his preaching: “Friends, we are the Jesus movement… and we’re not drinking as some have joked. It’s all coming to pass as our fellow prophets have said: Sons and daughters will prophesy, the teens will cast vision, the saints will dream of what could yet be. This is the work of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised us.” Then Peter goes into a sermon much longer than my sermons are. (Don’t laugh). He tells the stories of Jesus and his experiences of serving with him. “Everyone can get in on this life,” he says. “It will cost you complacency and comfort and selfish gain, but it is the life that is truly life.” Some 3,000 in attendance took him at his word, were baptized, and joined the effort. This is a remarkable response to the Good News of Jesus. How often do we neglect the simple truth of the life of Jesus and his impact on our existence? We compartmentalize our faith and leave it out of the rest of our lives. Yet our faith should be the most integrated part of our existence. It should influence all aspects of our lives. When is the last time you spoke the name of Jesus outside of the church building or outside of a conversation with a church friend? Be honest with yourself. Just say his name out loud right now as practice. Say, “Jesus.” See, you can do it. We fear being all preachy, don’t we? It doesn’t have to be. You talk about your car mechanic if you have a good one. That’s useful for another, yes? You talk about your dermatologist if she saved your skin. You post the life changing experience of Essential Oils if you’ve found they’ve opened your sinuses. When is the last time you’ve spoken the name of Jesus?
Peter stood. Pentecost is the reminder that God is interested in the church living into and out of its full potential. Mediocrity doesn’t equate to faithfulness. If life is uneventful and boring it’s not God’s fault. This day is the nudge to remember the Holy Spirit infuses our lives to dream dreams and see visions and walk in faith. Now, I’m not really one to dream and tell but I’ve long been fascinated with dreams; my psychology background I suppose. Earlier this week, I had a dream that perhaps you can interpret for me. We had moved out of our current home into a little humble place – where or why exactly I’m not certain. But the day we moved in, we apparently also invited people over for a little housewarming party. You all were invited and several came. But here’s where it got weird. Donald Trump also showed up with his entourage. He burst in the door and just started in on me, “This place is a huge disaster.” We had some friendly exchange and he hung out for a while. I finally said to him in the midst of our conversation, “You know, Mr. Trump, I’m just not afraid. I’m not afraid of who’s using what restroom. I’m not afraid of my Muslim friend turning on me. I’m not interested in building a wall around my life to keep out the people I don’t understand. Jesus is about tearing down the walls and the barriers.” And then I said, “I just don’t know, Mr. Trump. In my heart of hearts I hold onto what Scripture says about “Perfect love casting out all fear.” He said, “I love that verse – Two Corinthians.” “It’s actually first John,” I muttered. But then I said, “I feel like you’re more interested in the idea that perfect fear is the way to go… but it seems to me that perfect fear casts out love.” Anyway, then he climbed up in our trampoline which also dubbed as his helicopter and he left. Look, I’m not trying to be political here – just recounting my dream. Could be Hillary and the Bern-man this week. We’ve got a lot of struggle as a country right now and our partisan politics and choices of each side are hindering new life and transformation in America. If I say I’m for a candidate or against one or I’m a republican or a democrat, half of you write me off. The Christian church has become just as divided and we’re not convincing anyone that following Jesus is fruitful with such an approach. That may be because we are trying to sell religion and not Jesus.
The currency of the gospel of religion is fear and imposition. The currency of the gospel of Christ is love and invitation. Do you get the difference? The fear that permeates religion demands that to spread, a larger fear must exist. Selling or marketing religion, as opposed to offering the wonder of love, requires a maneuver not unlike that of a pots and pans salesman who is taught to introduce people to a problem they don’t know they have and then sell them a solution he happens to be selling. Or more precisely, “Spread fear, sell hope.”3 Most of us will spend most of our lives walking the same circle, answering to what we fear most. We are afraid of the unknown. We grow stuck in the known. We long for this in our religion too. We determine it is up to us to keep us safe and secure from all alarm? But this Pentecost nudge for Peter says, “Mediocre no more. Jesus deserves more than mediocre. The Spirit will fill you. Do not be afraid. Stand up and speak.” ‘Life transforming efforts are seldom started from the center of our comfort zones. Are we willing to sacrifice our comfort for a greater good?’ (Brian Durand). The Holy Spirit may ask us to risk but risk is not the same as fear.
A few years ago a local Lutheran church gifted House for All Sinners and Saints (a new Lutheran church start in Denver) a full set of used paraments. Their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber said, “My church is like every other church’s little sister, so we get a lot of hand-me-downs.” As a group from her church went through these beautiful altar cloths, they came finally to the red set designated for Pentecost and found one with an image of a descending dove with completely crazy eyes and claws that looked like talons. “Yep. It was as though the Holy Spirit was a raptor,” Bolz-Weber said. “Man,” another chimed in. “We can’t use this one. It makes the Holy Spirit look dangerous.” Well… What’s the danger? Mostly our comfort, I suppose. Can you speak the name of Jesus? Oswald Chambers said, “A spiritually minded person will never come to you with the demand “Believe this and that”; a spiritually minded person will demand that you align your life with the standards of Jesus.”4 Peter’s account of the Gospel this day challenges us to find the Spirit within ourselves, claiming and utilizing our authentic voices, gifts, and skills to love and serve. Peter stood. Will we?
This takes the Holy Spirit in you to wherever you live and move – not just in worship or in religious things – but Pentecost 2.0 is that sacred “What if?” What if in teaching math – the energy of the Spirit working through you makes an impact for the Kingdom? What if as a doctor or engineer or politician or line worker – What would happen, you know? What would happen if we could combine the passion of personal spirituality with the engagement of public life? What then? I’d love to find out. I’d love to know what impact we could have as the people of HACC unleashed in our various parts of this city; loving, and serving, and breaking down barriers and foregoing fear and speaking the name of Jesus. If there are 388 people here today (to use last week’s number) and each one committed to speak the name of Jesus just once this week – not in fear or judgment but simply in love… I wonder. You can blame your pastor – try it out on a friend. “Look, I have no agenda here other than this need to say Jesus’ name out loud. To say that his way intrigues me, shapes me, and I think his message could really impact all of the hateful language being spewed around our nation right now for some greater purpose.” See what might happen. Could Pentecost come to life again in us? Could this point people to the most-interesting man in the world? At minimum, someone in your life will now be thinking about Jesus and you’ll be thinking more intentionally about Jesus too. Maxed out, we start dreaming dreams, teens cast vision, our seasoned saints inspire transformation – the Holy Spirit moves again.
1 Several articles about this transition for Dos Equis were utilized for the purpose of this sermon. Here is one site: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/09/469775625/-most-interesting-man-in-the-world-raises-his-glass-for-last-time
2 Jon Acuff. “Do Over.” Penguin Group Publishing. New York. 2015.
3 Leonard Sweet. “Nudge.” David C. Cook Publishing. Colorado Springs. 2010.
4 Illustration retrieved from homileticsonline.com where Weber noted that this came from a piece she had written for patheos.com.