May 15, 2016 / WAIT FOR THE GIFT / Sara Wolbrecht / Acts 1:1-11, Acts 2
In these seven weeks after Easter, we have been making our way through the REAL seven last words of Jesus – the seven conversations Jesus had with his disciples after his resurrection – believing that if someone comes back form the dead, he probably has a few things we should listen to. And today, we conclude that journey. This will be our first reading from the very beginning of the book of Acts – which I will read for us, and then our second reading is the reading for this Pentecost Sunday, a few verses later in Acts chapter 2 – that second reading will be a video for us.
Here is the beginning of Acts (Acts 1:1-11), Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke continues writing into the book of Acts, often called the Acts of the apostles, for in this packed book we see what the apostles, the first community of Jesus-followers did after Jesus was gone. Here is Jesus’ final scene. Luke writes:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
This seventh, REAL last word of Jesus is really the final thing Jesus says before leaving earth and returning to God. And he says: Wait for the gift. And the disciples do as they are instructed. They stay in Jerusalem to wait for that gift, this power that will come to them, enabling them to live this life Jesus has shown them.
And then the day came, that gift arrived – let’s watch and listen together to our second reading, the Day of Pentecost, a video that Jason made a few years ago.
Acts 2 Video
We call it Pentecost. This weird moment – It is strange, right? People from all over the known world are hanging out in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, the annual festival of the first harvest of the spring – but it turns out to be unlike any Pentecost they’ve ever known. This moment is called the birthday of the church. The definitive moment when God’s Spirit, God’s presence was breathed into the world, into us, it felt like wind, it looked like fire, and it sounded like people of all kinds speaking various languages - yet hearing and understanding.
As we read, too, our final seventh word for today is: Wait for the Gift. This Spirit is the gift Jesus spoke of, this is the boundless gift that we, too, have received, this Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. And the on-going challenge for us living in the world as we know it today, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, is that – we can’t see it, it is not a gift that comes all wrapped up in a fancy box. It isn’t something we can put on our shelf or in a drawer. It is not something physical and material.
There are the material things that we can experience with our five senses: ice cream, hair, fabric, grass, chair, music, dirt. And then there are realities that are just as real but they are not material. They transcend our senses. We can’t see them, yet they’re just as real as the things that we can. Like love. The feel of your arms wrapped around someone you love, the smell of their hair, that is just as real as the love and affection you feel for them. Nonmaterial realities yet, very, very real.
And so my friends – this gift, which in many ways is quite indescribable, how would you describe this Holy Spirit? What is it? Who is it? How does it work? What does the Spirit do?
Fortunately for us, scripture captures moments when the Holy Spirit has shown up and also uses beautiful metaphor to describe the Holy Spirit. And the great writers, theologians, and mystics throughout the centuries, their witness through poetry and power that is used to describe the Spirit is breathtaking.
And so for us, today, we’re going to hear from a modern writer who weaves together five of these images, metaphors of what the Holy Spirit is like. Her name is Rachel Held Evans. She is a millennial, and her book is, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.”
A chapter called, Breath. But more aptly named, “Pay Attention.” And we’ll hear five metaphors: Breath. Fire. Seal. Wind. Womb. I invite you to let this imagery wash over you, to let one or more of these phrases grab you, and to let the Spirit of God use these words to reach into whatever place you need to be reminded of the power, poetry, and beauty of God that is present with us in the Holy Spirit.
Dani is going to read with me. We’ll pause for a moment to breathe deeply together, then I’ll begin. When we finish I invite us to close our eyes and sit with what we’ve heard, then we’ll sing and pray in response. We’ll then flow into a conversation we’ll have in a few minutes about where we’ve been the past year, and especially that past few weeks, and what’s ahead for us as a community of the Holy Spirit.
READ: “Breath” from Searching for Sunday