Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24, 2015

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC


Acts 2:1-6, 12


It was February 19, 2008.  I remember the day for two reasons.  One is that it was day 10,000 of my running streak.  I do run every day.  Some of you have heard.  And I was just starting an 8-mile run to mark the occasion.

The second reason I remember February 19, 2008 is what happened after about my first ten steps.  The sky lit up like it was day.  It was 5:30 in the morning and it was February, so it was pitch black outside.  But just as I was starting this special milestone run, the lights came on.  It was like God was sending me a message.  Maybe God was saying, “Congratulations!  Way to go!  I’m proud of you!  I didn’t think you had it in you!”  Either that or it was the end of the world.  I figured it was one or the other.

Turned out it was neither.  Many people saw the same thing.   What I had seen was also seen in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Idaho.  It wasn’t the end of the world.  Obviously, because here we are!  It was a meteor.  But not just your everyday garden variety meteor.  Here’s what it looked like from a security camera at Gowen Field:


(YouTube: 2-19-08 Meteor Over Pacific Northwest)


I was 300 miles away in Bend, Oregon when I saw the same thing.

Those 8 miles, having just seen that, running alone in the dark, were surreal — thinking about what I had just seen, wondering whether I had really seen what I was sure I had just seen.  I couldn’t wait to tell Helen.  When I told her, she looked at me like I was crazy.  I probably would have looked at her the same way had the roles been reversed.  It was a relief to be living in the internet age so I could quickly document that others had seen what I had just seen.  If I was seeing things, I wasn’t the only one!

I wonder if you have ever had an experience like this.  You saw something strange and unusual and then you tried to tell someone about it, but it didn’t go so well.  You didn’t have the words.  You would have had to have been there.  It just didn’t translate into language that would connect with someone who wasn’t there.

If you know what I’m talking about, you know what it was like to be a disciple of Jesus on Pentecost.  Actually, starting nearly two months before Pentecost.  The disciples were hiding.  They were afraid to go anywhere near the cross.   Jesus was dead.  They were afraid they would be next.  Except Jesus didn’t stay dead.  And now Jesus is alive and chasing after them.  He catches up with two of them on the road to Emmaus.  He walks through locked doors to get to where the others were hiding.  He finds them one morning fishing and they barbecue some fish for breakfast.  He pursues them relentlessly.  He convinces them that they aren’t just seeing things.  It’s really him.  Over a span of 40 days they shared these amazing, unforgettable moments.

It culminates in that amazing, unforgettable moment with Jesus on the Mount of Olives.  We read about this in Matthew 28.  Jesus ascended into heaven.  But first he told his disciples what they were to do next.  They were to tell others what they had experienced.  They were to share the story.  “Go make disciples.”  That’s all he asked of them.  And then he was gone.

His words were still ringing in their ears.  Go make disciples.  Go tell others.  Go share your story.  He had made it real clear what they were supposed to do.  But do you think they did it?  No.  They went back into hiding.  Instead of going out to where the people were and telling, they went in to where no one could find them and they were silent.

Why didn’t they share the story?  It may have been for the same reason that we don’t share the story.  They didn’t have the language to communicate what they had experienced in a way that would connect with someone who wasn’t there.  So they were tongue-tied, much as we are tongue-tied.   They were quiet.  They were timid.  They were shy.  Until today.

What’s today?  Today is Pentecost.  It’s one of the three big days on the Christian calendar.  Christmas and Easter are the other two.  Mother’s Day isn’t far behind.  Pentecost is remembered as the birthday of the Church.  Pentecost was a Jewish holiday before it was a Christian holiday.  It was a day for celebrating the delivery of the Law to Moses on Mt.Sinai.  It came 50 days after Passover.  The word means “the fiftieth”.  The population of Jerusalem had swelled for Passover.  Again it swelled for Pentecost.  Jews had travelled from all over the known world to be there.  And then some strange stuff started happening.

Luke describes it in Acts.  His description reminds me of my lame attempts to describe daylight in the nighttime.   He said it was like “the rush of a mighty wind”.  Then he said, no, it was really like fire.  “Tongues of fire”, whatever that means.  Wind and fire.  We just need “earth” and we have the name of a rock band I used to listen to.  I think it’s pretty clear that whatever was happening on Pentecost it was strange enough that there were no words to do it justice.  Use your imagination to see what Pentecost looked like.  That’s the best we can do.

Whatever it looked like, it drew a crowd.  When strange stuff happens, it tends to draw a crowd.  All these people from all over had gathered to see what was going on.  It says they were bewildered and were amazed and they wondered.   But read this carefully and you’ll see it wasn’t what they saw they had them bewildered, amazed, and wondering.  That may have been what got their attention to begin with but what held their attention was not what they saw.  It was what they heard.

What did they hear?  They heard these shy, timid, quiet disciples finally speaking up.  That was amazing in itself.  But what was truly miraculous was that each one of them heard

what was being said in their own language.  Remember, they were from all over the world.  They spoke different languages.  Communication was impossible.  You would have had to have those head phones like they use at the United Nations.  But on Pentecost what was impossible became possible.  “And they were amazed and wondered, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear each one of us in his own native language?'” (Acts 2:7-8)

It wasn’t the wind and the fire that Pentecost was all about.

It was the communication.  God had given these shy disciples this

gift to speak in a way that connected.  To speak in a way that reached across the barriers that keep us divided and confused and suspicious of one another.  They were able to reach out in a way that would draw people in.  In a way that would captivate them and excite them and have them hanging on every word eager to hear more.  And at the end of the day we are told there were 3000 new Christians (Acts 2:41).

If we read about this as a history lesson about something that happened a long time ago, that’s one thing.  It’s interesting.  Strange but interesting.  And we can just learn about it and then forget about it.  But if we read this as God speaking to us both about what happened back then and what can happen today, then it takes on a whole new level of meaning.  It get us to asking how Pentecost can happen again today?  What gifts has God given us now that were not available before, so that we can reach out and draw in and connect with people?  It got me to thinking of technology.  Social media.  The new language of today that some of us have been slow warming up to but that is clearly here to stay.

Just think what’s new in the last 15 years.  I didn’t have a cell phone 15 years ago.  You probably did.  I’m a little backwards when it comes to technology.  But here are a few of the things that didn’t exist in the year 2000.  There was no Wikipedia.  There was no Facebook.  There was no Skype.  There was no YouTube.  I don’t how I survived without YouTube.  There was no Twitter.  Those who had cell phones used them to call people, not text them.  Notebooks and tablets were still things made of paper that you wrote on.  There was no Groupon.  “The Cloud” was still a white fluffy thing in the sky.  If you said you had an app on your phone, no one would know what you were talking about.  In the year 2000, 4% of the world’s population was online.  Today it’s 42%.  And climbing.

Of course, this isn’t all good.  One of the classes at the Northwest Leadership Institute this year was called “iKids”.  Do you know who the “iKids” are?  They are newest generation.  The oldest of them was born in 2000.  They were born into technology.  The scariest thing we heard was that we have no idea what all this technology is going to do to them.  We’re pretty sure that being able to actually interact face-to-face with another human being is going to become a rare skill.

The disciples were hiding out behind locked doors in those days before Pentecost.  There are a lot of people today who are hiding out behind their screens.  I’m always appalled when I visit Reno or Las Vegas and see all those people just staring vacantly at the screen on their slot machine.  There are many more people right now as we worship who are staring vacantly at the screen of their computer, or smart phone, or tablet, or television set.

Hiding out behind screens.  Not good.  With the blessing of technology comes the curse.  But with the curse of technology comes the blessing.  The technology that has made it possible for so many to withdraw from social interaction is also the tool we can use to reach these people.  (And incidentally, isn’t it odd that “social media” so often gets in the way of social interaction!)  Technology gives us ways to “go into all the world and make disciples” that were never possible before.

Many churches now are live streaming their worship services.  I used to think that was dumb.  Why give people another excuse to stay home?  Make them get out of bed and get to church like we did this morning!  But here’s the thing:  A lot of people who aren’t ready to go to church are ready to check out what happens at church in the comfort of their own home.  And a lot of churches are finding that the people who are attending virtual worship this month are the same people who will be attending worship in person next month.

We’re not there yet on live streaming.  But have you heard?  We almost have our own YouTube channel.  It’s coming soon.  We’ll let you know.  I’m sure you know we have a website.  We did some major work to make it better not that long ago.  Here’s a question:  What do you think might happen if all of you sent everyone in your address book a link to our church’s website?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would like to find out.

Actually, I’m an unlikely person to be preaching a sermon like this.  I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of the technological revolution.  I’m on the lagging edge.  So my imagination on what we could do and how we could do it is pretty limited.  But I know God has gifted this church with a lot of people who are living right on the cutting edge.  We have some very smart people who are also very committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ.  Which bodes very well for our future.

Pentecost is not a history lesson.  Pentecost is happening right now.  God has given us a language to share the story of what we have experienced in Jesus Christ is ways that will connect and communicate and captivate.  God has given us a new way to reach out so that we can draw more and more people in to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

So, instead of a prayer and a passing of the offering plates, let’s first take out our cell phones.  I didn’t hear any of them ring this morning.  That was good.  Some of you have some real interesting ring tones.  I want you to think of somebody in your social network who hasn’t heard from you for too long.  I want you to send that person a text message.  Just say that you are thinking about them.

It’s probably better to tell them you’re thinking about them rather than you are praying for them.  We did this a while back and my brother was out hiking and he got this text message out of the blue from me telling him I was praying for him.  He wondered what terrible thing had just happened that he hadn’t heard about yet.  He is a huge Oregon Ducks fan so he wondered if there had been some new sanctions announced against the football program.  He was relieved to learn it was just his brother the pastor praying again.

So, I’m serious.  I want you to send that text right now.  Say that you are thinking about that person.  And then as the ushers are taking the offering, I’m hoping to hear a few pings of them answering you back.  They’ll probably ask, “What’s wrong with you?”  And then I’d like you to text them back and tell them that you are in church.  Tell them that you’d love for them to come with you next time.

Before I pray, we’re going to have a little musical interlude as we reach out even as the disciples reached out on the Day of Pentecost so long ago.


(Musical Interlude)


Dear God, communication is your specialty.  You are always letting us know how much we are loved and how best we can live.   You did a miracle on Pentecost long ago as you made communication possible between people who otherwise could not have understood each other.  And God, you’ve done it again!  Another miracle.  Another way for us to reach people who otherwise would not hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.   Technology is not all good, but neither is it all bad.  When used for you, it can be very good indeed.  We have Good News to share.  May we use every possible way to share it.  And may your Church, whose foundation is Jesus Christ, grow even in these days when people are saying as they have always said that the Church is in decline.  With your help, may we prove them wrong.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.