Sunday, May 23, 2010

Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17

The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

I think new technology is absolutely fascinating. I don’t necessarily run out and purchase every new gadget, but I enjoy hearing about the things they can do. We have made the conscious decision to keep our cell phones as cell phones, but I have to admit there are moments when I think having a blackberry or Iphone might be convenient. I’ve ogled over the IPad and wondered if I shouldn’t invest in a digital reader. I like to pretend I’m a book snob, but I know that it would be so much more convenient, especially when I need several different books, to keep them all nicely stored in one electronic book.

I’m really fascinated by the technology we see on the crime dramas on television. N.C.I.S. is one of my favorite shows. The Navy Criminal Investigation Service seems to have state of the art everything, and the ability to use their equipment to find any information they need. Now, certainly we are dealing with a fictional story, where conflicts are resolved much too easily. Yet, I imagine the technology is possible: if it is not available now, it will be in the very near future.

These investigators can dig into computer information that most of us do not even know exists. They have databases and programs to get through firewalls and passwords. Sometimes it takes time to go through the millions or billions of possibilities, but they always find the answer just in time.

In the movie “National Treasure,” the characters Ben Gates and Riley Poole are trying to get into a highly secure area in the National Archives to ‘steal’ the Declaration of Independence so that the bad guy can’t get it. They manipulated the circumstances (a little too conveniently, but it is fiction) to get the letters of the passcode into the room. Ben reads the marks on the keys to Riley, who is at the ready by a computer that can rearrange the letters into a password that makes sense. Meanwhile, Ben is thinking about the letters, puzzling through the problem, and he realizes that one letter is repeated, a fact that the computer would not consider. He comes up with the answer, types it in and gets into the room with little difficulty.

Technology is always in motion. As soon as the criminals come up with a way to get around today’s security, the developers are coming up with something new. They are constantly confusing the ‘language’ to keep those who are not welcome from gaining access. My husband once had a digital key which gave him access to a computer at an office in another state. This ‘key’ changed code every few minutes, making it impossible for someone to steal the password from a remote location. Impossible? Perhaps not. Someone is already trying to discover a new way of overcoming that technology.

Human beings have always strived to become better. Being motivated to improve life, make it more convenient, keeping our bodies healthier and happier is a good thing. Think of all the inventions that we take for granted these days, like the cell phone, the microwave, the washing machine and the wheel. Even back to the very earliest days of human existence, men and women have used God’s creation to create new and better things. The problem with human invention is that we tend to take it too far. We don’t just strive to become better: we strive to become God.

This has been true of every generation of humans. We have all inherited the same tendency as Adam and Eve displayed in the Garden of Eden. That tendency continued with the people of Babel, whose common language made it possible for them to build an incredibly tall tower. The nomadic people of ancient times finally settled into a community, built a city and then turned their creative juices into doing something greater. They were aiming toward heaven, which we know is impossible with bricks and mortar. But they weren’t just trying to reach God; they were seeking god-like status. Just like the hackers that work to get into every new system, the earliest people (and every generation since) sought to be like God. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent the people to the four corners of the world.

Remember, this happened before God had revealed Himself to Abraham. He has always been manifest in His creation and in the experience of the created, but He had not manifest Himself as a personal diety interested in the individual lives of His people. He had not yet chosen for Himself a people. All creation was His; His hand moved the heavens and earth. His voice brought reality to His ideas and His breath brought life to all.

A lot of history has happened since those first people were confused and separated. We haven’t stopped striving to be better. We have learned to get along, to speak each other’s languages, to build great big towers. But, though God’s chosen people were given His Word and promises to live by, even they continued to turn from God and go their own way. The problem of human sin runs across all lines; it knows no boundaries.

But so does God’s grace. And that’s what Pentecost is all about. Jesus came to take care of the problem of human beings trying to get to God: God came to man. The kingdom of God was brought to earth and the people were restored to their intended place in God’s presence. Jesus dwelt among the disciples and taught them everything they would need to know to continue to take the reality of God to the world. Though the people were confused and separated at Babel, God meant for His people to be one in thought and mind. We heard this in the prayer of Jesus last week, and the promise is made true in our stories this week.

It is interesting that the name Babel has come to mean to ‘confuse’ or ‘mix’ based on the biblical story. However, the word actually means “Gate of God.” The people of Babel thought that they could build a gate that would lead them to God’s presence. But mankind can never reach that high on our own. We need God’s help. We need God’s grace. We need God’s Spirit.

So, Jesus came to teach the disciples and then take care of the problem of sin. We are broken and separated from God by our desire to be like Him, but Jesus breaks the walls, giving us the freedom to dwell in the presence of God without having to become a god. He restored us to our place in the Garden, walking with our Lord. The twelve disciples and the other followers enjoyed that kind of intimate relationship with Jesus, and in doing so also abided in the presence of God.

They didn’t really know it, though. In the Gospel lesson, Philip asks Jesus, “Show us the Father.” Philip wanted to see God the way Adam and Eve saw Him. He wanted to walk with Him, talk with Him, and experience Him with his flesh and blood. Jesus answered, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father?” Everything that Jesus did was the Father, because the Father abided in Jesus and Jesus abided in the Father. He went on to tell the disciples that when He abides in them and they abide in Him, they will do all that He had done.

This is an incredible promise, one I’m sure most of us can not say has been fulfilled. He restored families, changed lives, and provided hope to a confused and separated world. I suppose we can think of examples of ways we have done these things. I’m sure most of us can say we have fed the poor and hungry, but Jesus did the miraculous. Have you healed a leper? Or made a paralytic walk? Or cast out any demons lately? Have you raised anyone from the dead lately? How can we do anything greater than Jesus?

We can’t, on our own. We can with the power of the Holy Spirit, because our task is to bring reconciliation and peace to the world. Just as we have been restored to a relationship with God through the blood of Christ, we can invite others to join us in the Garden. The gift we have been given transcends all bounds. The gifts are given to all types. The message is heard by all the nations. What was once a world divided, is now made whole and one again with God’s grace.

But Jesus could not done it by Himself. He accomplished an amazing amount of work in the 33 years of His life. He saved people, not only from demons and illness, but from their own sinfulness. He gave them a reason to live and work to do. But He did this for a relatively small number of people in a world full of people in need. It is estimated that there were two hundred million people living on earth, from Israel to the ends of the earth (much of which was unknown to the people of Jesus’ time.) It has been two thousand years since Jesus roamed as a man, and the population is nearly seven billion. How could human flesh, even though He was God, possibly meet and help every human being that lived?

That’s why we have Pentecost. Jesus said to His disciples, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do.” He will do it: in, with and through us. We are now His body. We, the Church, are His flesh and blood. We are His messengers. We are His workers. We have been gifted to continue that which He started so long ago. The gift was given at Pentecost. On that day the Gate of God was opened so that all flesh could dwell in the presence of God. There is no longer a need to climb to heaven, for God has come to us. There is no longer a need to strive toward God because He has given Himself freely to His people. We have seen the Father, for He is manifest in Jesus and then in the Church through every generation.

Jesus tells His disciples that the world can’t see Him, and this is true. He is no longer flesh and blood dwelling in our community, walking on our dirt. And if He had stayed, we would not have had the power or authority to do what He’s called us to do. Have you ever wondered about the disciples? They lived with Jesus, heard the scriptures explained from His own mouth, experienced the power of God’s Spirit, and yet they still did not understand. We see in the stories, even in the first lessons of the book of Acts, that the disciples continued to look for an earthly explanation to all that had happened. They still wanted the Kingdom of Israel to be restored as it had been in the days of David. Did they not listen to anything Jesus said?

But it is impossible for human flesh to understand the ways of God without His aid. Jesus had to leave so that the Comforter would come and fill them. They were told to wait for the coming power. They had to wait for ten days. What do you think was going through their minds during those days? They took the time to pray and to elect Matthias, but ten days is a long time when you are filled with excitement, anxiety, fear, hope and confusion. Did they feel abandoned? Did they worry that they’d missed God’s signal? Did they want to get out into the field and begin their ministry?

It was an exciting time in Jerusalem. People from all over the world were gathered to celebrate the festival of Pentecost. This festival for the Jews had several purposes. First of all it was the feast of weeks—a celebration of the first fruits. The people went to the temple to offer the first grain from their harvest. The timing of the festival mattered because it was also connected to the Law given at Sinai. They believed that it took Moses and the Hebrews fifty days to get to Mount Sinai, so the festival occurred fifty days following the Passover. Pentecost was an agricultural festival, but it was also a festival about God’s Word.

They had a message to tell and a city full of people to whom they could tell it. I suspect that they were anxious to get out there into the city and begin this work. Yet, Jesus told them to wait. It is a good thing, too, because they could not have accomplished anything without the Spirit. The Word would have been spoken to deaf ears. They message would have been lost to those unwilling hearts. On that day, when the wind blew and the fire came, everything was changed. Jesus was no longer gone from them. The Kingdom was no longer far away. They were part of it. They were one with God and He was one with them. They were one with each other.

When they began to speak, the people heard what they had to say. Despite the confusion of so many languages, despite the impossible nature of this event, the disciples spoke and the people heard God’s message of grace. Some of those present were confused. They thought, perhaps, that the disciples had a little too much new wine. But that festival would not take place for another fifty days. Something else was happening.

At that moment, God reversed what He did at Babel. There He confused the language and sent people to the four corners of the earth. At Pentecost, He gave the world a language that everyone could understand. Peter stood up and quoted the book of Joel, “And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Pentecost for modern Christians is not an agricultural celebration or to remember the giving of the Divine Law at Sinai, but it is about first fruits and words. It is about God giving His Holy Spirit to His chosen people and laying His Word upon their hearts. It is about renewing a people who were dying in their own sin, giving them new life and calling them to take that life into the world so that others might see God glorified in their lives and believe.

As we look at the psalm for today, we see that God has created all things, creatures both big and small. He has provided for their every need. This psalm is a call to praise God for His mercy and His grace. In the song we see that all things have a purpose, and that the purpose is not always grand and important as we might expect. Even the leviathan was specially created by God and its purpose is simply to “play in the sea.” We might think we have a much more noble and important purpose in this world, but we should always remember that we have been created for one reason—to glorify God.

Half of a verse is left out of the psalm in the lectionary for today, but it is worth hearing. “Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more.” We ignore statements like this because it sounds so harsh and so unloving. Why would God consume anyone or destroy His creation? We find it impossible to accept a God of wrath.

But, isn’t this just what happened at Pentecost? God’s grace was showered down out of heaven into the hearts of those who believe. From that moment and into all time, all those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved from sin and death. We are transformed into children of God, to abide in Him and do His work in this world. We are welcomed back into the Garden, and dwell once again at the Gate of God. Here, we glorify Him by sharing the Gospel with the world, baptizing the nations and teaching them about Jesus. When we do, the sinners are consumed by God’s grace and their wickedness is no more. Then they too can sing praise to God for His amazing grace.

We may still try to build our tours to heaven. Take a look at the majestic skyscrapers that are gracing the skyline all over the world. They are spectacular! We even continue to fail in seeking God as we should. We put ourselves on pedestals and act like we are more important than we really are. Yet, we have been given everything we need to do His work in the world, including the forgiveness and reconciliation that gives us the freedom to be the body of Christ in the world. We certainly do not become God, but everything we do in His name makes Him visible to those who are dead in their sin.

The old sin is gone, the sinners are consumed by the power of God’s Spirit, by His breath. He breathes new life into His people, through the words and work we do. We now live in a new covenant, one that has no borders, that is not divided by distance or differences. We all stand at the Gate of God, but the language is no longer confused. We sing the same songs, we speak the same grace, by His power.

Paul writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” It is as sons of God that we will do the greater things. Those greater things are not always grand and miraculous. We may not ever raise the dead or heal a leper. We may not cast out demons or make a paralytic walk. We do not have to strive to do those things. If that is the work God is calling us to do, He’ll give us the power and the opportunity to do so. Our task, first and foremost, is to invite the world back into the Garden: to speak forgiveness into their life so that they will be restored to God and drawn into His presence so that they will also become children of God. These are the greater things and in these works will we share in the glory of God.

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