The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 15, 2016 Pentacost
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     When I was in High school and college, I often attended church.  In fact, at least through High School you could find me in church almost every Sunday.  I went to college, listened to some good sermons, we reflected together on scripture, and I knew a lot of the stories.  But it was not until Seminary that I started to really put together who wrote what, for who and when, and probably more importantly, where it fits into our story.  Now part of the problem has to do with our lectionary.  This is a three-year list of scriptures, that many churches, both protestant and Catholic follow.  Sometimes they do vary slightly, but for the most part, if the minister preaches from the lectionary, which many of us do every week, you can go into any other church whose minister follows the lectionary and hear the same scripture or scriptures read.  There are several each week, usually 4, that have a common theme, or at least could be connected somehow in a sermon.  So if you church follows the lectionary, they read 4 each week, and you attend every Sunday for 3 years, you will have heard many of the stories.  But they donít go in order.  In December we celebrate Advent and Christmas, and pretty quickly have Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, and then Pentecost, which we celebrate today. 

     So in just 5 months, less than half a year we had Jesus born, grown up, did all his ministry, and die on the cross.  We all know that Jesus was much older than 5 months old, and although his ministry was not that long, most agree it was at least a few years.  But the lectionary does not do a great job of really following Jesus life and ministry.  What we really should do is celebrate Christmas every other year, and spend the year plus several months to talk about Jesus ministry on earth, then we Celebrate Easter, which again would not be celebrated the next year, but would be celebrated in 24 months from the last Easter.  But that would get much too confusing, Macyís would have an empty sled every other year, we would have to explain that Santa is only going to visit every other year from now on to our children, but might be a bit more accurate.

     We also have not done a great job in our Christian Education programs.  The two main types of curriculum out there for Churches are lectionary based, where you run into the same problem we do in church, and story based, where you will have a story that you will spend a few weeks with, exploring different parts and views.  We also spend about an hour together every Sunday, and for the Sunday School it is maybe 30-45 minutes.  So even if children attend every week of the year, they are still only getting maybe 40 hours of church education a year. 

     So many kids and adults have a mix of stories, but nobody has put them together.  Did the flood happen before or after Joseph and his coat of many colors?  Was Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and splitting the red sea before or after Jesus was crucified?

     So when we jump around, I like to spend a few minutes to kind of fit this into our whole story.  Flood, Joseph, Moses all old testament, pre Jesus.  New Testament starts with the gospels, 4 stories of Jesusí whole life, from birth or baptism through his death, some similar, some not.  And then we get to Acts, just after the book of John.  Acts is really the second part of the book of Luke, and most agree that whoever wrote Luke, also probably wrote Acts, so why they were not put together we donít know.  The rest of the new testament are letters, some longer, some shorter, until you get to the book of Revelation.  Most of these letters are attributed to Paul, one of the early leaders in the church, but who is not part of the story today, we will hear about him in church pretty soon.  But just as Luke and Acts was probably not written by Luke, but attributed to him, many of the letters attributed to Paul were probably not written by Paul.  It was an honor to have someone write in your name, and fairly common during this time.

     Acts is simply the ďwhat happened nextĒ book.  In the gospels we have Jesus dying, then, depending on gospel, perhaps some appearances after the resurrection, and finally Jesus ascends into Heaven, leaving us an Advisor, the Holy Spirit.

     So after Jesus ascends, first thing on the list of things disciples have to do is elect a replacement for Judas.  12 is a special number, kind of means full in the Bible.  So they need 12 disciples, and then others had gathered with them, maybe around 120, there is that 12 again a much larger crowd then the Disciples or Apostles.  Disciples are students, generally those who followed Jesus are considered Disciples.  Apostles are ones that are sent with a message, so we donít know if Matthias, who was elected to replace Judas, was following Jesus around or not.  He was not one of the original 12, so generally after Jesus dies we start to call those who go out to spread Jesus message Apostles. 

     So they are gathered together, and this whole thing has attracted a lot of attention.  Word has spread about this Jesus, who many may have heard about, being hung on a cross, then the body seems to have risen from the tomb, some say that he appeared to some or all of the disciples after he was gone from the tomb, but everyone was pretty sure he had been killed.  Now Jesus was Jewish, and probably most of those who heard and followed him were Jewish, so they all came together.  Would Jesus appear again?  Would the apostles share something new?

     And then something amazing happened.  Have you ever been to a party, or noisy restaurant and tried to listen to someone?  Before I went to Mason, I was the Director of a Lions camp for special needs kids.  When I was hired we met in a sports bar, behind a bowling alley.  The food was OK, but they had a back room, so they would push a bunch of tables together, they could turn off the music in that room, and apart from the noise for the rest of the bar, and the bowling alley, it worked pretty well.  Then they closed for renovations, and we started looking for a new place.  One didnít work out like we hoped, so we went to another and another.  Probably the worst meeting was one we had in a restaurant and bar.  They just pushed enough tables for about 20 of us to sit together in an L shape.  But there were still lots of other tables with customers around us.  Right next to our area, was the bar, and music, and sports on TV that people were watching, occasionally cheering for a score or good play.  We ate our dinner, and then we tried to have our meeting.  We ended up doing the things that absolutely had to be done and canceled the rest of the meeting.  It was so loud you could not hear someone next to you talking, much less at the other end of this long L shaped table. 

     And this was happening in our scripture this morning.  There were people from everywhere, but they didnít understand each other.  It was that Holy Spirit.  That advocate we heard about a few weeks ago.  The word is Paraclete, which is translated as advocate, but really means more to come alongside.  So you can picture this Holy Spirit to come alongside, around, moving through this large, noisy crowd.

     But this is not a calming peaceful event.  When I lived in North Carolina we had Tropical Storm Ophelia come through.  Daytime storms were OK, we had several, some very fast moving, so couple hours of wind and rain, maybe knock down some trees, knock out power, but really not a big deal.  But Ophelia came though at night.  Our house was fine.  I had been involved in building it, used the steel rods from the foundation to the roof, extra bracing in the trusses, plywood that was thicker than code required.  And this was a tropical storm, not even a hurricane.

     Shortly after dinner it started to hit.  I had boarded up our windows, not worried that they were going to blow out, they were special windows required by code on new construction there, but could lose a branch and have it go through a window.  I had built the plywood shutters to board up, so good to use them from time to time.  The winds started to get stronger, and our power went out.  That was expected.  We had a little black and white battery operated TV, which we would flip on from time to time.  We watched as the storm came up the shore right over our house.  Heard that they had closed the bridges, a wind gust had been recorded at over 100 mph, and there was severe flooding along the shore.  The weatherman who was on that night covering the storm was actually a member of a church that sent a lot of kids to our camp, so he said that Camp Albemarle must be underwater right now.  Some of our friends heard that and called.  They said that they would leave their garage door unlocked for the night.  If things got bad, just drive down.  They had a son about Glennís age and size, and we could fit into their clothes, so if we needed to, just get out.

     About 11:00 that night, I went outside.  I had peaked out with a flashlight and saw that two of our cars were buried under trees.  I wanted to see if they were large limbs that has broken the window or really dented the car, or just smaller branches that did not cause that much damage.  I made it about half way before I could not walk anymore, and realized that all sorts of things were blowing out of trees.  Branches, limbs, acorns, leaves.  I decided that it could wait until morning.  About 15 minutes after that our house shook and we heard a scraping sound.  A tree had fallen on the front of the house, luckily doing very little damage, just ripping our gutters off. 

     And this was how the Holy Spirit is described.  This paaclete, this advocate, turns into a violent wind that shakes the house, and tongues of fire.

     As miraculous as all that is, they could have done nothing.  But they didnít.  They realized that they had a story to tell others, about this man named Jesus that changed their lives, and could change others also. 

     And that is the birthday of the church.  Notice that there is no talk of an endowment, or even a building.  There were no committees.  Nobody said we need to get more people to come hear these 12, so they can join committees and pledge to this organization.  No, they were touched by the Holy Spirit, not in a very peaceful and quiet, advocate like way, but by a violet wind and tongues of fire. And went out to share what they have experienced in this man named Jesus.

     Pretty soon this church will start to look for a new minister.  If they decide to look in the UCC, they will put together what is called a profile.  This will be circulated to ministers that might be interested in applying to this church.  In order to attract those people, the church is asked to put together a very short, 2 or 3 line description of the church and what they are looking for.  These used to be printed and mailed to every minister who was looking every two weeks, and now they appear on line, much faster and more environmentally friendly.  I do look through them from time to time, and I can almost quote every church in New England that is looking for a pastor.  ďA small, quiet church, nestled in the trees and stonewalls, a perfect spot for a wedding.  Looking for a minister who will lead our church in reflective worship and meaningful prayers.Ē  I think that most ministers look at that and say ďWell, I donít know.Ē 

     We are called to follow Jesus.  Jesus was killed because he upset the social order.  He ate with those considered not clean, he overturned the money changers tables in the temple, he was getting in the way of the established order.  I think that Jesus would cringe if he read some of the descriptions of the churches that are following him.  Quant, quiet, reflective worship, meaningful prayer.  Yes, all good stuff at times.

     But the Holy Spirit didnít whisper instructions on Pentecost.  Mighty winds and tongues of fire do not match very well with quant and quiet.  And while I think there is a place for quiet, meaningful prayers, reflective worship, I think there is also the part of the church that is called to go outside these 4 walls and tell the story that we know. 

     A lot of us are worried about what the church will be like in 10 or 15 or 20 years.  There are a lot of books being written, and articles every week it seems.  I think it is important to look back at the very beginning of the church to see what is authentic.  To me, the Holy Spirit is calling us to be the church in whatever way we can.  That may, or may not include a building.  That may, or may not, include committees.   We may find new ways to share the message.  I believe that the message we share is important enough that in 10 or 15 or 20 years the church will look very different than it does today, but the message will still be shared, far and wide, in different languages that can understand each other, and in ways that we cannot even imagine together.  And just like today, the Holy Spirit will be along with us, as a mighty wind or tongues of fire, pushing us to tell the story that we know about a God who we are trying to follow.