Genesis 11:7; Acts 2: 1-4
I have watched very little tv television one the past three weeks or so. I would recommend it. But then one evening last week I was channel surfing for no particular reason and I found it overwhelming. You should try it sometime. Flip channels not according to your interest of the ten or so networks you are most drawn to, but just from one to then next. It is a whole different experience: you find news channels bending the news to the liking of their targeted viewing audience, history channels that deal only with past military battles, channels that only show program where people are shooting each other, channels that have nothing but a bunch of overdressed women argue with each other over innocuous things. There are religious channels that are so polished with speakers I have never heard of preaching to an audience of thousands in some arena followed by a speaker of extreme politics who warn us of the World Court of Justice snatching you and me out of our beds. These are just a few examples. If you flip the channels in quick rotation it quickly adds up as a whole bunch of noise. Imagine someone who has been in seclusion or exile for twenty years turning on a television in this day and age. How profoundly alienating that would be! He or she would have no idea what the talk was all about. This made me think: how can we communicate our faith in a when media communication is so diffuse and fragmented? How can we discern the Holy Spirit speaking to us with all of that noise? My point today is that the key is humility.
Friends, in Acts faithful followers of Christ speaking different languages are gathered in a place where they hear the rushing of a mighty wind. It is a different kind of noise. I have always like the sound of a stiff wind, but then I have never been in a hurricane or a tornado fortunately. I would like avoid that. Wind as a whole clears the air. It also makes you feel humble in the presence of nature’s power.
The story in Genesis of the people building the tower of Babel. They wanted to show they were greater than God. They were on the same page. But then suddenly they could no longer understand each other. The building stopped. Pentecost does the opposite: it makes the people speaking different languages suddenly understand one spiritual language they receive: it is the language of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the remedy to Babel. The power of this experience can only have filled the Christian disciples present with awe and humility in the witnessing of God’s power.
Friends, today the English language is becoming the language of the world. But this does not mean we are genuinely communicating with each other. We are all on our own channel. Pentecost reminds us that we need humility. Well, how can that humility take shape?
First, we can get out of the way. The Bible makes it very clear that God’s Holy Spirit will work as it wishes where and when it wishes. It is important that we get out of the way. After the Manchester massacre a few weeks ago, the singer Ariana Grande whom the victims had come to hear, issued a simple compassionate statement of horror. This prompted a positive editorial in the New York Times about the person Grande is. She is never on the news with bad behavior and seems to have no need for extreme media attention. Nevertheless she has 150 million social media followers. The author praised her for encouraging her teenage girl followers to good self-esteem. In a sense she does what she is good at and then gets out of the way. She stayed out of the way of the care givers that came into action after the tragedy. Now I don’t know much about the singer, but the principle is good: we must do what we are best at as followers of Christ and get out the way of the Holy Spirit.
Second, we can let go of the credit. The work of the church is never about us. We are not in control of what happens to the church. We cannot take the credit for the good that happens in our congregation or because of our congregation. We are not responsible for the results of our ministry, only for the work that we do and the effort we put in. There are some churches these days that advertise themselves as “being spirit-filled.” I don’t know how you can say that. We are not in control of God’s Spirit.
Third, we can be humbly present, show up, be ready to listen to what the Holy Spirit calls us to. There is a popular song these days with the line “Holy Spirit you are welcome here.”That’s a good thought.
On vacation Carolyn and I found ourselves on a quiet beach and I decided to take a walk to the next beach. I saw that two young couples were already there. One couple was sitting down and relaxing and the other were locked in an embrace. I was going to make sure to stay out of their way. But then as I got closer, I saw the young man slide a ring on the young woman’s finger, with the expected excited reaction on the young woman’s part. Something told me I should go over there and be the first to congratulate them. I told them I was a minister and offered to say a prayer for them. I also took twenty pictures of them and made them reenact the proposal for the camera. It turned out they were church going people who saw my presence there as affirming and enhancing their story. They waved off my apology for invading their privacy. Now we could argue whether this has anything to do with the Holy Spirit. I do not presume to be the judge of that by any means, but it illustrates the point. We have to be humbly present when the Spirit calls. Then things can happen. May God’s Spirit work among us here.