Beloved, this morning I would like to speak to you about God’s Deeds of Power. But I’m finding that I don’t have the words. It’s a hard thing—let me tell you—to be a minister without words. Christianity loves words, doesn’t it? The Bible, 1000s of pages long, is the called the Word of God. We call Jesus the Logos which means something like “the spoken Word.” And every Sunday we pray words, and sing words, and preach words. After church, people say to us ministers, if we’re lucky, “Preacher, you really brought the Word today.”
How I wish that the Bible had a record of WHAT it was that those followers of Jesus spoke about when the Fire emerged among them. It says that they spoke of God’s Deeds of Power, but not one single word of their miraculous foreign languages, their Greek, Latin, Coptic, or Parthian, is actually recorded. What did they say that convinced 3000 people to be baptized and join them that morning?
I wish I knew those words. I would speak them to all of you right now. Can you imagine what those words might have been like? Can you imagine what those words might sound like to you on this Pentecost day? Words that when you hear them remind you of every comfort and joy you have ever known, that draw you fully into the present moment with a profound sense of hope and meaning, and that open you up to the fullness of the way forward—a good way, a way of justice, of peace, a way with purpose.
O, I wish I knew the sound of those words in even one language. I wish I knew even just the letters to spell out words like that. I wish that the words of God’s Deeds of Power had been written down that morning for us—for me. Why didn’t they write those words down?
Would it even matter, beloved? Would it matter to me? Would it matter to us if we were all lit on fire by the Holy Spirit of Pentecost? If the tongues of flame came down through the holes in our roof and if we were then suddenly, miraculously transformed into a people empowered to speak? Would it matter if we could speak Spanish, and Japanese, and German, and speak to the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious, and speak Millennialese, and code in Python, and wax philosophic, and lingo in liberal, and meme hipster, and talk scientific materialism, and tweet it, and all the other languages that are buzzing around us all day? After all, together, as a whole, we already know how to speak all of those languages anyway! So what difference would a miracle like that make to us? What we’re missing this morning is the right WORDS because no one wrote them down for us. Isn’t church the place you’re supposed to come for the RIGHT words, to get the proper information, and learn the correct knowledge about God? If that was true, we’d be in trouble today.
Without any doubt in my mind, the thing that most separates us from God’s miracles in this age is our anxiety about our lack of the proper knowledge of God. We’re afraid that we haven’t learned enough of the right words to be able to participate in the great big God conversation or speak about God or TO God ourselves. Even worse, sometimes we’ve been taught false words about God, words that say that God is an angry, vengeful, male tyrant—a cruel judge who guards an exclusive club for the elect—and that is not a God many of us care to talk to. And sometimes churches do behave as if we were the guardians of some sort of secret entryway into the miraculous life of the Spirit. But it’s not the dissemination of some dry orthodoxy that has drawn any of us into the living Body of Christ that is this church.
I wish I could better tell you about God’s Deeds of Power, but those words weren’t written down for me. And I’m moved to wonder if the miracle was really in the words after all. Traditional readings of Pentecost often focus on KNOWLEDGE of God being spread all around by people communicating with each other in different languages. Sure, that’s a part of it. But are we so dull? These people are on fire! Church, did you hear that? What’s more miraculous than learning a new language quickly? How about the miracle of saying anything fluently while on fire? Is Pentecost telling us that if you could reduce God down to a stream of information then it would look and sound like what comes out of the mouth of someone ON FIRE?
Pentecost, like being on fire, is not about the right words. It’s an extraordinary experience of power, movement, and rushing wind that we are meant to KNOW by feeling it take us up and engulf us. Have you felt that fire? And do you dare to speak in that language?
Beloved, what would that language sound like if it came out of your mouth? Forget the words for now. What would that kind of SpiritTalk feel like? Have you felt it here at Broadway UCC or somewhere else recently? What was coming out of you? Was it music? Song? Desperate Prayers? Wild Laughter? Sobbing Tears? This was the beginning of the Church! This wild, burning, miraculous morning. Are you willing to let yourself be set on fire, to EXPERIENCE the Holy Spirit in community, amidst hundreds of others voices, and to let the SPIRIT in your own voice be heard?
Maybe the exact words are less important than we think they are. Maybe we could do this church thing without a single suitable word. We’ve all had the experience of being there for a friend in need. Maybe they’re ill or they’ve lost someone they love and, as they suffer, we have no idea what to say. So we sit with them, look them right in the eyes, and offer words that are completely inadequate. And our friend clings to us weeping and says, “Thank you.”
When we fall in love with another person, we all become idiots. The words that come out of our mouths when we are together are embarrassing. If anyone heard the way we talked when we are alone with our sweethearts—the secret code of love, the corny, schmaltzy nothings, the pet names, the schmoopy moopy talk—I know some of you do it—I love you more, NO, I love YOU more—if anyone overheard us we would probably just DIE a death of cheese-covered shame! And yet these foolish, almost meaningless words are the ones we most long to hear at the end of a long day.
Saying goodbye is another one of these experiences where words fail us. “Let’s get together to say goodbye,” we say. “Say goodbye.” And it turns out you don’t need to say much to say goodbye. Or you can say a lot about other things that have nothing to do with goodbye. It’s really about being together and marking the change. It’s not east saying goodbye but at least you don’t really need to say anything at all. Better just to be together, to laugh a bit, cry a little maybe, hug. The hug at the end is as good as any word of goodbye, I think. Saying goodbye goes beyond words.
I assure you that in a few months none of you will remember the words of this sermon. Not a single one. But you might remember the feeling of this evening—thee fire, the music, being together.
Maybe they didn’t write the words down on the first Pentecost morning because it wasn’t the specific words alone that moved those 3000 to be baptized that day, maybe it was the Spirit, the fire that lives behind those words that truly changed those lives and welcomed those people in.
Beloved, just like not knowing won’t stop you from learning, not having all the right words does not need to stop you from opening your mouth to speak, to sing, to prophesy, to call on the name of the Lord. Trust the Spirit you have felt in this place. Trust Christ who promised it to you. Trust God who wants you to be powerful. It doesn’t matter what you know—if you know a little or if you know a lot, God calls. If you only knew ONE WORD, the God who longs for you would call that word to you every day. And if you knew not even one word, God might just send Her fiery Spirit down to dance on your head. AMEN.