In his final hours on earth, as John’s gospel tells the story, Jesus gathered his friends, his disciples, and knelt before them to wash their feet. After Jesus was done, he rocked back on his heels, stood up, and began preparing his disciples, his friends, for what was coming next.
As Jesus spoke plainly about where his path now pointed, Jesus also offered his friends a series of challenges.
“You are not simply spectators to what is coming,” Jesus insisted. “You will have active, vital parts to play, so let me take this time to encourage you.”
“Love one another as I have loved you. Stay connected to me, abide in me, in the same way a branch grows because it is nourished by the vine. Do not be discouraged when the world dislikes or even hates you. Above all, do everything in your power to remember all that I have taught you.”
On the eve of his death, Jesus also offered his friends, his disciples, an astonishing promise.
“I will not leave you orphaned. I will ask Abba God to send the Holy Spirit upon you. And the Spirit will teach you everything you need to know about how to move forward in my name. The Spirit will unite you. The Spirit will grace you with peace and joy.”
I cannot imagine a more comforting, substantial promise.
“You, my friends, will not be left to your own devices. You will not be set adrift. You will not suffer abandonment.”
“After I am gone, the Spirit will come to accompany and guide you, to encourage, empower, and enliven you. The Spirit will come, giving you what the world cannot.
“When I am no longer with you in the flesh, the Spirit will seek you out and will enable you not only to remember what I’ve taught you but also help you extend and expand all that I have begun.”
Jesus’ promise was not realized instantly. It came to life nearly two months after his resurrection, ten days after he was drawn back into God’s nonphysical realm, heaven. Jesus’ first followers were in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost when, as the Book of Acts tells us, they suddenly felt the Spirit’s presence as gusts of wind and holy fire.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit,” our lesson this morning tells us. Not one of them, not two, not some, but all of them.
Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ friends were quickly moved to speak to those beyond their circle. Even Jesus’ friends who were more comfortable hanging back and listening, even they lost their shyness and found their tongues.
Everyone had something important to say and, as our lesson reminds us, not in their home-grown dialect but in languages from all over the Greco-Roman world. There wasn’t a soul crowding the streets of Jerusalem that day who was left wondering what this band of believers was saying.
Each in their own way, each in a different tongue, Jesus’ friends spoke with confidence and clarity about how God and God’s powerful goodness had been on full display in Jesus of Nazareth. The same Spirit that had filled Jesus now spilled out of his friends as they moved about Jerusalem that day.
As miraculous as this was, as inexplicable, it left Jesus’ Spirit-blessed community open to scrutiny and accusation. “They aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit. They’re filled with man-made spirits, new wine,” some scoffed.
Those first followers spoke and then the world spoke back. “You’re drunk.” The world could have just as easily have said “You’re crazy. You’re suspect. You’re wrong. You’re dangerous.”
Then, as now, the world often isn’t ready to hear what the Spirit gives Jesus’ friends to say. Those who speak up about racial injustice, gun violence, climate change, who speak from a place of deep and compelling faith get crickets if they’re lucky and get called names if they’re not.
When this happens, those who don’t cling to the Spirit can easily grow discouraged; the world is so often slow to listen and respond.
At Pentecost, the Spirit swept into Jerusalem and transformed a small group of believers into what Paul would later call “the Body of Christ.” At Pentecost, the Spirit came riding into town on the wind, carrying tongues of flame, ready to give birth.
Sharing itself with one and all who were gathered in Jesus’ name in the Holy City, the Spirit came pregnant and ready to deliver—not just the church but God’s future.
A future in which Jesus’ friends would do more than remember and revere him, would do more than recall and reenact his ministry in their midst, but a future in which together—and with the Spirit’s help—they would become Jesus’ hands and heart, his voice and vision.
What the Spirit did that day in Jerusalem, the Spirit has done with us here.
In response to our deep longing and ardent prayers, the Spirit birthed us eight years ago. Not because the Spirit needed another church Montrose but because the Spirit was and is still laboring to usher in God’s future here in this part of the world.
And God needed friends and allies to help in this holy effort. We who have been gathered up by God as Community Spirit Church are among those special friends and allies.
Not everyone can believe this about us.
As with those first followers, there have been times when we’ve been accused of being drunk.
Times when being active, engaged allies to the LGBTQ community has been wrongly viewed as siding with sinners.
When carrying a church banner in the local Women’s March has had some thinking we are in league with the devil.
When a pastor’s column in the Montrose Daily Press results in “Christian-splaining” because she offers an idea more spacious or gracious than some are accustomed to.
When worshipping at the Ute Indian Museum calls our Christian discipleship into question.
Or when someone visits our Facebook page and leaves a one-star review purely to disparage us.
We know better, just as those first followers did.
More importantly, like them, we know what it’s like to feel the Spirit swoop down and stir us to speak and act in ways that others may not yet be prepared for. We know what it’s like to be—as those first followers were, as the UCC has so often been—an early church. That is, to be ahead of the times in matters of love and justice.
Like those gathered in Jerusalem, we know how it feels when the Spirit comes out of the blue to give us what we didn’t have even moments earlier—inspiration sometimes, energy other times, even a church name when we didn’t yet have one.
But let’s not paint ourselves in too rosy a light. Let’s confess that we also know what it’s like to think we can manage on our own and thus forget to consult the Spirit.
We also have had our times of being impatient and in this have not really waited (or wanted to wait) on the Spirit’s leading.
We too have felt the weariness that comes when we rely more on our own energies than those of the Spirit. All of these experiences, thanks be to God, have been short lived and spiritually instructive for us.
Brought into being not because we imagined this church but because the Spirit did means we can be as audacious and confident as Peter was when the earliest church was accused of being a collection of early morning drinkers.
“We are not drunk,” Peter declared. “We are the prophet Joel’s words come to life. We are the future Joel announced generations back.”
I won’t read Peter’s words from the Book of Acts, I’ll just summarize them.
Peter boldly told the crowd what the prophet Joel had seen coming, how in days to come the Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh, how the young would see visions, how the old would dream dreams. How God’s dream for the human family living on earth would at last come to pass.
What might we announce with similar conviction? What sacred promise is God fulfilling in and through us? What preferred future is the Spirit laboring to bring to life here in western Colorado, a future that clearly has a church—this one.
The Spirit did not call us into being simply so that we could enjoy being together, although that’s certainly a joy and a pleasure and a source of deep meaning.
The Spirit called us forth so that we might join the Spirit in birthing new possibilities and new life in our neck of the woods. Peter made a connection between sacred promises of old and the coming of the Spirit. What connections can we make here and now?
This is my challenge and my charge: wrestle with these questions while I am away in June. Pray over them. Let the Spirit pray these questions in you.
And be ready. The Spirit may well set us on fire in new ways. Its wild winds may well muss our hair and stir things up.
Even so, it will be worth it. Well worth it. Because the future the Spirit is laboring to usher in will bring life and love, possibility and promise. And it will never, ever disappoint.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Giver of Life and Bestower of Blessings, we thank you for Pentecost then and Pentecost now. We are grateful you called this church into being and for empowering us to be who we are where we are. Let us drink deeply of your wisdom and creativity. Guide us, your partners, as your future comes to life in our midst. Grant us all we need to be faithful to our calling. May the joy we feel and the courage we find be signs to us of your presence altogether we follow in the way of Jesus. Amen.