“A Leap of Faith” Colchester Federated Church, June 4, 2017, (Acts 2:1-21) Pentecost Sunday
“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
The Holy Spirit certainly arrives in style—with wind, and tongues of fire, and gifts of speaking in diverse languages. Pentecost marks the birth of the Christian Church. It’s full of energy, passion, and mystery. Just look at the gifts of the Spirit! Look at Peter facing the crowd and declaring the Good News for all to hear! Look at this new revelation of God’s presence among us that ushers in the Church!
It’s a story full of meaning. Fire accompanies the divine presence. To this day, we light candles in our churches to symbolize the start of our worship in praise of God. Wind is how we can feel the Spirit sweeping over the earth—seeing or hearing the wind blow can still help us consider the Divine. And of course speaking in diverse languages shows that we are called to witness to God’s love to the ends of the earth and teach the Christian faith in a way that everyone can connect with and understand. We’re called to meet people where they are—in the highways and byways of their lives. Pentecost is a bold story of this small band of Jesus’ followers having a message so important to share that they would put their lives on the line to do it. They would even face persecution to spread Jesus’ message of radical love and inclusion.
If there’s one person who blows me away every Pentecost, it’s Peter. Peter goes from denying that he even knew Jesus to standing with the other disciples, raising his voice, and declaring that the Holy Spirit has been poured out for all. One can imagine that Peter takes a giant leap of faith here. Trusting God to be with him. It’s like one of my favorite theological buddies William Sloane Coffin once said, “I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” Peter took that leap and his wings came along in time.
After all, the turning point of the whole story is when Peter figuratively and literally stands up to address the crowd. He speaks his mind with conviction. The lectionary cuts off the rest of Peter’s speech. But he nears the end by saying to the crowds, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That day three thousand people are baptized according to the Book of Acts—they commit themselves to the teachings of Jesus, and a new life of prayer and commitment to this new community of Christ followers. That’s how the story goes. The decisive moment is Peter taking a personal religious experience and witnessing to others—going forth and telling what happened and how he encountered God in the person of Jesus. It was Peter’s testimony that made the difference, his leap of faith to share what was on his heart.
This week made me consider the work of the Spirit and leaps of faith. I spoke with a reporter from The Norwich Bulletin recently and the article came out this week—many of you saw it already. One of the things Kristina (the reporter) wanted to know was why Colchester? You’re not from here, you’re not even from this region—why did you come here? And I actually went back and pieced together the timeline. You see, I got back from my Sabbatical at the beginning of October (around 8 months ago) and had realized that it was time to move on from Lexington. Worked on my Ministerial Profile for the UCC and got it verified by my Associate Conference Minister in the Metropolitan Boston Association and active in the system on October 22nd. All of that is obnoxious church speak for it took a couple weeks, though everything was set for me to begin looking for a new call by the end of October. I contacted various people in Conferences throughout the UCC nationally and decided there was one church in Connecticut that seemed worth exploring—this Federated Church in someplace called Colchester. Meanwhile my Profile also got sent along to churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, back home in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, etc. Tom as Chair of the Search Committee emailed me on October 27th asking to meet with the Committee for an interview.
I will admit to having a moment of utter panic upon receiving Tom’s email, even though it was kind and well-written. The process in the UCC takes 8 months minimum pastors are often told, and I had just gotten used to the idea of being in Search and Call again and leaving Lexington. All of a sudden, just 5 days after my Profile became active there was a Search Committee wanting to have an interview. It got real all of a sudden. And it helped to think, “Alright God, this whole thing is a leap of faith. Lead me where you need me.” It’s safe to say that the Search Committee and I connected at our first interview, it did feel like talking to old friends. But you don’t buy the first dress you try on without looking at other options! At least I don’t. Or drive away with the first car you test drive. Insert whatever metaphor means something to you about keeping options open. So I did interview with churches in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and had interview requests from Vermont, Florida, and Hawaii even though I didn’t send my Profile along to any churches in Hawaii. And this isn’t because I’m just so awesome. Churches often interview plenty of pastors to find the best fit. In the end, there was just something special about that church in Colchester . . . about our church in Colchester.
And after this whole process—here’s what I know to be true. We make plans and God laughs. The Spirit moves where the Spirit wills. And sometimes we have to take those leaps of faith and trust that our wings will grow in the process. It’s hard if we’re a planner and want everything black and white, planned and decided in our lives. Living with uncertainty isn’t easy for some of us. Yet how can we attempt to contain the movements of God in our lives?
Think of Pentecost. Jesus’ disciples were small in number and had no idea what would come after that momentous religious experience. Peter preaches like he had never preached before to that crowd in Jerusalem. He speaks about young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams. That people shall prophecy and everyone who calls on God’s name will be saved. People think they’re so crazy that they accuse the disciples of being drunk. Peter responds that it’s only 9 AM, we’re not drunk! We’re just on fire with the love of God and we want to tell you what Jesus taught us: to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can usher in God’s realm through our just actions. God’s grace extends to all of us even when we don’t live up to God’s intentions for our lives.
Peter took that leap of faith and spoke in a way that people new to Jesus’ teachings could truly hear. This ushers in a whole new way of spreading Christ’s message to everyone. It’s freely given. It’s rather dramatically proclaimed. It’s not reserved for the elite and powerful, but spread to the ends of the earth, to anyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see and a heart to accept Christ’s love for us all. So don’t be afraid if a leap of faith seems to come your way. God will be there to help us grow our wings. It’s true. Thanks be to God. Amen.