Yesterday was one of those remarkable days in ministry that are inspiring and full of joy even if it meant I couldn’t have a relaxing afternoon, or work around the house. In the morning, the “More Just Community” task force gathered for an update on members’ engagement with issues of racism, mass incarceration, and inequity. With the chaplains at the Dane County Jail, we are developing a proposal to engage with prisoners during and after their stay in jail. We heard from members who participated in the Course on African-American history organized by Justified Anger and others who are working to build relationships with other churches and community groups. By the end of the summer, we hope to be able to roll out some exciting new programs and opportunities.
Then I came downtown to the church. I arrived as the Food Pantry was ending for the day and while I didn’t go in, as I often do on Saturdays to greet the volunteers, I’ve made it a special intention to pray for and keep in mind both the volunteers and the food insecure families who rely on our pantry. After I ran to grab some lunch from one of the food carts (one of my personal ministries is supporting them), I dropped in to listen for a few minutes to the Grace Presents concert. Then it was to the next set of meetings, with the parents of the children I’ll be baptizing today. I listened as they shared their joys and struggles as parents, what they’ve learned about their children, themselves, and their relationships with each other.
When I got home after all that, and my attention turned to my sermon, I reflected on all of the lives that were touched by Grace, and touched Grace on that Saturday—musicians and concertgoers, pantry volunteers and guests, those who even on a chilly day, paused as they walked by to enjoy the beauty of our courtyard garden. I also thought about the energy and excitement that was present in the morning meeting as we strategized concerning our efforts to build a more just community. All the lives that we might touch, the relationships we might build in the months and years to come.
It’s really quite amazing, isn’t it—all this excitement and life on the corner of Capitol Square. On this Pentecost, we rejoice in all the ways that the Holy Spirit is moving among us, and all the ways that through us the Holy Spirit is moving and working in our community. But in spite of all the spirit-filled activity at Grace, it’s likely that we feel a little humbled, perhaps even inadequate, when we hearing the story of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.
Luke describes the dramatic spectacle in detail, and if you look closely, you can see a depiction of it in the stained glass window above the door to my right. The disciples were gathered in the upper room, the same place they had gathered with Jesus for the last supper on the night that he was arrested. It was also the place they gathered after his crucifixion. John’s gospel tells us that they met behind locked doors because of their fear. And although Luke doesn’t provide that detail, it’s not hard to imagine that they were fearful, that this was a reasonably safe place they could gather.
They might have been afraid; it’s quite likely that they were wondering what was going to happen next. They had seen and experienced a great deal over the last months—the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, his resurrection. And now most recently, ten days earlier, they had been witnesses of his ascension into heaven. Jesus was gone from them finally. They must have been apprehensive, uncertain, puzzling over what might happen next. Luke tells us that during this time of waiting, they “constantly devoted themselves to prayer” and that they also selected one of them to take his place as the twelfth apostle.
Waiting, wondering, preparing, praying. Who knows what they might have been expecting? But whatever it was, it couldn’t have been anything like what happened to them—tongues of fire come down and alighting on their heads. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in all manner of foreign languages. So strange, so unexpected was it that bystanders concluded they must have spent the night getting drunk. But no, Peter stood up and drawing from scripture, the prophet Joel, connected this event with the Biblical tradition of prophecy. But even as he looked backward for support, Peter’s message was about the present. He was trying to help the witnesses interpret and understand what was going on around them. It’s what we do, and what we’re called to do—to look at the world around us, to see the events and the people, our context and interpret it in light of the gospel. Interpreting scripture and tradition, we are called to share good news in language and categories that are comprehensible and meaningful for those among whom we live.
But there’s something else to point out. The disciples—120 of them—were gathered in the upper room, behind locked doors, wondering, preparing, praying. But they didn’t stay there. The Holy Spirit came upon them and drove them out into the streets and neighborhood, and ultimately, to the ends of the world. So too, today. We are called not just to gather here on Sunday, but to move out into the world, sharing the good news, sharing the love of Christ with all we encounter.
We can’t know what that might look like. Yes, it looks very much like the things we were doing here yesterday, in the pantry, at a concert, in talking about racism and inequity. But even now, the Spirit is moving us, moving among us, inspiring us to new things and new ministries
Today we will baptize four babies. Their lives are just beginning. They are already very much themselves, unique beings with unique personalities. But over the course of their lives, they will become who God is calling them to become. They will grow and mature, discover the world and themselves. We don’t know what the future holds in store for them—we don’t know what the world will be like when they grow up.
Today we are baptizing them, bringing them into the body of Christ where they will be cherished and nurtured. As they grow and mature, the Holy Spirit will accompany them, comfort them, but also challenge them and lead them into places we can’t imagine. Their baptisms now are only the beginning of an exciting journey of faith as they learn and grow.
The world is a scary place. Madison, as we’ve been reminded in the last week can be a very dangerous place. Parents want to protect their children from danger and harm. We often want to gather in a safe place, behind locked doors, where we can be safe and secure. But the Spirit blows wherever it wants, blowing us out into the world, to learn and grow, and above all to help us share the good news, the love of Christ with our neighbors and the world.