Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Red, White and Huh? -- A Sermon

I pull slowly on the string leading to the ceiling.  All eyes look up.  They follow a balloon as it makes its slow descent to the ground.  While I reel it in, I speak:  

Was ist das da oben?  Es kommt langsam herunter, doch ich weiß nicht was es sein soll.  Hmmm.  Ach ja!  Es ist ein Luftballon.  Komisch.  Wie kommt es, daß ein Luftballon in der Kirche schwebt?

How come you’re not answering me?  What’s the matter, you didn’t understand?  How could that be?  Oh!  Oops, wrong language!

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone understood everybody all the time?  But a lot of the time, people DON’T understand each other.  What’s even weirder is that a lot of the time we don’t understand God.  

It’s not just us, though.  The disciples didn’t understand God much better than we do.  Which made them very nervous when Jesus left them for heaven.  Remember how we talked last week about them being nervous?  And Jesus said, “Wait here for a gift.  Wait here for the Advocate.”

So they waited -- maybe they were staring up at the sky -- you know, the way you were staring at the ceiling -- hoping to see Jesus come back down.  But what happened wasn’t what they expected.  Instead of Jesus floating down like a balloon, a powerful wind swept through their house like a tornado.  And when it was done, they looked like they had fire on them.  And you know what to do when that happens, right?  Yes, Stop, Drop and Roll!

Just kidding.  Anyway, that fire was a sign of the Holy Spirit coming to fill the apostles, to give them life and strength and power.  In a way, they were sort of like this balloon before it had any helium.  Before it came, they believed in Jesus, but they had no life in them -- they weren’t really the church yet.  Once the spirit came, they had life and even sort of knew what to do.  In a way, once the spirit came, they could fly (I release the balloon).

The Spirit also helped them understand other people -- and helped them to be understood even by people who didn’t speak their language.  It really was a great gift.  That’s why we wear red today -- for the fire of the spirit.

But you know, there was a time when Pentecost was called Whitsunday -- which means White Sunday.  And on that day, it used to be the tradition that young women wore white dresses.  Why?  (I don’t know, maybe because it was the first Sunday after Memorial Day and it was safe to wear white again?)   In truth, white symbolizes purity and cleansing -- and since Pentecost is one of the best days for baptism, that might be the reason.  After all, this is a day where something new is born -- the church. 

So, we’ve got Red for the fire of the Holy Spirit and White for the purity of God’s cleansing in baptism. -- And did I tell you we’re having a baptism in a few minutes?  Then there’s the gift of understanding that comes with the Holy Spirit.  This doesn’t mean that everyone can instantly understand foreign languages, but that once you have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of understanding God, and people -- even those different from you -- will grow in you.

It just takes time.  That’s the funny thing about the Holy Spirit -- you have to wait for it.  

I hate waiting.  I don’t understand it.  My attention span is too short.   Besides, we didn’t have to wait for Jesus, did we?  He just came!  We didn’t have to wait for the Father, did we?  He’s always been there!  But the Holy Spirit?  No.  When Jesus left his disciples, he said “Wait for the Spirit.”  And they waited.  For days.  Never sure anything would happen.

We have to wait for the Spirit, too, and that’s something we don’t really understand.  It’s like a different language.  It’s the language of sitting and doing nothing -- of just letting God talk to us.  

But the Spirit’s language is silence, and it won’t be rushed.  Those who try to rush it are like those who try to get a balloon up with no helium.  

Which brings us to our baptism today.  We’re going to see the red of fire and the white of cleansing.  In fact, we’re going to give some fire to Sophia today.  

But what she gets mostly out of being baptized is membership in a church that will stick with her and help her learn how to wait for the Holy Spirit in her life.  How to sit still long enough to hear the voice of God -- and then be filled with the power that the Spirit has to offer.  Amen.