When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.
Dear Paige, Maggie, Keeli, Braelyn, Liam, Emma, and Sophia,
On this, the day of your confirmation, I have decided to write a letter instead of a sermon. Though, for what it’s worth, most sermons are like letters anyway. And, because this is the occasion of your confirmation, it is also a letter for all who call this church home for, God is confirming their faith just as much as yours.
Therefore, let me begin in a scriptural way: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
There is no way that you can possibility comprehend what is about to happen to you. Part of the life of faith is coming to grips with an adventure that, though we know not where we are going, we at least know who is with us along the way: That who has a name: Jesus.
50 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, after Easter, the disciples were all in one place together. They had recently witnessed their Lord ascend to rule at the right hand of the Father, and were rebuked for keeping their eyes in the sky. And without knowing what would happen next, they were confronted by the wild and reckless Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is all about the unknowability of God. Whenever we think we know what’s going to happen, whenever we congratulate ourselves for finally figuring out the divine, God pulls one over on us and we’re left scratching our heads.
The sound like the rush of a violent wind filled the disciples – divided tongues as of fire appear among them and they were able to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.
Fun fact, the story gets even better, because when they busted out of their gathering place the crowds who encounter the disciples accuse them of being drunk even though it’s only 9 in the morning. They are accused of being drunk because they are stumbling around into a new strange world that they can scarcely wrap their heads around.
I hope that, in some way, you leave from church today staggering around like those first disciples. In fact, I hope that happens every Sunday, because when the Spirit encounters us, we can’t help but walk away altered.
Those early disciples, the ones who walked the roads of Galilee with Jesus, the ones who spoke with tongues of fire, they were compelled to tell the Good News to all who would hear it, because, it was the difference that made all the difference.
Through your confirmation we have bombarded you with all sorts of things – scripture, creeds, tradition, prayer, denominationalism, sacraments, mission. You’ve been exposed to all the parts that make the church the church. But above all, in confirmation you have been taught the faith. But this is only the beginning.
Learning the faith is like learning to speak a new language. You can read all the books in the world about it, but you can’t do it until you do it. And, just like a language, you can’t learn it without others and without practice.
A few months back one of you asked, “How can you tell the difference between God speaking, and your gut?”
That is easily one of the all time best questions asked of a preacher. It’s a great question because all of us have that question, and because the answer is right in front of us every Sunday.
Whatever it means to be Christian, it at least involves the discovery of friends we did not know that we had. You see, church is the last vestige of a place where people willfully gather together with people who think, speak, and act differently than themselves.
None of you go to school together. Think about that for a moment. Whereas most friendships are born out of commonalities like schools, or extracurricular actives, you only know each other because of Jesus.
And that’s true for the rest of us as well!
The only real thing we have in common is Jesus.
That’s important. For, the only way any of us can ever hold fast to the promises of scripture is through the community we call church. In order to hear the promises of God we need others to declare those promises to us over and over again, particularly when we feel like we can’t believe them or that they’re no longer true.
But God really does love you, in spite of all the reasons that God shouldn’t.
The noise of the world will be deafening at times, trying to tell you what to think and what to believe. But it can never compete with the wild rushing wind of the Spirit, the various languages that rose up for the Gospel, because those words reveal who we are and whose we are.
In life we are habituated by many languages. Like the language of literature, the language of baseball, the language of dance, the language of music, they all form us and shape us in ways seen and unseen. But today, on Pentecost, we are reminded that our first language is the language of faith and that before we are anything we are Jesus people.
The only way we can tell the difference between whether God is speaking to us or we’re listening to our gut, is by sharing it with others and having it confirmed by them.
We told you over and over again during this season of confirmation that: Baptism is God’s way of saying ‘yes’ to us, and confirmation is our way of saying ‘yes’ to God.
The simplicity of that sentence betrays the confounding nature of confirmation. Saying ‘yes’ to God means being caught up in God’s story in the world, it means receiving friends you never knew you had, it means fumbling out into the world not knowing exactly what the Spirit is up to.
And even though you will be confirmed individually, confirmation can only take place with and by others. The same is true of the sacraments. You can’t baptize yourself, and you can’t give communion to yourself. It is something done to us within the community of faith by others.
We only learn what it means to be Christians by watching other Christians within the church and doing what they do. To be Christian means being together. Which, of course, isn’t easy. Particularly because we believe in telling the truth, even to those we love.
But, as Tom Holland of Spider-man fame put it, “I personally think if something’s not a challenge, there’s no point doing it, because you’re not gonna learn much.” (That’s for you Sophia).
Being a Christian might be the greatest challenge of your life. Not because it comes with all sorts of rules and requirements, but because it runs so counter to the rest of the world.
The world worships the first, the greatest, the found, the big, and the alive.
But God comes for the last, least, lost, little, and dead.
The world runs by deception and destruction.
The Kingdom of God runs by mercy.
The world is full to the brim with bad news.
Jesus comes to bring Good News.
On Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, the tall and the small, the old and the young, the good and the bad. It’s not because we earned it. It’s not because Jesus was finally pleased with all of our faith. It’s because we needed it.
And we still do.
It is my hope and prayer that, throughout your lives, you will hear the Good News: You are part of an adventure that is made possible by God’s relentless grace. You have a place in God’s church no matter what you do or leave undone. You are loved by God and there ain’t nothing you can do about it. You are forgiven.
When we went on our confirmation retreat to Alta Mons there was a considerable amount of content we had to cover. We had to explore the theological proclamation of the Trinity, we had to tell the whole story of the Bible, we had much to do.
And chances are, you won’t remember any of it. And that’s okay. The life of faith takes a lifetime. But, even though you won’t remember most of that content, I do hope you remember the feeling of being together, of going on a walk as the sun went down and being silent with God, of laughing hysterically at the dinner table with every new revelation about the people sitting next to you, of singing songs by the campfire, of sharing bread and cup by the waterfall.
You see, those are the real marks of a Christian. Not a list of good deeds to make us feel better about ourselves. Not perfect attendance in church every single Sunday.
Being together is what makes possible being Christian.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen: On the day of Pentecost, one of those seemingly drunk disciples got up to preach and afterward 3,000 people welcomed the message and joined the way. Scripture says they responded to God’s Spirit by devoting themselves to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.
People often assume that the church’s primary business is to get people out of their badness and into a life of goodness. But it isn’t. If that happens, well then that’s wonderful. But the primary mission of the church is to proclaim grace, to tell the story, to share the invitation to the cosmic bash we call the kingdom of God.
God’s love does not depend of what we do or what we’re like.
There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, we can do to make God love us any more, and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us any less.
God doesn’t care whether we’re sinners or saints.
God never gives us what we deserve and always gives us more than we deserve.
God is a shepherd who never gives up searching of the one lost sheep, a parent who is always looking down the road for the prodigal and any excuse to throw a party, a sower who keeps scattering seed no matter the cost.
I hope you see and know and believe that the language of faith is surprising. You might even come to a time in your life when you find yourself surprised that you are, indeed, a Christian. But you need not be surprised. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is full of surprises. Just look around. Amen.