Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sermon; Pentecost A; Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost.  Fifty days after Easter.  Ten days after the Ascension.  Pentecost is one of the Big Three celebrations of the church, Christmas and Easter being the other two.  And Pentecost is the only one that hasn't been taken over by Hallmark.  That's almost too bad . . . imagine what they could do with tongues of fire on Hoops and Yoyo.

But all kidding aside, today is a big deal in the church.  We renew our baptismal vows.  Everyone gets decked out in red.  We've got balloons and a potluck feast featuring a variety of ethnic foods.  This is a major celebration for us and we should be excited.  After all, this is the day we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and the beginning of their ministry to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.

But hidden within this celebration is something that tries to stop it.  Despite the waters of baptism, despite the balloons, potluck and festivities, despite our celebration of the presence of the Spirit, there is an attempt to control God.

This attempt to control God is also known by another name:  gate-keeping.

The gatekeepers are those people, often self-appointed, whose sole purpose is to protect the institution from outsiders.  The role of the gatekeepers is to protect the institution at all costs.  The role of the gatekeepers is to keep things from changing.  The role of the gatekeepers is to ensure that things remain exactly as they think they should remain.

There are gatekeepers in every institution.  They reside at golf courses to ensure that women and non-whites are not given memberships.  They are in government to ensure minorities of all stripes have restricted voting rights.  They are in home owners associations and realty offices to protect property values.  And they are in the church protecting it from ordaining or including the wrong people, silencing “controversial” topics, banning the wrong hymns or from using the wrong coffee.  Gatekeepers strongly believe that their way, the way we've always done it, is the right way and, therefore, God's way.  Gatekeepers are fearful that if they don't protect THEIR institution, then it and everything they have worked for will crumble around them, leaving them destitute and faithless.  Their job, in essence, is to make sure that everything is done right.

Gatekeepers come in all shapes and sizes, and they use many different tactics to accomplish their goals.  Two of those tactics – direct appeals to leadership and ad hominem attacks – show up in today's lessons.

The first takes place in Numbers.  The back story for today's reading is that the Israelites had escaped from Egypt and were living in the wilderness.  This was a difficult life, but they were free.  Not only were they free, but God fed them every day with manna from heaven.  But this wasn't enough.

The people complained to God and Moses that at least they had meat in Egypt.  Moses, pushed to the end of his patience, prays that God will kill him.

Instead, the Lord tells Moses to pick 70 elders in order to delegate his authority.  He does and God's spirit rests on the 70 who, outside the camp, begin to prophesy.  Except for Eldad and Medad.  Those two remained inside the camp while prophesying.

Eldad and Medad were not doing it right, so a self-appointed gatekeeper ran to inform Moses that these two were disobeying the clearly stated desires of God.  Joshua also gets involved and implores Moses to stop the two troublemakers.  Why?  Because they weren't following the rules as had been laid down.  They were deviating from the clear word of God as the gatekeepers understood it.  They weren't doing it right and they had to be stopped.

But Moses doesn't play the game and says, “Yeah . . . isn't it great!?!  Too bad not everyone had God's spirit.”

The next case of gate-keeping is found in the reading from Acts.  The twelve disciples are gathered together in a house when the Spirit arrived, filling the house with wind and fire.  They immediately went out and began preaching to the people of Jerusalem in a variety of languages.

Outside of sports stadiums, people are generally wary of passionate people.  And really, if I began preaching like James Brown in The Blues Brothers, most of you might be wary as well.

But this is exactly what happens.  Twelve disciples filled with the Holy Spirit begin preaching like James Brown in 16 different languages.  This is new and different.  This had the potential to upset the clearly defined ways we have always done things.  This was disconcerting at best, damaging at worst.

So once again the self-appointed gatekeepers swung into action.  This time, though, there were no leaders to go to.  So this time the gatekeepers sought to discredit the disciples by accusing them of being drunkards.  If you can't discount the message, then discount the messenger; because, obviously, if someone isn't proclaiming the Good News in the right way, there must be something wrong with them.  And if the gatekeepers can get people to doubt the messenger, then the message itself will be called into question, where it will finally be shut down and the old, familiar ways prevail.

Gatekeepers are obsessed with making sure things are done right according to their determination of what is right and acceptable.  In other words, there's no room for the Spirit to work.

Don't get me wrong: there is a place for rules and procedures, and for the people who help ensure the rules and procedures are followed.  After all, I am a referee.  But when we as a church get hung up on “Doing it Right” rather than “Doing It,” we've missed the point.

Today is Pentecost.  Today we remember two Israelites who, filled with the Holy Spirit, dared to be different.  Today we remember twelve disciples who were baptized with the fire of that same Spirit and began preaching to all nations in a new way.  Today we celebrate God's Spirit among us and, hopefully, begin preaching the Good News to those outside our walls in a language they can hear.

And today, when it comes to inviting, welcoming and proclaiming, let's worry less about doing it right and worry more about simply doing it.

Alleluia, alleluia!  Today is Pentecost!  Who will you tell?



Patience | 7:39 PM, June 08, 2014  

I think my favorite thing about that passage of Acts, which I'd never noticed prior, was the reaction: "They're not drunk! Geez, it's nine in the morning!"

Reverend Ref + | 11:32 PM, June 08, 2014  

That's my second favorite verse in the Bible. My first?

"Jael took a tent peg and went to Sisera as he lay sleeping and drove the tent peg through his temple into the ground. And he died."

And he died? You don't say. For some reason it cracks me up that the writer felt it important to qualify that Sisera died after, you know, having a tent peg driven through his head into the ground.

First time comments will be moderated.