Text: Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost)
Some of you may not know this, but I am a bit of a Rollercoaster nut. When Megan was Ian’s age, for a few years Sarah and myself had Season’s Passes Canada’s Wonderland north of Toronto, and we’d go as often as we were able. Of course, having a young child means that the types of rides we would go on would be very different than our usual preferred fare. However, at least one day one summer when Megan was about four, she ended up in daycare on our usual day off, so Sarah and I decided to take advantage of that and hit as many roller coasters in the park… including a massive new super coaster called the Behemoth. If you’ve ever driven past Canada’s Wonderland on highway 400, it’s hard to miss. It dominates the south end of the park, dwarfing every other ride.
It’s the big attraction… and when there are no other line-ups in the park, people are lining up to get onto the Behemoth. According to the technical specifications, it lifts you 70m (about 230 feet) into the air, before sending you into a dive that pushes you into speeding ticket territory on even the 400 series highways… The difference is, you’re strapped to a buggy on a rail with no windshield diving at angles of up to 75 degrees. Even if you’re not a rollercoaster fan, by the end of the ride you’re very likely to be smiling because the rush of the wind and inertia has pushed your cheeks backwards and up… along with everything else. It really is quite the rush… and it is most definitely a wild experience.
Granted, roller coasters are not everybody’s cup of tea… but all of us do experience something that excites us that gives us that rush of adrenaline or excitement that spurs us forward. It’s no coincidence that when we tell the Pentecost story, there is this sound of rushing wind… and suddenly these once lunk-headed disciples are transformed into powerful leaders who themselves will change the world.
We call that the Holy Spirit.
For those of us as part of more staid traditions, there are many words that we often associate with worship and our life together as Christians, but I suspect that “adrenaline” and “rush” are not usually one of them. But why is that? We’re United Church, we don’t do adrenaline! Or at least that’s what we’ve led ourselves to believe.
But here we are on Pentecost Sunday, where the people who followed Jesus in life have a life-transforming experience… and suddenly they are no longer the backwater hicks from Galilee… but a people spurred on to continue God’s story on earth. Up until now they had been content to listen at the feet of Jesus, to hear what he had to say about how God sees the world, that God’s love is not just for the elites, or the ones who follow the rules, but is just as much for the outcasts.
It was a passive kind of relationship. Jesus did all the talking… all the doing… all the healing… and all the teaching. They just had to be there to bask in his glow.
But Pentecost changed all that. Something was unleashed on them that infused them with a sense of enthusiasm, a sense of purpose, and a sense of actually being what Jesus preached instead of just being passive listeners. Suddenly it was no longer a single individual proclaiming, teaching, and healing, but a whole raft of people… and a movement began with a rush… and a sense of purpose, hope and optimism that God was truly up to something magnificent. This experience transformed them to be something entirely new… far beyond what they likely expected of themselves in their own ordinary lives.
We call that the Holy Spirit.
But where are we in the story ourselves? In this amazingly transformative moment in history, where are we? Are we more likely to be amongst the disciples, who themselves are bewildered by what has happened to them, suddenly discovering gifts they never knew they had? Are we more like many visitors from across time and space that heard and witnessed this event, astounded at how this message spoke to their own personal situation? Are we more like the cynical self-righteous observers, calling this whole spectacle a shameful example of drunken debauchery? At some point or another we can probably identify with any one of these groups.
Wherever we find ourselves, this is a message for the world. Up until this point, religious expression was something controlled by the elites… that the common people had to go to in order to have access to God. Jesus reversed all that, by proclaiming that God with us and amongst us in a very real sense… and was not bound to any temple or building… but that all of us have equal access to the Divine in our lives. The experience of Pentecost pushed that a step further, where people began to experience that message for themselves. In this sudden rush, God was no longer limited to a building or a single person… but there is this sudden realization that in the Holy Spirit, God is as close to us as the very air we breathe.
I don’t think we realize how truly profound this is. We have a lot of warm fuzzy expressions about what God is from all quarters… Up there… watching us from a distance… a generic benevolent entity that is kind of like a moral watchmaker… but this is not how we experience God on Pentecost. In the Holy Spirit, God is very much that in-your-face adrenaline rush rollercoaster experience that opens up new worlds and new possibilities… and oddly enough it’s perhaps the one unique thing that we can talk about God is how we experience God our lives.
Communities where people can experience the love and friendship and power of God in their lives are opening us up to something entirely different. It is why the question our experience of God in our lives is so critical to our Spiritual growth. Experiences are key to connecting the world around us, and we might wake up to the reality that God is already up to something. How you and I experience the world around us is essential to our connection with God… because God is as close to us as the air we breathe.
Let me share something with you. Megan was baptized at Knox United Church in Parksville on Vancouver Island. We wanted to be parents, rather than ministers, so went to the church that my in-laws attended. For me, it was an unfamiliar environment, but maybe because of the different settings, I had one of those personal experiences of God.
In the lead in to the baptism, we sang a song that at the time I did not know… not even slightly. I had never heard it before… I had never even had a chance to really look at the lyrics, I didn’t know the tune… nothing at all… and yet by the end of the song, I was doing something I have never done in the course of worship before or since: I was crying… I had tears streaming down my face… because the words and the music of this song touched me in that moment in a way that’s hard to describe.
The first verse was this:
“I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old. I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold.” –It’s number 644 in Voices United, if you’re curious.
In that moment, I had a brief flash of Megan’s life unfolding out from this moment… and that I will be a part of her life… but someday I won’t be… but God will. It was a “quiet” adrenaline rush moment in which I realized that Megan isn’t my child… she is not my possession… but a precious gift that God has entrusted me with for only a time as her life unfolds. It’s almost as if I had a vision of my baby daughter as an old woman, reflecting back on her own life, and our eyes met across time… and through the lyrics of a song that I didn’t know… I experienced God’s profound love… not as a minister, not as someone who has had all kinds of training in being able to talk about God… I experienced God as a brand-new parent… scared as hell that I don’t have what it takes to be the kind of Dad Megan needs… and receiving a profound assurance that Sarah and I weren’t alone in this.
We call that the Holy Spirit.
Wild-ride adrenaline experiences can be opportunities for us to realize God’s presence in our lives, but they serve as a greater reminder that God is always there. Because even in those profoundly quiet moments, we can experience God. The experience of God is what moves us forward, not necessarily the type of experience. It’s just that we don’t always recognize that experience for what it truly is. Maybe we need to look back on those experiences in our lives where we discover strength we never knew we had. Maybe we need to remember those times where something unexpected changed our lives for the better. Maybe we need to realize that in those moments… we call that the Holy Spirit.