Sermon Archives

Roll of the Dice ~ Acts 2:1-21

What a risk God took with you and with me! Talk about rolling the dice. In the Creation, at the Exodus, in the forming of a people, in the Incarnation, in the Resurrection and now on Pentecost – it’s as though God just keeps rolling the dice, presuming that humans, you and I, God’s most fickle creation, are going to come up lucky sevens.

Mary Doria Russell in her novel “Children of God” talks about the Incarnation – when God became flesh, the birth of Jesus – the fundamental Christian belief that God became a human, one of us – like you and me. One of the characters in her novel talks about the “glorious looniness” of a God who keep chasing humanity down the corridors of history, a God who cannot and will not give up on God’s creation, a God who refuses to wash his hands of the human mess and start over, a God who is defined by a lover’s madness and who cannot let us go.

And once again – God gathers a group of people and sets upon them the task of being Church, of living life in such a way that they become living witnesses of the kingdom of God. Not the kingdom of God in the future, not in the by and by, after we die – but of the risky, transformative, topsy-turvy kingdom of God in the NOW.

We read in the Scripture: “In the last days it will be, God declares….” Well, let me tell you something…the last days are now. Today is the last day. Yesterday was the last day. Tomorrow is the last day. The first day of Pentecost was the last day. A week from now will be the last day.

We have to get beyond thinking about time as linear. We have to move past this false idea that God is bound by historical time, by our time, by the years, by chronological time. Remember that wonderful hymn: “A thousand ages in thy sight, are like an evening gone.” Each day is the last day. Each day is the first day too, of course. Each day is Armageddon and each day is the moment that God spoke and there was.

Each day is Christmas and each day is Easter and each day is Pentecost. Each day is full with the glory of God – actually and potentially.

And yet God comes to you and to me into our lives and into our time and into our history and changes everything if we would be open to it. God fills chronological time, clock time, historical time, your time with kairos time – full time, perfect time, pregnant time, creative time, when time stops…and goes too fast. Each moment can be full, is full – very full. You could die, you could live. You could liberate. You could enslave. You could love. You could hate, you could speak, you could stay silent. Each moment is like this ripe piece of fruit.

You know that I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books and movies. As you know there is a ring that has tremendous power for evil. It must be destroyed. And so there is a meeting of humans, elves, dwarves and wizards – and they begin to argue with each other in a chaotic mess of competing claims and voices. (Sounds rather like the Church….)And then a hobbit–Frodo – steps forward and says that he will take the ring. Now hobbits are small, not very powerful – but they have heart and imagination and are full of surprises and they do what is put before them. In one scene Frodo and his band is lost in the mines of Moria. He and the gentle wizard Gandalf are speaking.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

In the midst our times, some would say evil times, some would even say in the last times – sometimes I wish I lived in another time or I could turn the clock back in time. But God has given us a spirit – continually offers the spirit – and we can’t choose the times we live in but we can decide what to do with the time given to us: today time, this rich time, full time. Now time. Pentecost time.

God rolled the dice and chose you and me to do the divine will – and there is no better time then now, no other time than now, no other people than you.

It is glorious and it is loony. I look out at you. And it is very encouraging. Because I can’t think of another people that I would like to be with now, in this time and in this age, at this moment.

Aren’t you blown away–in the Scripture we just heard–by the fact that it is Peter making this Pentecostal pronouncement? Peter? Really? The liar, the betrayer, the one who already had a moment to stand up for Jesus; Remember, he was in the courtyard the night before Jesus’ death and he had his chance to make his stand – and he failed. He gave up worse than LeBron and the Cavs in Game Five.

And there he is presuming to speak to the people. God rolled the dice with Peter… what made God think Peter would get it right this time? But just as the Spirit gave life to dead bones in the desert, so too does the Spirit bring new life to Peter, gives him his voice, his being, once again.

If God chose Peter – what might God be wanting to do with me? With you? With us? We, along with the church throughout the ages, who have failed again and again to be our best and to stand up for what we know is right. Yes, we the church who have throughout history capitulated sometimes to the worst of human madness.

And what might God be wanting to do with the church that seems to spend more time infighting and arguing over who gets to preach, and how many angels dance on the head of a pin? It is indeed the stuff of drunken madness.

And yet, I have to believe that God is somehow delighted with us – delighted with you and with me. That God is encouraged that you and I were meant to be the church, the body of Christ in the world – just as much as Frodo was meant to have that ring.

What a roll of the dice, glorious looniness – absurdity.

My friends, this Pentecost thing is not some story from the past – some memorial memory – the Spirit is still being poured out on all flesh, on all sons and daughters – the young and the old are still seeing visions and dreaming dreams – despite institutions trying to control, and your own inner loop of recorded psycho-messages inside your head telling us all the things you shouldn’t do – and yet there is a yearning in all of us to break down and break out, and I’m telling you – that is the Holy Spirit.

Upon the slaves, the Spirit will pour out. As Clover pushed us last week to consider: what are you a slave to? We may not have institutional slavery encoded in our legislation anymore, but can any of us claim that most are not enslaved to something or other? Expectations, career, addictions? But the good news is that even in your slavery, while you are in slavery – the Spirit comes – you don’t have to get your life together first, or be liberated first before the Spirit comes – you don’t have any control over that anyway.

First let the spirit have its way with you, wherever you are, and then see what happens. I remember being in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh museum and seeing all this unbelievably moving art, this passionate art full of pathos and sadness and beauty. Van Gogh was a tormented man… enslaved to mental illness… I wouldn’t wish that on anyone… and yet the Spirit was poured out on him, spoke through him and it moves million of viewers, flocking to the gallery – he communicates still. Yes, I wish he had been less tormented, but oh, the gift of the Spirit in him.

And when the Spirit of Pentecost is being poured out today or yesterday or tomorrow, it will always be prophetic. And that doesn’t mean we are going to know when the end of the world is going to be. The end of the world happened on Calvary, it ended yesterday, it will end tomorrow – it will end in a million years. Who cares? Because “prophetic” means that justice and equity will stir; and the widow and the orphan will be taken care of; and the slave will speak up. And the rich will be thrown down and the poor lifted up. And the church will speak up against any kind of economic exploitation and will rage against the false gods of money and any economic system – for when anyone goes hungry we all do. When anyone falls through the cracks it is as if Jesus himself falls.

As the oil gushes into the gulf – the very sea of life from whence we crawled is now a dead zone of sludge. Is not this the end of that world? And we argue if healthcare is going to wreck the economy when we are spending more money in war than on anything else combined tenfold – where is the prophetic voice. I talked about divine looniness… that is human looniness at its worst. Yes indeed, I am opening myself to the Pentecost spirit – it isn’t polite, it isn’t patriotic, frankly it’s crazy, it is dangerous stuff. It is no opiate of the masses, friends, it’s more like crack! It makes you do weird things and see weird things and then act on them.

Living the Pentecost way is no easy way. You heard what was read: portents and signs: sun will go dark and moon turned to blood… and I have bumped into those moments, haven’t you? When you thought your world was crumbling and everything was being changed – and it was changed, and you look back now and detect the indication of a larger plan. Sun going dark and moon turning to blood – as good a description as any of what my brother felt like when his cancer came back and he knew he was going to die. He called on the name of the Lord, we all did. That was a Pentecost moment.

See, we’re missing the point of every biblical story in the whole collection if we think they are bound by some past event that is now locked in time. Or if they really happened just the way they are described in the Bible – they are happening all the time, to each of us – in this glorious looniness called life. You know the famous Faulkner quotation: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” It is here and now and happening.

God continually calls you, continually calls me, calls us, pours out Spirit, rolls the dice with us, yearns for us – and all God wants is for you to “call him back.”

Many Christians claim that they know what it means to call on the name of the Lord. What it means to be “saved” or whatever. Don’t believe them too quickly. It isn’t a formula. There’s no magic words. Sometimes your deepest curse is the shout out for help. People who are on the verge of destruction usually aren’t very polite – they will do anything.

But we are told that Peter, that Peter, and the disciples were given words and folks who were gathered from all the nations understood. You see, there is a common language for yearning, there is a common desire for justice, there is a common humanity. You already have that language. You already have your story. You already have your gift. You already have your faith – don’t belittle it. Others will resonate as you witness. Strangers will notice because they are looking for what you have and who you are.

Let your life speak, your choices speak, your checkbook speak. People will come. God will use whatever. Don’t say what you don’t believe… but proclaim what you do. There will be enough who hear. Don’t belittle your message, your style – work it. And please don’t give your doubt more power than it deserves. Your deepest, most faithful doubt will resonate with others, trust me.

I know a person who says he doesn’t believe and yet everything he does shouts the compassion, grace and love of Jesus. That’s how I hear it and I am attracted… I want to be like him. You see, the Spirit is using him to speak to me and I understand it. Someone else might not. Others might see him as a sinner because he doesn’t claim Jesus – but I’m not worried about those people. No judgment – it simply doesn’t matter – they will hear what they need to hear too.

You see, the glorious looniness of God means that God uses it all – the messes and the well-thought out plans – but it is usually the former that creates the most opportunities. Remember, the chaos brought forth light.

God took a risk and wants you to take a risk too. God took a risk with Jesus. Jesus could have gotten off that cross, but he didn’t. And Jesus is offering his life for you today in this Eucharist, in this place, in this moment – for you, in you, with you. God is pouring out the spirit on you today. So let it pour out. Let it pour out. Let it pour out on all flesh, on this flesh, on your flesh. Let it pour out.

Spirit come!

It has come, it is coming, it will come again. Let the flood and fire continue. Please Lord! …roll the dice with us again.