Spirit for All

Acts 2:1-21

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re driving in the car and listening to the radio and you become so engrossed in the story that even though you’ve arrived at your destination, you can’t leave the car until you’ve heard the end? I’ve heard some people call these “driveway moments.” Isn’t it interesting? One moment you’re driving in your car, minding your own business, and boom! A “driveway moment” suddenly touches your heart or changes your perspective on life.

Now, I read about such a “driveway” moment this past week. Rev. Scott Kenefake tells a story about listening to a radio program called Tapestry. Now, if you haven’t heard of Tapestry, it exclusively features programming related to spirituality, faith, and religion. Anyway, the program’s host was interviewing former chef, religious skeptic, and journalist named Sara Miles, about her unexpected and inconvenient “driveway moment.” Her driveway moment wasn’t in her car, but rather came as she entered a church, on impulse, in San Francisco one Sunday.

You see, Miles was raised in a non-religious family and she was happily living an “enthusiastically secular life” as a restaurant cook and journalist, indifferent to religion at best. As she says in the Prologue to her book, Take This Bread, “I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian…. Or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut.”[1] But as she entered the doors of St. Gregory Episcopal Church in San Francisco on a whim and ate a piece of bread and took a sip of wine, she found herself radically transformed. At the age of 46 this was her first communion and it changed everything.

I share this with you today because on Pentecost we focus on biblical stories in which God’s Spirit, God’s presence with us, encounters ordinary human beings in wonderful and unexpected ways. Encounters that have the potential to change everything.

Pentecost is, of course, the birthday of the church. Historically, however, it was an important Jewish festival. It was one of three “pilgrimage” festivals that were ideally spent in Jerusalem. Pentecost occurred fifty days after Passover serving as the commemoration of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. It recalled, not only the giving of the covenant to Israel at Mt. Sinai, but also the creation of a new kind of community; a radically different way of living after Egypt.

Early Christians incorporated these themes into our understanding of Pentecost as well. In post-modern Christianity, “The central affirmation of Pentecost is that the Spirit promised by Jesus is now present among his followers and in the world. The Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. This claim is foundational to the New Testament and early Christianity.”[2]

And we see this played out in the story we have before us today. Luke, the author of Acts, used the symbols of wind and fire to engage a diverse group of Pentecost pilgrims. Pilgrims who spoke a variety of different languages because they were from various parts of the Roman Empire. But Luke tells us that they were suddenly enabled by the Spirit to comprehend a universally understood language. In essence this is a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel that we find in Genesis, where the narrator says, “The Lord confused the language of all the earth.”

So, Luke is saying in this narrative that Pentecost is the beginning of the reunification of humanity; the creation of a new kind of community in the Church. And a once timid, frightened, and discouraged group of Jesus’ followers, his disciples, suddenly become forceful, confident, and unified advocates, sharing their experience of the risen Christ.

But, unfortunately, the Church has not always followed suit. In the book that inspired the video series we’re watching in Bible Study, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, David Felten and Jeff Proctor Murphy share the following thoughts.

“In many faith traditions,” they write, “it is tradition itself that is worshipped, held up as the whole purpose of the religious enterprise. Be it infatuation with ‘smells and bells’ or resistance to inclusive language, many faithful people have confused defense of their understanding of right practice and right thinking with what they call faith. They insulate themselves from the unpredictable, demanding, transforming nature of the Spirit with a fierce, pious, unbending commitment to the church. They practice what Richard Rohr has called a ‘cosmetic piety’ intended to look good on the surface but lacking any real depth or complexity. Defense of the changeless nature of their revealed truth becomes a virtue to be aspired to, regardless of how lifeless and rote the practice itself becomes.”[3]

Do you see what their driving at here? When we let the rules, or the dogma, or the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” rule the day, we cease to be moved by the Spirit. But, if we are able to understand our history and tradition in its proper context and allow ourselves as a community to indwell the Spirit of the Living God, unexpected and wonderful things can happen.

That was the experience of Sara Miles, you remember, the enthusiastic atheist, who had no intention of becoming a follower of Jesus.  That is, until she met him as a living reality, in the bread and wine of the sacrament. How did this encounter change her life?Well, she started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit and vegetables and cereal around the same altar where she first received communion. She then organized new pantries all over the city to provide hundreds of hungry families with free groceries each week. Without committees or meetings or even an official telephone number, she recruited scores of volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.[4]

My friends, the Spirit of the Living God, described in scripture by the symbols of wind, fire, and breath, radically transformed Sara Miles’ life and her community. When the spirit is active and present, it’s not just about, “me,” but about, “we.” It’s about the creation of a new kind of inclusive, welcoming, community based on love.

But Sara Miles also discovered that her newly transformed life wasn’t necessarily going to be easy. She had to trudge in the rain through housing projects, sit on the curb wiping the runny nose of a psychotic man, take the firing pin out of a battered woman’s .357 Magnum, then stick the gun in a cookie tin in the trunk of her car, and struggle with her family and friends, who thought she’d lost her mind. Sara also came face to face with the politics of food, the economy of hunger, and the rules of money.[5]

The point of all this is that the Spirit brings change! My friends, being a person of faith “…is not about things we should or shouldn’t do, or even about being nice. It’s about reveling in the beauty of creation, it’s about taking part in the wonderment of it all by living, loving, and being. It’s about embracing the pain and suffering of the world and transforming it into new life. It’s about harnessing the creative Spirit that is so much a part of what it means to be human.”[6]

And in our human-ness, maybe because of our human-ness, God provides us with countless “driveway moments.” Opportunities each and every day to be and become more than we currently are. Opportunities to reach out beyond ourselves, sharing the love and grace and compassion of Christ with our neighbor, whoever or where ever that neighbor may be. Opportunities to hear, if we listen hard enough, for the Still-Speaking voice of God.  A voice that reassures us that the Spirit is alive and active in the world today and is bringing renewal and revitalization within and beyond the Church.

I’m going to leave you today with a quote from Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs,” He once said. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Through the indwelling of the Spirit, may we all “come alive!”



[1] Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, Ballantine Books, 2008, Prologue

[2] Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Power-And How They Can Be Restored, Harper One, 2011, p. 184

[3] David M. Felten and Jeff Proctor-Murphy, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, Harper One, 2012, pp. 211, 212

[4] saramiles.net

[5] Ibid. Miles.

[6] Ibid. Felten. p. 218

(Acknowledgment: a great deal of the inspiration for this message came from a sermon called Driveway Moments by Rev. Dr. Scott Kenefake found at http://www.Day1.org)

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