I the spectacular nature of the phenomenon of speaking in tongues can detract from the transformational miracle at work. On that day, the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples’ belief about themselves. Consider the small band of Jesus’ followers was a group of frightened, bewildered people after the crucifixion. Remember, all of them ran away when the hour came and went into hiding. Peter, the “rock”, denied even knowing Jesus. They were all confused by the empty tomb. And even as they began to encounter the risen Lord, they still had very legitimate fears of what the Jewish and Roman authorities would do to them. Guilt by association was good enough to send many people to their own execution in first century Palestine. But on Pentecost, something happened.
Gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavout (the Jewish celebration of first harvest and the giving of the law to Moses), the disciples were transformed from frightened, to fearless – from timid to confident. They no longer considered their own safety and they went out proclaiming the Gospel boldly – even to the point of dying for it. Pentecost was when the disciples understood they were both chosen and sent.
We often think of being chosen as something relegated to the biblical story: like God choosing Moses through the burning bush, Jesus choosing his disciples saying “follow me,” or even Paul’s dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road. Being chosen was very familiar to Jesus and his followers as the Jewish people understood themselves to be chosen by God through the covenant with Abraham. But how does work for us?
Well, let me pose a question to you: Why are you here? Why are you here? Younger members will probably answer, “Because Mom and Dad make me come!” That may be true, but if it is, then ask, “Why do Mom and Dad come?” Why? There is no “church police” out there rounding up non-churchgoers and making them come to church. There is no “church boss” that will fire you from your job for not going to church. So, why are you here?
I’m sure the voice in your head has begun to make a list of reasons why you are here at Grace – and every list would be different. But the mental list you have made of why you come here is not really why you are here. Instead, I submit to you the things you’ve cited are “trigger points” or “leverage points” that the Holy Spirit has used to move you to this place. What you have listed is God’s call to you. The real reason you are here will be the same for all of you – you are here because you were chosen to be here and you said “yes” to that call. Just as Jesus chose his followers 2000 years ago, He chooses them still today. As Christians, we are chosen and the Good News is that in God’s realm, all may be chosen who have ears to hear the message and hearts to respond “yes” to God’s call. As Henri Nouwen stated in his book “Life of the Beloved,” our earthly definition of “chosen” implies that some are chosen, while others are not; however, that is not how God’s kingdom works. In God’s kingdom, all of creation is chosen; but it is up to us to say “yes” to God’s offer of relationship.
This relationship with the Living God through Christ is a gift and it carries an obligation: that we share it with others. This makes us a people who are also sent – just like those first disciples. On Pentecost, the disciples went boldly into the streets of Jerusalem, and from there all of the known Roman world, to tell their story of how they experienced God in the person of Jesus Christ. We are also called to be sent into the world to share our story. Being sent calls us to walk out those doors into a world which is often indifferent to Christians and where it isn’t always easy to tell our story. And if you feel like you don’t know how, that’s ok too. Remember, the disciples didn’t know how either, but they trusted God and each other to help them each find their own way to tell their story. That’s what the Church does for us – it provides a community of support to help us tell our stories.
Now you may think you don’t really have much of a story to tell. That little voice in your head may be saying, “I’m not that special. My story isn’t very interesting.” You may not think it is, but don’t be too quick to judge. You see the gospel isn’t just a book from which I read on Sunday mornings. It isn’t just what we hear from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each of you is a living, breathing, incarnate gospel of Christ. And your stories of how your relationship with Christ matters and makes a difference in your life are frankly far more compelling and accessible to those outside the Church than anything in some 2,000 year old book! You may very well be the first gospel anyone “reads” and you can only be read if you are willing to tell your story.
We tell our stories in both words and actions. It isn’t about preaching on a street corner. When we go the extra mile to help another, when we live our lives as genuine, authentic, “warts and all” Christians, when we offer to pray for a friend, a teacher, or a coworker – all of these are simple examples of telling your story.
Our call as Christians on this day of Pentecost is accept and embrace that we are both chosen and sent because we are “marked as Christ’s own forever” in baptism. My charge to you on this most holy day is to trust the power of the Spirit that you may be a living gospel in a world which longs to hear the good news of what Christ is doing right here, right now.