Montreat Youth Conference Sermon #3 on Pentecost

Glow sticks as Pentecost chaos light up Montreat sky.
Glow sticks as Pentecost chaos light up Montreat sky.

In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences. Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week. The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Wednesday was “Be the Difference in Your Church.” This sermon is from evening worship on Wednesday, the third day of the conference.

My first sermon on the Call of Paul can be found here. My second sermon on the Young Man Born Blind can be found here.

Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Wednesday).

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost for us Montreat the day we name dreams and see visions and this Holy Spirit of ours is no tame spirit.

Our Holy Spirit is less than predictable in order for God’s dreams can be released through us.

Here is my Pentecost story: I celebrated Easter while I was in Atlanta with the Open Door Community, the community I worshipped with while I lived in Atlanta during my JVC year.

Open Door is an intentional Christian community that shares meals and clothes with the homeless of Atlanta, makes visits to those in the Atlanta jail and on Georgia’s death row.

When I worshiped at Open Door, I worshiped with middle class folks, people whose stomachs rumbled with hunger, people who used to be in jail and prison, family members of those on death row in Georgia, and those who were homeless on Atlanta streets.

That Easter morning, while I was in Atlanta, the Open Door had a breakfast for close to 500 homeless folks in downtown Atlanta—that was Open Door’s Easter worship…living out the resurrection by sharing food with the most hungry.

There I was at 5am with volunteers and homeless folks. I was given the job of boiled eggs. I would hand out one boiled egg to each person to go along with their coffee, sausage, and grits full of butter and cream.

As the Easter sun was coming up, hundreds of homeless folks were gathered for breakfast.  Those who had made the food for hoping for enough eggs and sausage and grits.

The energy was palpable as people who came to eat were hungry, volunteers were rushing around non-stop, trying to keep on top of tasks and stay organized.

It was chaotic and lovely all at once.

I was busy at my boiled egg station—very determined to be the best boiled egg hander outer of all time. Place egg on top of grits in Styrofoam bowl. Egg on top of grits.

I placed eggs on top of grits for 2 hours. As things were winding down, as the late comers came to the line for the last of the food, as my body and brain started to slow down, a guy came to my boiled egg spot, asked for an egg,

I placed it on the bowl of grits. I looked up. We made eye contact.

The man said, “Happy Easter.”

And I just froze in place. Stopped in my boiled egg tracks.

Happy Easter I said back, almost stunned.

Right. It’s Easter.

For 2 hours I had been super focused on my job as the boiled egg woman in the chaotic scene of sharing breakfast with hundreds of hungry folks.

My homeless friend stopped me in my tracks, like Paul with that light from the heavens, and my friends 2 words scorched my heart.

Yes. It’s Easter.

The day when love and connection and community and the radical act of sharing things like boiled eggs show that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

My homeless friends two words created a connection—I was so busy handing out eggs I forgot about the people in front of me.

I remember leaving that Easter breakfast realizing I had just felt (not just thought about), felt the resurrection.

Just as the parents in our story from yesterday missed the moment to say “We love you” to their son, I was missing the moment with the other 499 homeless folks who came for a boiled egg.

I wonder……when you’ve been in a place, where chaos and noise and confusion were everywhere and all of a sudden you got a crystal clear message.

Something just stopped you in your tracks.

When you realized that you weren’t paying attention to the loudest message, you were hit in the face with the clearest message.

The Apostle Paul was stopped in his tracks, blind, couldn’t see until the scales fell off his eyes and he was able to see Jesus’ message of love, sharing and non-violence.

The parents and crowd of our friend the young blind man were stopped in their tracks, confused, agitated over the healing sight received.

Now we are at Pentecost, the day we not only see, we see and we hear and feel the Spirit.

When my homeless friend said “Happy Easter” those words went through me. I felt them. We made eye contact. We heard each other. And I felt his words in me, my heart, my brain, my spirit.

And I just went that Easter morning to serve some boiled eggs.

What I got, again, through the words of my homeless friend, was God turning me upside down, dumping me on my head, and saying pay attention—share that boiled egg with some love, some compassion.

Not just plunk goes the egg on the grits.

In our Acts story, people had gathered together for a spring grain harvest, a Jewish celebration called Shavout.

These friends of Jesus were still heartbroken over his death.

Yes he had been resurrected yet Jesus physically wasn’t there anymore. And that must have been really sad.

For those of us who have gone through loss and grief, community gatherings and predictability after a death can be important.

This would have been their first Shavout without Jesus.

Shavout was going to be a predictable experience—something the people had done over and over again, something they could count on.

Jesus’s friends weren’t gathering because they knew God was going to blow the doors open and this incredible Pentecost Day was going to happen.

A simple, planned feast of grains turned into an experience of confused, chaotic, multi-lingual, Spirit-driven outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Where have you been and the unexpected happens?

Have you been somewhere, expecting and needing things to go “as planned” and everything was disrupted?

Where all of a sudden you realized you had no idea what was going on?

When you thought you were in charge, or you were the one in control or you knew what to expect?

Do you see and hear the patterns in our stories this week?

When did you think you had it all figured out, when did you think you knew where life was headed, when the notion of family was disrupted to mean the body of Christ?

The Holy Spirit was let loose on Pentecost in order to for those Pentecost folks to hear these prophetic words from Joel:

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, they shall tell God’s truth, your young ones shall see vision, your older ones shall dream dreams.

 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my spirit; and they shall prophesy.

Our God is a dreamer and God has been dreaming since the beginning.

From chaos to order at Creation God dreamed of beauty and community for all of life.

After the flood, God dreamed of life again. God dreamed for our Biblical ancestors who struggled to survive in the ancient middle eastern desert.

As the Israelites imagined liberation, God dreamed for their freedom.

As Mary and Joseph prepared to become parents, God dreamed for family and love.

As the baby Jesus grew, was presented at the Temple; as Jesus found his own voice, after Jesus almost got run off a cliff, God dreamed.

God dreamed for life as Jesus died on a cross, and when God did an amazing thing and made Jesus alive again, God kept on dreaming.

Paul’s life was transformed by God’s dream of a community of Jews and Gentiles.

The young man born blind had dreams as he begged on the streets, he had more dreams after he became a Follower of the Way.

I love what Rodger said this morning about who these words are directed to: the youth, sons and daughters (youth again), older folks, and slaves.

The directive to see visions, dream dreams and prophesy didn’t come to the powerful and in charge.

The task of dreaming, visioning, prophesying wasn’t given to royalty, the military, or those we typically think of being in-charge and being the experts on visions.

Again, as Jesus can flip our lives upside down, Jesus and the prophets flip upside down our understanding of power, our understanding of who is powerful in the name of Jesus, how we see communities organized—

Dreaming for the sake of God starts with those we most often overlook.

And these dreams, God’s dreams….. aren’t just happy go lucky dreams.

These aren’t magical, far off and away dreams like a Disney movie.

God’s dreams are for a world made new. Our planet is broken—fractured, polluted, impoverished, starving….

God dreams for a world made new where there is healing and wholeness, love and sharing, where Creation can breathe without filling out lungs with pollution.

The Holy Spirit scorched those Pentecost folk, tossed out the original plan for their festival, tossed it all into the air, pushed everyone out of their comfort zone in order to tell the truth about God’s dream and vision for the planet, in order to get folks dreaming about a world made new.

And that truth is this: the seeing, the knowing, the hearing, the feeling that comes to us from the Holy Spirit as we live as followers of the Way are not for ourselves alone.

What does a world made new look like? It means that my homeless friend in Atlanta wouldn’t have to go to a parking lot on Easter morning to get a boiled egg.

God’s dream for my friend would be he’d have his own home where he could cook his own egg, possibly with his family; my homeless friend would have a job that paid well and an apartment that he could afford.

Everything got tossed up in the air on that Pentecost Day, got set on fire because God’s dreams;

God knows we need to be turned upside down, our doors need to be blown open and our hair needs to be set on fire to get our attention, pull us out of our routines, out of our places of privilege and power in order that we can dream in the ways of God.

The Pilgrimage is the primary outreach ministry of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. where I am one of the pastors.

The Pilgrimage is set-up like a hostel inside Pilgrims building and we welcome youth and college groups all year round to do service learning and reflection around urban poverty and homelessness.

8,000 folks are homeless in DC on any given night. Almost 500 of those folks are homeless youth—young people your age living on the streets or in someone else’s home.

So take all 500 or so of you and put you on the streets of DC for the night and that’s our homeless youth.

When groups come to The Pilgrimage we tell them right away to listen, look, and feel.

Listen to the stories of the poor and homeless. Look for the ways the Spirit is at work on the streets of D.C. caring for those who are neglected and rejected.

Our Pilgrimage groups open their eyes, their ears so they can hear and feel stories of folks they might otherwise walk past on a daily basis.

We want our Pilgrimage groups see how the Spirit comes along and breaks things wide open, our wild, fierce Holy Spirit that comes to places of brokenness and seeking and longing and incredible emptiness and that Spirit rushes in like a mighty wind in the shape of a bagged lunch, a hot meal, a warm, dry blanket, a meaningful conversation.

Our Pilgrimage groups listen to the stories of the poor and homeless while they are with us.

Listening to stories is crucial to disrupting myths and stereotypes about homeless folks—the myth that homeless folks are lazy, uneducated, don’t want to work, are choosing to be homeless.

Our Pilgrimage groups hear stories like these:

They hear from David, the Pilgrimage’s own Poet-in-Residence, and his work of tending to his depression and caring for his heart disease.

David lived on a bus stop for several years while homeless in D.C., living with depression and health concerns. David now has his own apartment and a team of doctors at Georgetown Hospital who care for him.

Pilgrimage groups hear the story of John who lost his job at the same time his home burned down.

He lived in his car in a shopping mall parking lot for a while before he started living on the streets. For John, homelessness was an exhausting experience. “it was hard to look beyond whatever day it was.”

They hear the story of Steve who was involved with drugs and alcohol at a young age. His mom was incredibly abusive. In 2005 Steve became homeless. Steve says, “As I walked down the streets of DC, I saw people on every single park bench, and it hit me: They’re homeless, and I am too.”

Steve found a bench and stayed there for 18 months. He met a volunteer from a homeless care and outreach van who asked Steve, “Would you allow me to help you?” Steve said yes.

As our Pilgrimage groups hear and feel these stories of homelessness, you can see the scales falling from their eyes. You can see the mud getting washed away and clarity coming—our Pilgrimage groups start to see Steve, David, T, John are people with faces, names, families, people with hopes and dreams for their lives.

It’s a Pentecost moment when our Pilgrimage groups ideas, myths, stereotypes, assumptions get tossed into the air like the chaos of the original Pentecost day.

I was driving to a soccer tournament with my 14-year-old son, Sam a couple of weeks ago. We were at a stop light when we saw a woman holding a cardboard sign that read, “Homeless. Please help.”

Sam turned his eyes away from the woman, looked at me and said, “Mom, it makes it easier if I don’t look, if I turn away.”

Yep. Sam’s right. It does make it easier.

When we turn away, don’t see or look for the hungry and homeless, it does make it easier to ignore homeless folks.

When have you looked away?

When have you looked away because you didn’t want to hear or feel the story of someone who was hurting?

When have you looked away because someone who was homeless, hungry, sick made you feel anxious or uncomfortable.

When has your church looked away to the homeless and hungry—those living on your streets, those hungry in your city and living on someone else’s couch?

When has your church said “it’s easier if we don’t look, if we turn away.”

Our Pilgrimage groups hear and feel the dreams of David, T, Steve, and John.

Dreams of a job. Dreams of a healthy body. Dreams of medication for depression. Dreams of a home. Dreams of a world made new where folks aren’t living on the streets, kids aren’t living on someone else’s couch, dreams where families love rather than hurt, dreams of living a sober life.

God dreams for a world where all have homes, all have food, all have enough.

Groups come to The Pilgrimage to practice dreaming—we can get out of practice in dreaming with God.

We plod along in our routines, conforming to the ways around us.

We can be the difference in our churches when we dream.

Montreat: This is the difference you can make in your back home church.

Let’s picture this:

Your youth group goes back to your church, you all go to a committee meeting and an adult will probably  have a nice, typed out agenda of the meeting, everything will be in order and then your youth group blurts out

“God has dreams for hungry folks to have food. God has a dream for everyone to have a home. God has a dream for everyone to be cared for when they are sick. What First Presbyterian Church of “our city” are we going to do about those dreams?”

If those committee folks stumble with their words, say that’s not on our agenda, and act like the parents of the blind young man and say, “Um. No idea, go ask that other committee. They meet tomorrow night” you keep telling God’s truth about God’s dreams.

Your youth group can be the difference, make a difference when you disrupt how your Church conforms to the ways we ignore the poor by telling them:

We dream of a church where everyone is welcome.

We dream of a place we all can call home. We dream of a world where justice is flowing, with hope and peace growing, God's will is done. Make it so, make it so Church.

We bring our dreams for a world made new to the communion table tonight.

Our table where we will share in the meal of bread and the cup is a place for us to dream.

It’s free drink for the thirsty. It’s free food for the hungry, healing for the broken and hurt, love for the outcast, a gentle touch for those we’d rather not touch.

The meal of bread and cup is rest for the weary. Like we’ve been saying all week, everyone born belongs at the table.

When we gather in Jesus name we gather as companions which in Latin means “with bread” or “friendship with bread.” The table lets us embody that companionship and belovedness.

This is Jesus’ meal where we proclaim like a scorching fire, like a powerful wind blowing doors and windows open, that we all have dreams for a world made new, that a new world is possible.

Every time we come to the table, we are made new and we proclaim it all in the name, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

Paul was made new. The young man was made new. I was made new and will continue to be made new.

You have been made new and will continue to be made new. Your families have been and will be made new with a Pentecost Spirit.

New life, fresh life, full life is always God’s story for the Church and each of us.

And for that we give God thanks.

Pentecost and Pride with Bubbles and Fire

Bubbles in Pilgrims Sanctuary
Bubbles in Pilgrims Sanctuary

Pilgrims worship planning team gathered in May to brainstorm for our Pride and Pentecost service on June 8th.

First, we set the context of Pride and Pentecost, creating 2 columns with the headings "Pride" and "Pentecost."

We made of list of what is Pride: celebration, color, playfulness, spontaneity, public, coming out, identity, risk, community, sub-communities, parade, Festival.....

Then Pentecost: celebration, color, risk, identity, public, Empire, coming out, community....

Lots and lots of connections with Pride and Pentecost.

Our brainstorming Pilgrims narrowed in on the beginning and the end of worship.

The beginning of worship came down to two words: bubble machine.

The end of worship came down to two more words: fire pit.

The bubble machine came into fruition as we talked through the opening litany and telling of the Pentecost story. What if we had a bubble machine up in the choir loft turned on when the "Holy Spirit" came into the Pentecost story? YES.

We talked a lot about identities and what Pride/Pentecost means for being "out" with who we are as individuals but as a community.  We wanted to do something as part of communion to name our who we were, who we are now, and who we hope to become and burn identities in our fire pit to symbolize refining and releasing those identities into the cosmos and Spirit.

So, after we welcomed 1,800 people through Pilgrims doors before the start of the Pride parade on Saturday for water and bathrooms, we fired up our new bubble machine and fire pit.

Justin George, one of our members, sat in the choir loft and at the right moment started up the machine. Gently, quietly, peacefully, visibly the bubbles floated over the loft and down into the sanctuary. The kids cried, "bubbles!" The faces of adults started to break into smiles and awe. One of our long time members, Jeanne Mayer, sat in her pew lovingly popping the bubbles that came into her personal space. My first thought, "oh, that's what the Holy Spirit looks like."

For me, it was also an experience of  engaging the space above our heads with the natural elements of water and air. The bubbles were an experience of impermanence, lasting only a few seconds and an incredible creation of primal elements of life.

During communion, we fired up the bubbles again. I hadn't planned on the communion bubbles but after the initial experience I worked through my "should I get Justin to do this, do I want to do this, I hadn't planned on this so maybe I shouldn't do it" thoughts and had Justin hit the switch during our walking meditation prior to coming to the table.

We walked with the Spirit in the shape of bubbles pouring over us, holding our now-written-down identities of past, present and future. After the bread and cup, we processed out to our fit pit a blazin' with yet another primal element (fire!) and we tossed our identities on the Pentecost flames, refining and releasing past, present, and future into the cosmos.