This Sunday will be my last sermon at my internship site. It's Pentecost, so I'm doing something creative and (gasp!) Spirit-led. I'm focusing primarily on the Acts 2 text, the story of Pentecost. We're going to have congregants speaking in many languages as part of the reading. Then I want to encourage further participation in the sermon itself. Check it out! I'll let you know how it turns out.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was in high school, I attended an event called Invitation to Service. It’s a youth event, a discernment retreat for teenagers to help answer the question: What is God’s call for your life?
I first attended Invitation to Service when I was 16, and I’ve been back every summer since then except one. Invitation to Service is one of the main reasons I’m standing here today, nearing the end of my seminary internship, preparing to become a pastor.
Invitation to Service is a powerful event, and I want to share with you one part of that three-day retreat. Every year, the youth who attend ITS have a mountaintop experience. They go for a hike up a mountain (or, as a child of the Rockies like me would say, a glorified hill) and get to hear a story—a call story, the story of how one pastor heard God’s call and followed it.
But it’s actually what happens after that mountain top experience that I really want you to hear. After the youth hike back down the hill, there’s a block of time set aside for a kind of open mic, a time called “How is God Speaking to You?”
These youth at Invitation to Service have heard pastors, leaders, adults talking about God’s call. But then the question is posed to them: How is God speaking to you? It is a time for their voices to be heard, for them to speak up. And they do, every year. It’s a blessed and a heartwrenching time. These youth speak about their hurts and their fears, their encounters with illness, loss, and death. They speak about their hopes and their dreams, their passions for the world around them. They speak up to say how God is calling them, how God is acting in their lives.
In our reading from Acts this morning, Peter quotes the Hebrew prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your young men and women shall see visions, and your old men and women shall dream dreams.
These words from Joel allow Peter to interpret what was happening on that day of Pentecost. We’re familiar with the story—after Jesus ascends into heaven, the followers of Jesus are gathered together. A rushing wind fills the house, and tongues of fire rest on each of them. Suddenly, they gain the ability to speak in many languages, every language of the earth. And you can imagine how they came tumbling out of the house and into the street, speaking a jumble of foreign words, somehow proclaiming the power of God to the startled crowds. It was something none of them had experienced before. I think Jesus’ followers, this early Christian community, must have been as bewildered as the crowds were. Some of these listeners wonder what is happening. Others make jokes at the expense of the followers of Jesus.
Peter steps forward to explain what is happening, and he uses the words of Joel: In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Peter identifies the work of the Holy Spirit in all those languages. The followers of Jesus are able to proclaim God’s deeds of power because of the power of the Spirit.
I know that same Spirit was working within and among the youth at Invitation to Service. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires these young people to stand up and proclaim how God is working in their lives. The Holy Spirit commissions many languages, many voices, working together to tell one amazing story.
The Holy Spirit inspires God’s faithful people to speak in many voices. That tells us something important about God. God does not want all God’s people to speak one language. God does not want us all to say the same things, in the same language. God wants and needs people to speak in many languages, with many words. In short, God’s kingdom is founded on diversity. The people of God should not look the same, sound the same, speak the same, act the same. The people of God, when the Holy Spirit is working among us, are diverse. We speak all the languages of the world—you heard many of those languages in this very space this morning. We have different stories, hopes and fears, like the young people at Invitation to Service. We have different visions and dreams for the world and for God’s church. And through the Holy Spirit, God lifts up and blesses all of that diversity, all of our differences.
I warned you at the beginning of the service that this sermon would require congregational participation. Now I can tell you why. The Holy Spirit empowers many voices, not just mine. I can’t preach a sermon about the diversity of God's kingdom if I’m the only one who speaks. So I have a question for you, the same question posed to the youth at Invitation to Service: How is God speaking to you? How do you see the Holy Spirit working in your life or in the world around you? What story of God’s power do you have to tell? What are your fears, your pains; what are your dreams and hopes? How is God speaking to you?
[At this point there will be time for other people to speak. When they're finished, I'll say a few more words to wrap things up.]