I speak this morning from a unique vantage point, for I am both pastor and candidate for new membership. I am both welcomer and welcomed. I am both seasoned in Peace Church’s ways after being your pastor for almost a year, and one of the new kids on the block. It isn’t often that a preacher can speak from that perspective. It’s humbling, actually. And to do so on Pentecost as we celebrate the birth of the institutional church, as we imagine that gust of wind that shook the foundations of that room in Jerusalem, as we consider what tongues of fire are, seems even more overwhelming.
There are a lot of sermons I could give this morning on Pentecost, on the rich symbolism of the story, on the beauty of those speaking in different languages and all understanding one another, on the passionate joy in that congregation, joy which bubbled over so much that bystanders believed that the early church members had been tipping the bottle well before 9:00 a.m.
But I’m hoping I have many Pentecost Sundays in years to come to preach those sermons to you. So, instead I’d like to share a story.
In the most chaotic times of my life there is a recurring dream that I have. I’m sure a Jungian analyst would have fun with the symbols that flow out of my subconscious mind at night. When things are askew in my world in whatever capacity I dream of tornadoes, that Midwest flat-land funneling phenomenon. In the dreams I am running from them, seeking shelter, trying to find safe haven. And usually, thankfully, the dream often ends with my finding a cellar door open, or discovering a firmly-rooted tree that I can hold on to. And then, often the nighttime panic is averted. And I ride the storm out, only to awaken in the morning wondering how my mind had tangled itself into that dreamworld mess the nightbefore.
There was one night, though, when the tornado finally found me, caught me in my dreams. It was a snowy night in January of 2004. During that time I was leaving my first pastorate after having been together for six years. I left with a great deal of ambiguity, loving them, but knowing it was time to move to a new chapter. Wanting to hold on to the past, but knowing that there was no future for me in that congregation, or indeed, in that denomination. Swirling with emotions for a variety of reasons and feeling even angry at God for calling me into ministry and then leaving me in the wilderness. On that night in January I dreamt that I was driving a car which safely protected my new family, for Robert and I had only been married a few months, and that the four of us were being chased by a tornado together. I so clearly remember the sense of urgency, the sense that I needed to protect not just myself now but Robert, and Tess and Brynn. And in that dream landscape a church showed up on the horizon, and I ran to the door and jiggled the locked handle, and banged on the stained glass-windows and demanded to be let in. And someone yelled out to me that there was no room for any of us, and that I needed to go away. And before I could return to the car it was gathered into a whirlwind and scooped into the belly of the twister, everything scattered this way and that. I awoke that night in a sweat, and felt slammed back into the real world, disoriented and distraught.
But this haunting dream, accurately named my reality. For at that time in my life, for a variety of reasons, there was not a church which had sheltered us. While there was a God who I believed sustained me, there was no community to call home. And in a sense, I felt unmoored, and untethered.
I share that story with you as one who will make vows this morning that bind me in covenant with you, as one who represents the voice of so many in this world. There have been times and there are currently times when for whatever reason, the institutional church has failed and will fail to meet the needs of some. And there have been times and there will be times when for whatever reason the institutional church has not welcomed others and will not welcome others. There have been times and there will be times when this human social institution which we call “The Church” has disappointed us or betrayed us or abandoned us. But, when any of those times come, the Holy Spirit will sweep in and do Its fancy, sacred, passionate, Holy Spirit dance among us. And we realize that we can be more. The power of the Pentecost comes when we realize that within the church there is an unquenchable fire which has not stopped burning for two thousand years. And we realize that we are part of that flame.
The theologian Renita Weems has written, “We are the church, a ragged band of miracle workers: ragged because we are often contentious, scared, lazy, undependable and—in a word—flawed; miracle workers because we’ve had to take straw and build a cathedral of hope for every generation that crossed our threshold.”
Today we celebrate the birth of the church, church with a capital “C.” And we realize that with all of its imperfections and all of its faults, it has the capacity for miracles and we see them. We see them when we baptize children, and then when we watch them grow into beautiful high school graduates. And we know that the Holy Spirit is with us. We see it when the call goes out that someone is in need, and then casseroles are baked and paper products are collected. And we know that the Holy Spirit is with us. We see it when the still speaking voice of God urges us to speak out against oppression or injustice, and our voice is echoed and magnified by our brothers and sisters. And we know that the Holy Spirit is with us. We see it when our brother or sister disagrees with us and emotions run hot, and then reconciliation is sought and forgiveness is offered. And we know that the Holy Spirit is with us. We, this ragged band of miracle workers.
I have not had any tornado dreams in the past year. Ironic, isn’t it? As your pastor, and as someone who will be binding her troth with that of this church in the next few minutes I offer thanks to you and praise to God for that. For you are a welcoming, gracious people, and the Spirit is alive here.
May we, as the people of Peace United Church of Christ on this Pentecost Sunday, feel the wind on our faces as the Holy Spirit whips through this church to refresh us with its power, and if the wind ever feels too strong, may we know that we can always find solace in the shelter of one another’s love. May the fire of the Holy Spirit be kindled in us that we may live out our mission and be the church of Christ today. Amen.