The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
We’ve tamed it and subdued it.
The troubling question is whether we have betrayed it – the vitalizing life of the Holy Spirit.
On Pentecost, the day when the church first shocked a community with lighting flash sightings of unimagined possibilities and sparked fires in the bellies of people sleep-walking through ancient rituals, a supernatural power exploded in the midst of a wild diversity of people. While some dismissed it all as some kind of mob madness, and others as some drink-induced delusion, others sensed the arrival of a life force beyond the realm of the merely human and gave themselves over to it. And foreigners from scores of nations, heard, each in their own language, some news almost too good to be true – and yet so compelling that it gripped them in its power and the ring of its truth, and three thousand people encountered the electrifying resurrection reality of a crucified carpenter who took them far beyond themselves. Kaboom!
And the explosion that ripped open the potential of that little crowd of ordinary people reverberated throughout the world and turned it upside down.
Forty-nine years ago a fourteen-year-old white boy named Rob who had run away from home, was living in San Francisco with some members of the Hells Angels and selling drugs to black gangs in Golden Gate Park. For all his criminal activity, he was still a seeker of truth and meaning. His search had led him to try traditional church, Eastern religions and the use of some mind-altering drugs which Aldous Huxley swore opened the doors of perception for him.
One day, behind some bushes, some thugs stole everything he had and almost batted his head to Oakland. Later, as he washed the blood off his face in a gas station restroom, he looked in the mirror and hated the person he saw himself becoming. He wondered whether there was anything that might fill the black hole into which he was imploding, but he swore he’d looked where he’d never looked before. Kaboom!
Only there was no one else that heard the noise – except a couple of angels in heaven who thought they caught some rumblings of thunder in the distance and scanned the horizon for a second in wonder and hope.
A few years later that young man named Rob entered college and was struck by a group of guys who, alone among all the groups on campus, consistently radiated a kind of jollity that didn’t involve the imbibing of alcohol. More than that, they showed an authentic kindness and caring toward each other – and others. I thought to myself, “There’s something about them that they’ve got and I don’t, but I sure want a piece of it.” When I finally got my nerve up to ask them what they were all about, one of them said, “Knowing Jesus as our personal savior and lord.” And the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I wondered if could strike up a friendship with Jesus myself.” Kaboom!
And in the midst of heavenly banquet a few angels dropped their forks mid-bite, smiled at each other, and started arguing about party favors.
Years later, after I had committed my life to Christ, I was gathered at a meeting of pastors in the large chapel of a monastery up in the San Gabriel mountains. We had just heard one stirring challenge after another to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus; to make sacrifices and pay any price to meet the call of building God’s kingdom in an increasingly hostile world; to imitate Jesus and never back down from fighting the evil that seemed to be winning the day. Everyone felt burdened under the heavy load of demands laid upon them, and after the fourth speaker you could see a look of being daunted, intimidated and disheartened in almost every face. No one looked as if they felt anywhere near equal to the task.
Before the fifth speaker stepped up, the amplification system unexpectedly stopped working, and the leaders of the program started scrambling about to figure out what next to do. Amidst the whisperings in the chancel and the dispirited silence of the shaken souls in the pews, a cold river of discouragement flowed over us and icebergs of despair crashed into our hearts.
All of a sudden, a young pastor with a full red beard, who looked more like a lumberjack than a shepherd of souls, stood up uninvited and for some reason every eye locked on to him. He lifted his face upward, and without accompaniment broke out in a clear loud tenor singing the second verse of the hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he. Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.” As he continued, other voices took up the hymn. In expanding ripples of grace you could see backs stiffen, and faces alight with hope. And soon several hundred voices were shaking the rafters at the top of their lungs, “And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.” And despite the absence of many who looked to be all that much, you were hard pressed to see the face of even one person who wasn’t shining with the look of being all God’s – and you knew the future of the church was in good hands. Kaboom!
And as that strong chorus of voices echoed out of the sanctuary into the San Gabriel foothills, you sensed that inside every chest there was a still, small quiet in which God’s voice was being heard and souls were being forged like steel.
Over the last several years, this church – once viewed as a cold church – has poured out its heart over and over again in lovingly supporting members in need. People have sent cards. They have made calls to check up on how someone is coming along. They have brought meals for those who could not cook for themselves. They have provided rides to doctor’s appointments. They have sat in comfortable quiet with the heart-broken, the fearful, the hurting, the disheartened until God’s spirit sparked a conversation – and the gospel found its voice. Kaboom!
And people are choosing hope over despair, the gang of Jesus over the East Side Longos, the significance of helping people and uplifting the community over the emptiness of endless entertainment. Kaboom! Kaboom! Kaboom! Explosions of changed lives and turned-around neighborhoods.
All it takes is some folks’ faithfulness in doing what the first church did: be obedient, primed and on alert.
Just before He left the earth, Jesus told His followers that they were going to be His witnesses and He was going to send them into every corner of earth to share His gospel. But he ordered them to stay put until they received power from on high for the job. So on the day of Pentecost, it says, they were right where they were supposed to be, watching and waiting with expectancy, praying and prepared to be launched. And Kaboom! God is still setting off His explosions of grace!