Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Preached on May 31, 2015
The great sadness consumed Mack. It slowly “tightened around his chest and heart like the crushing coils of a constrictor, squeezing liquid tears from his eyes until he thought there no longer remained a reservoir.” Everyone saw the great sadness on his face – day after day – and no one blamed him.
The story of Missy’s disappearance is unfortunately not unlike others told too often. It happened during the Labor Day weekend. Mack decided to take his three younger children on a final camping trip of the summer.
On the last day of the trip, Mack looked up to see two of his children canoeing in the lake. Suddenly, their canoe overturned and they were in the water. Instinctively, Mack left Missy at the campsite and dove into the water to save his children. When he returned – kids safe – no one could find Missy. She was gone.
Anguished weeks passed before a piece of her clothing was found in an old shack out in the forest. The great sadness tightened quickly.
The story of Mack and the shack, however, is more than a story of death and sadness – it is story of God’s movement in the world and in one particular man. When bad things happen – we wonder is God at work? Why would this happen? In the story - Mack meets God as Trinity in the Shack. It sounds quite fantastical, doesn’t it? Yet, this is where faith centers into our lives.
William Young, author of The Shack, says it this way:
“There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it surely is not rational. Perhaps there is suprarationality: reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that only makes sense if you can see a bigger picture of reality. Maybe that is where faith fits in.”
At the end of Jesus’ time on earth he ascends to heaven and invites his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to arrive. This event in the life of humanity transforms our understanding of God. Jesus – God in human form, Emanuel – God with us – leaves. The disciples are left to ponder: how will God relate to humanity and the world now that Jesus is gone? We might ask: How does God act in a world governed by science and natural laws and rational thought?
This question has never s more important a question that it is today. “No period in history has been in greater need of God’s present activity in the world and a comprehensive and integrated spiritual vision of the future and destiny of planet earth than the present.”
And yet – for many of us – our theology of God’s Spirit alive in the world remains stunted. Lora Gross in her introduction to the Holy Spirit in A New Handbook of Christian Theology says “The Christian church’s theology has been glaringly deficient in setting forth a detailed doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”
The charismatic movement of the 70’s and 80’s that swept through so many communities and Baptist churches seemed to steal the life from a healthy theology of the Holy Spirit. We let our charismatic friends have the Spirit and the gift of speaking in tongues and we looked the other way and focused on the things we could understand … and control.
A rational theology that takes out the Spirit makes sense in a rational world. The idea that something of absolutely irrationality might take place never crosses our mind.
In the Shack, Mack inexplicably receives a typed note inviting him back to the woods – to the Shack – from a person named Papa – the name his wife uses for God. Without knowing why – except that the Great Sadness drove him – Mack goes back to the Shack – the scene of the crime. It is there when he opens the door that he meets God face to face – God as Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And if you ever want to have your preconceptions of God blow away – you will simply need to read the book – I won’t spoil the surprise.
Imagine your surprise, though, if you were in Jerusalem 2000 years ago for Pentecost – the Festival of Weeks. Imagine seeing a crowd of poor, yet ecstatic Galileans gathered in the street. You might have expected a disturbance when you realized they were a small group of Jesus followers. If you saw them that night on the narrow streets of Jerusalem you would have instantly known they were on fire. They were talking, but they were talking in a very unusual way. Their passionate conviction conveyed the power of their message even to faithful Jews like yourself.
As ecstatic as their speech was – you are surprised you understood it. Faithful Jews like yourself from every known place around the world understand them too – Persians and Romans, Egyptians and Greeks. Something else, more important than language, though, catches your attention. This group of people are fearless. They stand up and say what they want to say, even though they know that their words might mean death. And above all – they are amazingly effective. People listen to them. Thousands of people are moved by their words of the wondrous works of God. You look around and see people deciding to follow Jesus too.
Acts 2 describes a Divine Disturbance. The Holy Spirit breaks out into the world at Pentecost in a new way. The world as we know it has never been the same.
In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is active as well as a vital energy of the divine nature at work. We first see the Spirit at work in the first chapter of the first book. The opening creation song of Genesis 1 says:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” The Spirit of God brings order to the chaos and life to the world – it serves as the creative and vitalizing force of the world.
Here in Acts 2 – we see a new manifestation – a new look – for the same Spirit of God.
These early followers of Jesus felt the energy of the continuous living activity of Jesus and called it by the name of Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was the link between the church and its head – Jesus. The enthusiasm we witness in Jerusalem on Pentecost was actually there became theirs – the phrase Holy Spirit was their interpretation of their experience. God was alive in the world – disturbing everything they knew.
In the Shack, Mack has an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Using the female designation found in the Hebrew word for Spirit in the Old Testament, Mack describes the Holy Spirit this way: “Light seemed to radiate through her and then reflect her presence in multiple places at once. Her nature was rather ethereal, full of dynamic shades and hues of color and motion. “No wonder so many people are a little unnerved at relating to her,” Mack said. “She obviously is not a being who is predictable.”
An unpredictable power breaking out into the world – this is the Holy Spirit.
Too often, though, the unpredictability of the Spirit gets in our way. We don’t want unpredictability. We want God in a way that we can understand, manage and control.
Craig Van Gelder in his book, The Ministry of the Missional Church, describes the world we build to rationally describe and control God as a Closed Universe. This world is closed to anything that cannot be explained through rational objectivity. Our closed universe was built by the scientific world as a result of the Enlightenment. For our electrical engineers – this is as close to understanding what you do as I can – a closed universe is a like a closed circuit. In a close circuit – the electrical current moves predictability through a series of wires, switches and lights. The closed circuit controls the power and the results are predictable.
The same is true in a close universe. In our closed universe – we get predictable God. In our closed universe – we hold God back. In our closed universe – we don’t welcome divine disturbances.
Yet, the biblical record and the testimony of the saints through the centuries says we don’t live in a closed universe – we live in an open universe. In an Open Universe the world is open to the movement to the Spirit of God.
As such, the Spirit is the power that sustains the world and human life at the same time that it moves the world and human life to transcend themselves in concrete ways.
The Spirit at work in the world is more than just a faith in the gap theology. Faith in the gap theology says that we whenever we encounter something we don’t understand in the natural world – we name it God. Science has worked over the last 500 years to disclaim the faith in the gap theology – from the fact that the earth goes around the sun, the earth is round and to evolution. The Spirit of God is more than just a way to describe the things we don’t understand – the Holy Spirit is more dynamic and powerful than our unanswered questions.
Instead, The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in the world. This presence places the power, meaning and purposes of God into creation and especially into humanity. Because of God’s presence – the Holy Spirit is active in nature, active in history, and active in life. This is good News!
The Good News of Acts 2 is this: The Holy Spirit breaks out of the obstacles of our lives for the sake of the world.
The Holy Spirit is breaking out in the day to day moments of our lives. The Holy Spirit is breaking out in the daily work of our church. The Holy Spirit is breaking out in our families. The Holy Spirit is breaking out in our jobs. The Holy Spirit is breaking out in our mission work – as we will see when our mission team returns from Santa Emilia, Nica.
The testimony of the first Christians is that this breaking out into the world is for a purpose: for the sake of the world. The followers of Jesus don’t look around the upper room amazed to just take in the breaking out of the Holy Spirit around them. The breaking out causes a disturbance in their lives. The breaking out pushes them out into the world beyond the house. The breaking out opens their mouths and forces them to preach the Good News of Jesus to the world.
These are the words Peter preaches:
‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike— and they will prophesy.”
When the Holy Spirit breaks out – our lives and the lives around us are transformed forever!
That’s what happens to Mack in the Shack. In a most mysterious way – a way that never makes complete sense, God breaks through the Great Sadness of Mack’s life. The Spirit of God breaks forth in a dynamic and powerful way to bring healing and meaning to his hurt and pain. The questions of why did this happen and what else could I have done never get answered. Instead, into the mysteries The Spirit of God breaks forth and his life is transformed. Praise be to God!
The same can be true in your life.
The Holy Spirit is not a passive actor on stage waiting for the signal. The Holy Spirit is a divine disturbance moving in ways that will both astound and confound us. Would we have it any other way?
Today, right now - The Holy Spirit seeks to break through the obstacles of your life to bring healing to your hurt – to bring meaning to your life. What obstacles stand in the way? What facades have you built to keep God in your own closed universe – free from anything you don’t understand? What excuses have you made to God to keep God at bay? What portraits of God have you painted in your head that limit God’s dynamic ability to transform your life?
The story of the disciples at Pentecost invite us to experience God in a new way – to release the power of the Holy Spirit in to our lives and into our world. The story of the Pentecost invites us to see the Holy Spirit at work in all that we do – as individuals and as a church. Finally, the story of Pentecost invites us to release the Holy Spirit into our lives so that we may see the Kingdom of God established on earth as it is in heaven. This is the meaning of life and faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.