There was a young man I knew at Immanuel Presbyterian, the first church I served. He told me what I am about to tell you. It was a Saturday, he and his two daughters had already planned to celebrate Mommy’s birthday that evening. As part of that, they are going to bake her a birthday cake. While mommy is out running errands, Daddy and the two girls gather in the kitchen. Dad had previously purchased and secretly stored the ingredients for the project. He brings those into the kitchen. He and the girls put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. Then it’s time for the mixer to do its thing.
The little girls want to watch. Dad doesn’t want them teetering on the stools at the kitchen counter. So, he puts the mixing bowl on the kitchen floor. You got that image?
The girls are standing over the mixer, watching; Daddy’s kneeling beside the mixer. He turns it on, the beaters whirl. The ingredients blend together and become batter. When it is the appropriate consistency, it’s time to move on to the next step. Now here comes the tricky part. As any experienced baker knows, the thing to do is push the off button on the mixer before you pull the beaters out. That’s not what Daddy did. Instead, while THE BEATERS ARE STILL BEATING, he lifts them out of the bowl.
Batter shoots EVERYWHERE. Splats on the stove, the refrigerator, the kitchen cabinets, the two little girls; and on HIM. And, worse, the batter is not at an easy-to-see, easy to reach adult eye level. It is at a hard to see, hard to reach adult mid-calf level. Poor Dad has to crawl around on his knees, wiping up the mess before Mom comes home. When he told me his story, several years later, he said that the family was STILL finding splats of dried cake batter he’d missed in the original cleanup.
What does cake batter have to do with our scripture passage for today? Well, the Temple authorities in conjunction with the Romans, have killed Jesus. Then, they wipe up what they think are the remaining splats of the Jesus movement. But those Jesus followers just refuse to give up. They will NOT be quieted. The disciples who have been put in jail, find a way to escape. Then, daggone it. Instead of going into hiding as you’d expect them to, they go right on doing what got them arrested in the first place. That is, preaching the word of God.
What is wrong with them?
But there is more. Was it the temple authorities’ imaginations, or were there more Jesus followers than just a few short days before? How in heaven’s name, were they ever going to get rid of them?
We already talked some last week, about the disciples new found faith on Easter Sunday. That was part of what was driving them to carry on. Just when they had run out of hope, they had witnessed the empty tomb. Some of Jesus’ followers had subsequently talked to strangers who looked like angels. Those strangers, or angels, had told them that Jesus had been resurrected. Then there were the Jesus sightings. Apparently this resurrected Jesus could walk through doors like a ghost; But disciple Thomas had actually touched Jesus’ wounded hands and side. What do you make of that? This resurrected ghost could even eat fish, which he did at the beach with his disciples, post crucifixion. The disciples didn’t understand it AT ALL, but that’s what faith is all about, right? Faith seeking understanding? Faith spurred them to keep on with the mission that had been started by Jesus; that mission, of course, was to go to spread the word of God and to make disciples of all nations. Faith is a powerful motivator.
So the disciples, now-turned-apostles, were driven by faith, but, they were also driven by the Holy Spirit.
I am scooping myself here. Do you know the term scooping yourself? That’s when a storyteller delivers the ending, or the punch line of a story before it’s time to do that—When that happens, we say that he scooped himself. You’ve done it yourself, maybe, if like me, you are a terrible joke-teller. You’re in the middle of telling a joke, but you can’t remember the storyline, exactly. So, you skip to the punchline. Then you realize your mistake so you say, “Wait a minute, there’s more to the joke. Forget what I just said.” Then you tell the rest of the joke, and you give the punch line a second time, and darn it all, nobody laughs. Don’t you hate that?
So, I am scooping myself here, because in a few weeks, we will be celebrating Pentecost. That’s 50 days after Easter, when we read that the holy spirit finally descends on the disciples, and infuses them with power and energy and a blatant fearlessness. That comes about in the 2nd chapter of Acts. But…. in our story for today, from the Fifth Chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit has already descended on the disciples. They have now turned from Jesus’ disciples into Christ’s apostles. So, it is right to be speaking today about the Holy Spirit, as we will again at Pentecost.
I want to talk about the Holy Spirit, not just because it has everything to do with our reading for today. I want to talk about the Holy Spirit for another reason, yoo. You see before you a person imbued with the Holy Spirit. I know that sounds weird, maybe-- fundamentalist, evangelical, whacko, crazy, or like I’m bragging, but it is so. I’ve tried to self-diagnose this as a mood swing, but it’s more than that. I have tried to attribute it to the warm weather. But it’s more than that, too. It’s referred to by different names depending on the circles in which you live, and move and have your being. In new age-ish type circles, the phrase is “your soul is attuned to the workings of the universe.” Or “you have put your intentions out there into the universe, and the universe is responding.” Cool, man. AWE-SOME. In Christian circles, we refer to it as the Holy Spirit—as in the Holy Spirit is at work. It’s been with me for about a month now. Or maybe it’s always with me, but it’s present in a more profound way, at the moment. You know what I’m talking about?
With me, the Holy Spirit has been manifesting itself this way: I’ll think a thought and then have that thought show up in my life in various ways, over the next few days and weeks. So, maybe I’ll read a newspaper article that confirms exactly what I have been thinking and then awhile later, I’ll hear that same thought expressed in a radio interview. Or, someone says something, and it’s exactly THE thing I need to hear. Things happen that are more than coincidences.
Since I am now living it, I can tell you it’s scary in a way, because I realize I am not fully in control of my life; but it’s also invigorating. That’s because I have a new, or renewed sense of purpose. May it happen to you, too. Or maybe it has.
Now I want to move into talking about the Holy Spirit as it works in churches. In our scripture passage for today, churches have not yet been established. But we know from Acts that Christ’s followers are meeting together for prayer in a rented room. Soon, those meetings will happen at set times. Liturgical practices will develop, communion, baptism. The Holy Spirit is working among a gathering of people, not just in individuals.
I have been at churches that have been imbued with the Holy Spirit. There’ll be a wave of new energy blowing through. Session meetings are an experience, I tell you. You feel like you have to hold tight to the pew's edge, or you’ll be lifted up and swept away.
I want to end this sermon by sharing one example of the Holy Spirit working in a church context. I hesitate to tell you this story, because your Session is right now in deliberations about this church’s future. It is considering what this church should undertake that will carry us through the next three to five years. Please know up front, that what I am telling you here, is in no way a suggestion of what THIS church should be doing. Each church is different, unique.
The Holy Spirit moved among the members in a big way at that first church I served as an Associate Pastor. Some background. Wally and Ruth were beloved long-time members of our congregation. Their son and daughter-in- law and grandchildren attended our church, too, as did Wally and Ruth’s daughter-in-law’s sister, and her family. Every Sunday was a family reunion for them. They sat in the balcony, and they just about filled it up.
Wally became sick. I can’t remember what struck him. It’s good that I can’t remember, actually. Even when he was so sick, his disease didn’t define him. Sadly, we all knew the end was near.
You know how, when a loved one is suffering, you want to do something and there’s nothing to be done? Here was a significant part of our church—Wally and his family—What could the church do?
So, I’m at a church Session meeting. I don’t remember who said it, or in what context, but someone presents the idea. “We’ve got some undeveloped land next to the church. What if we turn that into a memorial garden!” There’s a brief pause in the conversation. Then BINGO! We’re jumping on each others’ words. The “What ifs,” and the “I’ll do’s,” are spewing forth like water from a fire hydrant.
Have pity for the poor Session clerk trying to get it all down in the Session minutes—impossible to capture on paper the workings of the Holy Spirit. Quick as the cloven tongues of Pentecost (that’s from a poem), or quick as a frog’s tongue, snapping a fly, we’re felling trees, adding plantings, cutting a pathway. When Wally breathed his last, of course that was where the family wanted Wally’s cremains buried.
Everyone turned out for the memorial service. The burial of ashes, though, was just for the family. The senior pastor told me that when he put the cremains into the ground, a poof of dust hit the wind. Little Bobby, one of Wally’s grandchildren, said, “There goes grandpa.” Yes, flying on the wings of the Holy Spirit.
Today, the Memorial Garden is a site to behold—pathways, a bench. A huge stone marks the entrance. On that are plaques of the beloved deceased whose cremains rest there.
That, my friends, is evidence of The Holy Spirit---a living force. It moved the apostles, right now, it’s moving me; It can move, yes, even a church. Amen