Date: May 16, 2010
Scripture Lesson: Acts 1:3-8, 2:1-21
Sermon: Heavenly Harvest!
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Benjamin Franklin learned that sowing plaster in the field with the seed would make things grow better. He discussed this with his neighbors and they did not believe him. They argued with him. After a while, Franklin let the subject drop. Then the following spring, he sowed some grain close by the path used regularly by his neighbors. He traced some letters in the soil and mixed plaster in with the seeds that he planted in the grooves of the letters in the dirt. He put seed without plaster in the soil around the letters.
After two weeks, the seeds began to spout. Franklin’s neighbors were surprised to see, in a deeper shade of green than the rest of the field, large letters spelling out, “This has been plastered.”
Franklin did not need to argue with his neighbors any more about the benefits of sowing plaster with the seed. As the growing season went on and the grain grew, the bright green letters rose up above the rest of the field and became more and more prominent declaring, “This had been plastered.” [From Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement, Fifth Planting, Brian Cavanaugh, pp. 65-66]
Franklin’s neighbors were skeptical, but then they saw what occurred. And they were convinced. Before the day of Pentecost, the disciples, too, were skeptical. Jesus is gone. He did all that spectacular stuff. And he said the spirit would come. But it hasn’t. Where is she? Is anything going to happen? They are doubting. They are skeptical. They are also anxious and afraid. After all, they are really invested in this realm of God that Jesus talked about. They left homes, families, livelihoods, etc. for this. Now they are afraid for their lives, afraid they might be crucified like Jesus.
So they are gathered in Jerusalem for the annual Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. And do they get a harvest! We listened to the story. They are stretched for words to describe it, it is so astounding. Like a mighty wind, a hurricane. And flames, on fire, ignited, glowing. Make no mistake, the spirit that brooded at creation, that animated the dead bones in Ezekiel’s vision, that alighted on Jesus at his baptism, it’s here in full force. And what a harvest. God provides beyond their wildest dreams. God is faithful and comes through in a way that outpaces anything they could have dreamed of.
Everyone gets the spirit. There is no playing favorites here. Those disciples may have been wondering, as they often did, Will it be me? Am I going to be the one? Well look out. Yes, you’re the one. And so is your buddy. And so is that stranger, and so is that outcast, and so it that foreigner, and that refugee. So is that pagan, that heathen, that person of another culture and religion. Whoa! They all get it. The disciples might have thought it would be the 11, or the inner circle, but it’s everyone. This is democratization of divinity. Everybody’s in. Everyone has citizenship in God’s realm. It’s way beyond what could ever have been expected. What a harvest!
And we’re told that they understood each other. Can you imagine. All these different people, of all these differing cultures, understanding each other. Love was spoken. Pure. Unadulterated. In a way comprehensible to all. No barriers. There was no convincing to be done among those who were willing to listen. No defense of doctrine. No issues of interpretation. Nothing lost in translation. No frustration. Everyone understands.
There’s a story told about a Russian interpreter. He was translating during a conversation and the english speaker used the phrase, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Which actually comes from gospels in the New Testament. But faced with this idiomatic saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” the puzzled translator offered, “The vodka is good but the meat is bad.” [A-Z Sparkling Illustrations, Stephen Gaukroger and Nick Mercer, p. 130.
In the Pentecost story, nothing is lost in translation. Everyone gets it ALL. The presence of divine love. The spirit and power that infuse creation, life, and the ministry of Jesus, they get it!
No wonder words are a challenge for expressing what this experience was like. Can you imagine it? No divisions. No separation from human constructs. Full understanding and experiencing of the power of love transcending all categories and definitions and descriptions? What a harvest!
And that harvest continues to bear fruit, through the church of Jesus Christ today. The seeds that were sown in the first century continue to produce life and growth and sprout love. We are the heirs of that harvest. The seeds have been sown in us, though our faith tradition, through faithful souls who have taught us the language of love. And the fruit is amazing. Wouldn’t those first century disciples be surprised! The harvest is even greater than they could have conceived! They would be astounded by the ministries that continue to bear fruit today. Just look at the ministries of our one small church. Just look at the harvest we are reaping – this mission trip to the Dominican Republic where the mission team will not only sow seeds of compassion and care, but will receive the inspiration of the people there to fuel the spirit in them! When you see firsthand the way that poor people in developing countries live, you can’t help but be blown away by the resilience, the tenacity, the determination, and the beauty of the human spirit. And you do less whining about your circumstances, whatever they are, over here in the US. This is a rich harvest.
And we are supporting Operation Attack and multiplying the harvest that is made available to families with children right here in our community so that they have food to eat. A true harvest.
We are preparing for Gay Pride and affirming the democratization of the spirit, which has always sought to include all, but has been thwarted by our human fears, biases, and lack of imagination. So we continue to tend the harvest of justice and the full dignity and worth of every human being, in the tradition of the mighty wind and flames of the spirit in the Pentecost story. Again, the harvest is abundant.
In the weeks past, we have reaped the harvest of welcoming Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the America’s Watch, Catholic priest, Nobel Peace prize nominee, who is not welcome in his own church. But we know the Pentecost story, and we opened our doors and our hearts to nourish his spirit, and to be fertilized by his witness, so that we might grow and bear fruit in new ways that make for peace.
We hosted the rally for the Poor People’s Human Rights Campaign, again, affirming that the spirit is lavishly bestowed upon all. Income is not barrier to God’s power and blessing, not even for the RICH!!!!
We have three young people preparing to be confirmed in this church in a few weeks. And we have two candidates preparing for ordained ministry from our congregation. What a harvest!
I could go on and on, because I know that each of you, each and every day, is sowing seeds of that Pentecost spirit, with a kind word, a gesture of compassion, a willing ear for a troubled soul, a letter written, a petition signed, a check written and signed, a wrong forgiven. I know that all of you are spreading the seeds of the Pentecost spirit in countless ways. It is an amazing harvest.
I have to tell you, our church is a beacon to many other churches in the UCC and beyond. They hear about what we are doing. They hear about how involved we are in things. They hear about the many ministries of our people, and they are inspired. I never whine to colleagues about our church because it is amazing. So they often think, wow, that must be a large church because it has such a large ministry. Then they find out we have 55 members on the books. They are astounded. “How do you do it?” I’m asked.
I think it is our trust and our affirmation of that spirit in the story of Pentecost. The spirit is given to everyone. It is expressed in countless ways. Everyone is included. There is the affirmation that everyone has been gifted by God. And everyone has something to share. In our life together, in our organization, our structure, our community, we do strive for democratization. We try to honor mutual understanding, without the barriers of status, hierarchy, and other things getting in the way. You might even say that we’re pentecostal. Yes, we’re still anxious, afraid, holding back, and skeptical sometimes, and we try to hold each other up when the doubts erode our trust. But we’re trying to trust that Pentecost spirit. And, the harvest is plentiful.
Jesus and his little group of friends turned the world upside down in ways they would never have imagined. Why should we expect any less? Just keep the faith, welcome the spirit, and get out of the way.
Now, there were those in the Pentecost story who were not convinced. There will always be those skeptics who will not be convinced. Ben Franklin I’m sure encountered that many a time. You know there were people who said that there was some other explanation for those plants by the path that grew taller. In the Pentecost story, there were those who said these people are drunk. There will always be naysayers. We decide how much power to give them. In today’s world, if you behave with kindness, generosity, compassion, and understanding, people may think you are drunk, or in need of being Baker acted. So be it.
The spirit is blowing. The flames are dancing. The harvest is ready. We are the fruit. We have been given the seed.
There’s a story about a normal, crowded, frantic day at a New York City airport. The travelers raced down the concourse to the gates, bumping and jostling others in the process. You know how it is when you are trying to make a flight, held up by security, making a connection. On my last trip to New York, I ran from security to the gate with my shoes and my belt in my hand trying to make the flight home. So, the story goes, along the side of the concourse filled with a river of people there’s a fruit cart. Travelers can pick something up fast, something healthy even, on the mad dash to the gate, since there’s seldom even a bag of pretzels given out on a flight anymore. Suddenly, in the midst of the chaotic rush, it happened. The inevitable. Someone stumbled slightly, nudging someone else who bumped the fruit cart. The wheels teetered for a moment and then the baskets went crashing down. Apples and oranges rolled across the floor underfoot. Bananas were strewn in the path of the passengers. The young woman staffing the cart burst into tears, fell onto her knees, and began to sweep her hand across the floor, desperately grabbing for the fruit. “What am I going to do?” she cried. “It’s all ruined. The fruit is all bruised. No one will buy it. I can’t sell this,” she sobbed. One traveler, a business man focussed on making his flight, saw her distress as he hurried by. “Go on,” he said to his colleague, “I’ll catch up.” He got down on the floor and helped the young woman gather the baskets and the fruit. As he watched her, grabbing, randomly, frantically, he realized that she was blind. “What am I going to do? It’s all ruined,” she kept repeating. Once the fruit was picked up, the man pressed a wad of bills into her hand telling her it should cover the damage. He dashed off hoping to catch up with his coworker and make the flight home. The young woman reached out to grasp his arm or hand and thank him but he was gone. “Wait, mister. Mister, wait,” she cried. He glanced back. “Mister” she said to anyone who was paying attention, “are you Jesus?” [From The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister, p. 177-179, adapted]
Of course. After all, we have, each one of us, received the same spirit that was in Jesus. The seed must fall into the ground and die to bear fruit, he told us. He has done his part. And the spirit is with us now. May the harvest be heavenly.
And – Don’t be afraid to be pentecostal! Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.