John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Today we celebrate the power of God. God used God’s power of creativity and energy to create the universe, a powerful interactive system of planets and stars that pull on one another with power and force. God used and uses God’s power of creativity and energy to create this world with its seasons and plants and animals, interdependent, sharing power, exchanging power. The sun emits heat, power that the plants absorb and use to grow, that share their power with animals who eat them and live in them, including us humans.
God shares God’s power with the creation. The power of the plants and animals and heavenly bodies is displayed in the reading from Acts. The Sun conveys the power of God through an eclipse. The moon shows God’s power through its different phases and colors. The earth will display the power God has shared with it through weather and natural disasters. In the reading from Romans, the creation groans. It is almost like creation is a person. Creation waits. Creation longs for the fulfillment of God’s vision. Creation groans. Creation is active because of the power of God.
God shares God’s power with humankind. Yes, we are part of creation, but in case we wondered how we fit in, Paul writes in Romans that we ourselves see God’s vision because God has empowered us to, and that we groan as we wait for the fulfillment, the full realization of that vision of health and peace and wholeness.
This exchange of power, this sharing of power can be frightening. To have power is to have the ability to act. It is have energy propelling us. It is to be alive. But power can be used for good or ill. It can lead us into situations that are dangerous. Power means that things aren’t going to stay the same. There is movement and with movement there is risk.
I am in a many years long process of sharing power with my child. I give him the power of knowledge as he learns. I give him the power of responsibilities and practicing putting away his clothes. I help give him the power of language to express himself. I give him the power of independence. This power is exciting for him. He likes having power, having choices, having independence. I know he needs a safe time to experiment with using his power in ways that promote life for him. Yet I am very aware that sharing power means a risk. He can use that power to reach his dreams and go the distance. And he can use that power to cause harm to himself and others. And harm will come to him, hopefully in small manageable amounts that we can learn from. Hopefully those situations will better help him use his power in the future.
The prophet Joel saw evidence of God’s power-sharing with creation, the moon turned to blood, the eclipse, the fire and smoky mist, and he was afraid. This was a warning that God was powerful and could crush anyone who went against him. It was a sign of power over. But here, Luke who wrote the book of Acts, sees this as an image of power-sharing, of empowerment, of God’s saving power. That all flesh will have God’s Spirit means that God’s power will be shared among all people, that people will see God’s vision and God’s dreams vividly, that they will communicate these dreams to each other, that Creation will be communicating with us as well and that we will all be participating in God’s dream, acting for justice, acting in love. For Joel, maybe these dreams were bad dreams of coming destruction. But for Luke, they are hopeful dreams. Even in the Old Testament when God warns people, they often repent and it comes out hopeful anyway.
In the Acts reading this power sharing is loud, it’s bright, it is everywhere at once. It is first among the Disciples in wind, flame, language. Others were attracted to it. There was a great crowd in Jerusalem celebrating the great harvest festival of Pentecost. Did you realize it wasn’t just a Christian holiday? We share it with the Jewish faith, or rather they shared it with us. So all these Jewish people from many nations are in town giving their first fruits of the spring harvest, probably barley, and sacrificing it on the altar and giving thanks to God for the harvest, and anticipating the fruitful year where their needs will being met. God has shared power with them to grow food. Now they share power back with their gratefulness and focus on God’s goodness. Jews from every nation are gathered there for the celebration that was a required pilgrimage at least once on one’s lifetime. So they hear this noisy wind and see all this fire, and they go surging toward this sound and they hear in their own language the good news of God’s power. Notice they aren’t required to learn or take on the dominant language, but the disciples are speaking their languages so these outsiders can understand. And they are empowered by their connection with the disciples. They are empowered by the story of Jesus.
Some choose not to be empowered. They accuse the disciples of being drunk. Maybe they are afraid of the power shift that might take place of this story of Jesus is true. If all that call on the name of the Lord shall be saved, that would mean even undeserving people shall be saved, even people I don’t like, even foreigners, even Muslims, even lazy people. Pretty soon we’ll have nobodies thinking they are somebody and that is going to be chaos!
But others were empowered. Think of all these travelers going home, and they tell the story of
what happened to them in Jerusalem, “You won’t believe what happened to me in Jerusalem! I was making my offering and I heard this sound. It’s so hard to describe, and I found myself swept along with the crowd and I heard these people speaking my language. They told me this story about a man named Jesus, but he was more than a man, and he shared his power with children and women and people with AIDS and even people who had died, he raised them from the dead. He came to tell us that God is sharing God’s power in order that we might have abundant life, abundant power, and share that power with each other, especially people like us that have been rejected and seen as outsiders. And I suddenly saw a vision of relationship and connection and common language between not only people, but between us and this creation, with the trees and the animals, and the insects, and the mountains. I feel changed and I want you to know the peace and joy and energy I do!” Don’t you think this moment probably was a great beginning to Christianity?
God’s power was released and shared in very strong way with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This was God’s way of connecting and sharing power with people once God’s presence was not there in the person of Jesus anymore. And to those, like us, centuries removed from the historical Jesus, we have this assurance in the Gospel that God’s power still flows to us through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that John writes about. In fact we have an advantage, it says in verse 7, the Advocate the Holy Spirit, to connect us with God’s power.
Let’s be clear though that God’s kind of power is different from the world’s power. The world’s power is for making people behave under threats. The world’s power is for benefitting some and not others. The world says if you have money or possessions you have power. The world lies about power. But God’s power exposes those lies, because it is for everyone. It is accessible. It is free. It can’t be hoarded. It must be shared. God’s power is that of life and love. We are not truly empowered if someone among us is disempowered, because our power is in the health and life of the whole community and not just of people but of creation.
I am full of hope this Pentecost because I hear that wind blowing and I see that fire burning. It’s giving me goosebumps! There is such power among you and loose in the world. Yes, the news if full of terrible atrocities and you share your struggles and pains. They are all very real. But they don’t have the last word. God is in the midst of transforming us, re-creating us, sharing power with us, building that vision, birthing that vision of new life and abundant love and radical relationship. With every push its getting closer. There are a lot of unknowns, but we trust the powerful one, we have hope, we use our power to empower others. We try to get out of the way. God’s Kingdom will be born in our midst. Alleluia, amen.