A little bit about me: I’m a big sports fan. I grew up cheering for my hometown Cleveland sports teams, playing basketball all winter, and soccer and baseball when the cold and snow briefly left Ohio (sometimes while the snow was still there as well). I’m also a big movie fan. I love movies of all sorts, especially with great stories to tell, great characters to meet, and great dialogue to reflect upon. Now, if I were to ask you what the greatest sports movie of all time is, what would you say? Some may remember the 1981 running film, ‘Chariots of Fire’. Others may point to ‘Field of Dreams’ with Kevin Costner. Here’s another one for you: ‘Hoosiers’. Anyone remember this film? The movie ‘Hoosiers’ came out in 1986, starring Gene Hackman as Coach Norman Dale, of the Hickory Huskers. This movie loosely tells the story of a small town Indiana High School basketball team back in 1954. The story goes that Coach Dale, a man with a sorted past, and this team of ragtag boys, will overcome all sorts of obstacles as they eventually reach the high school basketball state finals.
As one would imagine, going from small town life and basketball to the giant arena and bright lights of the state championship tournament would be pretty daunting. As the team enters the arena for the first time, they are noticeably astonished. Coach Dale recognizes this, thinks for a moment, and pulls out a tape measure. He asks one of the players to help measure the distance from the hoop to the foul line; it’s 15 feet. The players now begin to make sense of coach’s bizarre bit of information: the foul line is the same distance as it is on any regulation basketball court. Coach Dale then asks to measure the distance from the rim to the ground: 10 feet.
Coach Norman Dale: “Ten feet. I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory.”
Change is hard. Our human nature does not like change. Humans thrive on repetition, schedule, and logical expectations of the future. Whether we are playing basketball for the very first time in a state basketball tournament, learning to live with a new presidential administration, or calling a new pastor, there are admittedly new questions, stresses, and uncertainties that comes with any change in life. To be completely candid, I am seeking to quit a job that I have greatly enjoyed for the last five years, sell my home, move across the country, start a new job with a congregation that I am just now beginning to get to know. Oh, and by the way, just a few weeks ago I proposed to my girlfriend (now fiancée) Julie, and we seek to plan a wedding, make sure Julie graduates grad school on time, and start a new life together as a married couple in just a few short months, move her across the country, and then allow for Julie to find a job in the area! So believe me when I say this: change is hard!
Whether it is calling a new pastor, working through our own professional or personal circumstances, or something altogether unique and different, I bet all of us at one point or another have felt the pangs and stressors of life change. We know what it feels like to lie in bed wishing to fall back asleep, only to have our mind racing about the days ahead. We know what it feels like to simply not have the answers that your loved ones crave. We know what it is like to pray to God for some sort of answer, anything, to know that we will be okay.
I can’t help but imagine this is very much like how the disciples felt following the rollercoaster of emotions and trauma that was the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. How many sleepless nights did they endure? How many questions were they simply unable to coherently respond to? How many times did they question their faith in a God who was said to have promised to be by their side, yet just a few short days following the resurrection, the disciples would be back in the same predicament, with now only more questions than answers. Change is hard. So we can imagine what may have been going through the heads and hearts of the disciples, now apostles, on that day in Jerusalem, that day of Pentecost.
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
The movement of God would continue with the miracle of individuals being able to speak in their native tongues, yet all understanding one another. Some, seeking some sort of logical explanation of this happening, would explain it away as individuals being under the influence of alcohol. People simply did not have a reasonable explanation for what they were experiencing.
But Peter, the rock from which Christ would build his church, found the ancient words that spoke to what the people were experiencing on this day:
These ‘last days’ that the prophet Joel spoke of would on this day become the first days of the Christian Church. And so today once a year on Pentecost we celebrate this day by the telling of this story, the birthday of the Church.
We would think that things would get easier after all of this, right?
I can imagine the Apostles saying something to this effect: ‘Could we please go back to some sense of normalcy, God?!’
No. Unfortunately, God does not really work in the same way that our human brains were designed. The prophet Isaiah (55:8) reminds us:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
There will be persecutions, and the miraculous conversion of the ruthless Pharisee Saul to become the Apostle Paul. New church communities would sprout up throughout the region, and individuals would discover the challenges of following Christ as his witnesses within community. Change is hard.
But Paul would take on the responsibility of finding the appropriate words to give voice to what God was doing in those days. He would write that we are called to live by the Holy Spirit:
Paul’s words are not just a fluffy, feel-good, pep rally for the young church. By intentionally speaking of Jews, Greeks, slaves, and free, Paul is declaring that God moves amongst all peoples and contexts. Today we may be emboldened enough to add to this list some previously assumed conflicting dichotomies: Americans and Mexicans, rich and poor, male and female…and on and on. The Holy Spirit of God is radically inclusive.
If you are feeling that we just went through a short history of the Christian Church, it is because we did. And we did this because I think there is something that we need to be reminded of every now and again, especially on this day of Pentecost. Sometimes when change is all around us, when we are feeling out of routine, lacking structure, or a clear future, we need to be reminded that God is here. God was there in the beginning, and with Joel, and Jesus, and with Peter, and with Paul, and with you and I today.
The Good News: God moves amongst, between, and throughout all generations as one Spirit to proclaim God’s Beloved Community.
Yes, change is hard. We may have questions, doubts, and fears, but it is the same Spirit at work within us.
It’s the same spirit that breathed upon creation in Genesis.
It’s the same spirit that was with Moses as he led the people to freedom.
It’s the same Spirit within Joel that prophesied.
It’s the same spirit within Jesus.
The same Spirit within Peter.
The same Spirit within Paul.
It’s the same Spirit at the Last Supper, and the same Spirit at the Lord’s table today.
This is the same Spirit that was within the founding members of Valley Community PC back in 1942.
It’s the same Spirit within the great pastors that have come before.
Most importantly this is the same Spirit within the members of this congregation to this day.
And tomorrow? Yes, the same Spirit of the living God will be with us.
Yes, we may have doubts and fears because change is, indeed, hard at times, but it is the same Spirit that will lead us here today, and beyond.
Today we celebrate Pentecost.
Today we celebrate the birthday of the Church.
Today we celebrate the past, the present, and a new beginning.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the same Spirit…amen.