A Sermon for 4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday
A reading from Acts 2:1-21 (N.R.S.V.). Listen for God’s word to us.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
The first day of volleyball practice the summer before my senior year of high school was strange. We all gathered and got ready – knee pads in place, shoulders loose, fingers ready. Coach blew the whistle to call us over and said: “Everybody spread out and sit down.” Sure she was about to lead us in the stretching she did every practice – at that point in our lives, she seemed to care more about the future of our muscles than we did. Next she said: “Close your eyes. Open your imagination. See yourself here in the gym. Now, zero-in on one skill – the one for which the team most relies on you.” Allowing time for our minds to catch up with her instructions, she left long periods of silence between each statement. On and on it went like that as she had us SEE ourselves doing each movement of our most valuable skill. It was almost an exercise to feel the success of the move in our bodies. Have our minds train our muscles to do exactly what was needed in order for our team to function beyond our peak performance. The exercise was called visualization and it became the opening ten minutes of every practice from that first one on. Coach wanted us to get in our minds a vision of ourselves doing our absolute best. As time went on, we moved from individual skills to whole plays of games, until one day one of us visualized our team playing for and receiving the coveted gold medal awarded each fall to only one division champion in the state. It was kinda strange because we weren’t the team that was supposed to be able to dream that dream. The powerhouse hitters of our high school had graduated along with the most successful team setter in the school’s history. We were a little ban of pretty good players without any outstanding giants. Imagine everybody’s surprise when just a few months after that teammate visualized our gold medal success, we found ourselves loading up the bus and heading to the state championship tournament in order to do what we could to make the vision of our success a reality.
I begin with this story today, not to tell you the reason why I had to have shoulder repair surgery a year and a half ago, but to lift up the amazing practice of visualization. Some of you might know it well. Perhaps you’ve been a practitioner of visualization all your life. Daily, or every now and again when you have a life challenge you really need that extra umph to make it through, you get yourself quiet. Open your imagination. And see happening that which you hope to have happen in your life. All the right words coming as you talk with your child about a really difficult topic. The calm you need to confront your boss on another direction for your company’s work. Step after step of a routine or a song or a race that you hope to perform well. Visualization can be a powerful practice for just about anything in our lives. Something in our brains needs to SEE the desired outcome before we set out. I can’t really explain how it all works – maybe it just alters the constant inner critic that can stifle our best efforts until we don’t even try because we’re so convinced it’s bound to fail anyway. Maybe it just widens our vistas to view possibilities something inside us CAN imagine when we open ourselves to what could be. . . . The prophet Joel is quoted that Pentecost day when the Spirit of God mightily stirred among Christ’s disciples. “Your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams!” (Acts 2:17b).
The practice of visualization didn’t start with my volleyball coach. In fact, as Presbyterians, we’re invited into a visualization exercise every time our attention moves over to the Lord’s Table. In the invitation we hear: “scripture reminds that they will come from north and south, east and west and sit together in peace in God’s kingdom.” That’s a vision – a vision of God’s intended way. . . . “Then, at last, all peoples will be free,” are typical words during that long prayer of great thanksgiving when most of our minds might be wandering, wondering when the pastor is going to say Amen so we can get on with it. “All divisions healed, and with your whole creation, we will sing your praise through your Son, Jesus Christ” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 145). That’s a vision – to spur our hope, guide our actions, and daily direct our lives.
“The young shall see visions,” we are promised on Pentecost. “The old shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17b).
When we get quiet. When we allow our hearts and minds to be open, the Spirit of God gives us visions. We see in our mind’s eye what God wants to bring to reality. . . . What do you see when you visualize – for this church? . . . It’s easy to stay focused on the past. To see, as you visualize, what used to be 20 or 30 or more years ago. Even though every one of us knows from personal experience that we cannot do what we did 20 or 30 or more years ago. Nor would we really want to with bodies that are a bit older now, hearts that know better now, and wisdom that has come from the challenges we have faced. . . .
I know it’s a little outside the box, but its Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Spirit that goes as it will. So we’re going to try it now – a little visualization for the ministry of this church. Get yourself quiet – don’t worry about how much longer this sermon or this service is going to go on. Just settle in to your pew right now. Put your feet flat on the floor to let yourself be well grounded right where you. Then close your eyes – yes: a preacher is instructing you to close your eyes during a sermon, so go ahead! Take advantage of it! Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. . . . Don’t worry about anyone around you right now, just listen. Listen deep down in your guts – where you know because the Spirit of God is there in you. . . . What do you see for this church? . . . What is happening? . . . Who is a part of the picture? . . . What are you hearing? . . . What are you seeing? . . . What is being done – alone and together? . . . As God is being served by serving others, what exactly do you see? . . . Let God’s Spirit guide you as you visualize. . . .
Getting ready to come back to the present moment, first express to God by verbalizing in the quiet of your mind whatever you are stirred to express. . . . Then when you are ready, wiggle your toes or tap your heels into the ground under your feet. As you are opening your eyes, remember what happened in these few moments – whatever visualization you received from God. And make sure you take the opportunity to let me or one of the session members know whatever came for you that we need to know. Maybe plan to do this exercise again at home this week or in the weeks to follow. And even pay attention to your nighttime dreams to see what God gives there. . . . Peter’s Pentecostal words from the prophet Joel told us it would be so – God would guide God’s church. “Your young shall see visions,” Peter said. “Your old shall dream dreams!” (Acts 2:17b). For such gifts, thanks be to God!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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