Texts: Genesis 1:1-5, 31-2:3; Acts 2:1-4, 14-18
Beacon Heights COB, May 24, 2015
Pentecost is a big day for Peter. Something big happens. Tongues of flame descending from above, tongues of flesh speaking all languages, The wind from God, the Holy Spirit, God’s presence from the very beginning who broods over the chaos and brings it to final rest, eternal rest.
Peter is moved by this Spirit, moved to speak words where there are no words. These events frighten him. They would frighten anyone. God’s power is present, the power that dispels chaos, the power beyond human control.
Peter calls to mind the words of the prophet Joel, words that reveal the day of the Lord, words that are frightening, words that strike a chord with the anxieties of his day. If God has just shown up it must be a sign of end times, an end to the current order, an end to the power structures, an end to what is known, a time of reckoning, a time of justice.
God’s presence calls to mind the existence of the chaos upon which this creation is forged, that there are cosmic powers greater than human strength and human understanding and the human ability to name through the power of language. Peter’s cosmology, his understanding of creation and his place within it, must feel as if it is in upheaval in light of the Spirit’s activity on this Pentecost day. As his story intersects and interacts with the whole story of all creation he must be deeply moved to the core and humbled to have a pivotal role as an apostle of the Church, as Christ’s emissary.
Imagine that! The life of a simple Galilean fisherman has profound cosmological significance. The story of one person gives meaning to the entire Universe and humanity’s place within it. The universal is found in the particular.
Ever since he was called from his nets about three years before the Spirit’s arrival on Pentecost, Peter’s world and his place within it has been turned on its head. He has become part of a group, a band of wanderers and wayfarers, following a controversial rabbi. His path is far less certain now with the death of his leader and quite frightening in light of the resurrection, the ascension, and the charge to continue the ministry.
This Pentecost does not give much more certainty. The wandering and wayfaring must seem to be Peter’s destiny. Where he will go and what he will do is still very much up in the air.
It can be easy to romanticize the life of the wayfarer, the drifter with no specific place to be or task to do, the free spirit who follows the whims of the Divine. I often identify with this archetype.
I thought about this recently as I took some sabbath time a trip back to my childhood home in eastern Pennsylvania. I hit the road with a full tank of gas, a Mountain Dew slushie, and my collection of classical CDs. Ignoring the negative effects of the petrol on the environment and the high fructose corn syrup on my long term health, I decided to make the most out of my time on the road, in solitude behind the wheel.
Sabbath rest can be more about state of mind than it is about anything else. 10 hours alone in a car is not exactly at the top of the list for a sabbath rest experience. I can imagine that it is near the bottom for the extroverts among us. But for me, I find the open road spiritually and mentally fulfilling, even though it can be physically taxing. I do some of my best reflecting and thinking while on the move.
There is something about the pilgrimage, the spiritual and theological quest, that gets my juices flowing, the journey of discovery of self in relation to creation and self in relation to the Creator. That is my idea of sabbath.
On this particular journey I decided to re-connect with my past self, the one deeply involved in the art and study of classical music. I was a music major in college and I ate up just about every opportunity to learn in the music field: performance, theory, composition, music history, conducting, and even teaching music, which I hoped to pursue as a vocation.
Music was my world for the most part. I became a jack of many musical trades, but a master of none. I lacked focus and dedication to a particular specialization and floundered in my final semester when I was a student teacher. As college ended my world and my place within it was turned on its head. The Bachelor of Arts degree that I earned, along with a hefty private liberal arts price tag, did not fulfill vocational aspirations, at least not right away.
So I began a season of wandering and wayfaring; a BVS placement in rural Ohio an hour east of Cleveland, Indiana for Bethany Seminary, CPE and odd jobs here in Fort Wayne, and currently, a stint as interim pastor with you at Beacon Heights.
My recent trip home was a time to be intimate with my wayfaring soul and a time to listen to the music that paints much of my soulscape, including the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.
Besides the fact of being on the road, what really got me thinking about wayfaring was Mahler’s first symphony, which utilizes themes from an earlier work of his: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, translated: Songs of a Wayfarer.
As I stand up here on this Pentecost, 1982 years or so after Peter stood up to preach, I find myself in his shoes, wondering what this will mean for my future and for my understanding of creation and my place within it.
This interim position may very well be a stop on the road, a respite from the wandering and wayfaring of my life, but perhaps something greater is going on here. Perhaps there is some higher purpose to all of this.
I could very well express my anxieties in the language of the end-times, an idea that has captivated the human imagination for thousands of years. It is very easy to live in fear that the world as we know it might end at any moment. Such fear has been expressed in many art forms including music.
This year the Fort Wayne Philharmonic performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, a dramatic setting of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. Verdi’s setting of the Dies Irae, “the day of wrath,” is some of the most dramatic music ever written for combined symphony orchestra and choir, capturing a frightening vision of the day of judgment.
The highly symbolic and metaphorical words found in end-time writings express the inability of language to capture our deepest and darkest fears. Any cataclysmic event can shatter our fragile cosmologies, our understandings of creation and our places within it. The same goes with any serious trauma or loss that we can experience.
The creation myth is not just a prescriptive account of how things came to be. It is also descriptive of how things are. God creates possibility out of the chaos, out of the formless void that shows its face in trauma and loss and in cataclysmic events.
Even when things get bad when the world that we know and our place within it crumbles before our eyes, hope and new possibility can be found by calling on God, the Creator.
This is the Gospel that Peter proclaims and has experienced. God creates ways where there are none, and powerfully so in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, perhaps even exclusively so.
Exactly how this all works is an interesting theological question, but for people of faith all that really matters is that God’s saving work is real when times of trouble come, when the deepest darkest unnamable fear encroaches.
I recently heard anxiety defined as the fear that cannot be named, that feeling of worry and doubt that you cannot quite put your finger on, the fear of the unknown. God’s presence through the Holy Spirit on Pentecost calls forth this fear. It is a sign that something new is on its way in and what is old and familiar is on its way out.
I do have anxiety as I begin this interim as your pastor. I am anxious about the new that is on its way in and about the old and familiar that might be on its way out. This is a new and different experience, but anxiety is not my only emotion. The possibilities opened up in this time are also exciting. This feels more purposeful than the wandering and wayfaring that I have described my adult life as.
And this is the big self discovery I made during my recent sabbath journey. I did a little research on Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, at least as far as Wikipedia for whatever it is worth. I found that Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen might better be translated Songs of a traveling journeyman, referring to the status of a tradesperson who is above apprentice level and on the way to master level.
I may still be a jack of many trades, but my many skills are coming together as I practice the ministry trade and move toward mastery, if such a thing is even possible. I am now more than an apprentice and begin journeyman level work.
As my story intersects and interacts with the story of all creation, I am deeply moved to the core and humbled to have a role as pastor of this congregation for this season of sabbath and story. I feel thankful and affirmed to have been called into this role. It is a powerful external confirmation of the internal call to ministry that I have felt for some time, a call that has in Brethren circles been traditionally understood as coming solely from the community.
The nature of call would be another interesting theological question, but what is important about call is responding to it in some way, if not at the moment that it comes at least when ignoring becomes impossible.
For Peter Pentecost is an affirmation of his call as apostle of the Church, as Christ’s emissary, a call that he cannot ignore, especially in light of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The wandering and wayfaring of his life as a disciple is eclipsed by a higher purpose. He is no longer an apprentice, but a journeyman on his way toward mastery embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s message points out that these signs must not be ignored. These signs have cosmological significance, they point toward the story of all of creation and humanity’s place within it. Difficult times are on their way, but salvation can be found in calling upon the name of the Creator, the One who from the beginning creates order out of chaos and brings it to final rest, eternal rest.
Sabbath is an expression of God’s will for all creation and an affirmation of its goodness. The ultimate end to all things is revealed in the story of the beginning.
Beyond the tumult, beyond the pain and suffering, there is rest. Beyond the trauma and loss, beyond the cataclysmic events, there is restoration. Beyond the Dies Irae, the “day or wrath,” there is Requiem Aeternam, “eternal rest.”
How this works is yet another interesting theological question, but faith tells us that it is possible and is available for all who seek it. And may it be so in Jesus’ name AMEN