First Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21
Responsive Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
Second Lesson: Romans 8: 14-17
Gospel Lesson: John 14: 8-17, (25-27)
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
One of the big recent news stories in England and most of Europe has been the Leicester City Soccer team. Leicester City recently won the Premier League title. Leicester City’s win was unexpected. The Premier League has a system where bad teams can get demoted to lower leagues. Leicester City was so bad in 2004 that they were out of the Premier League for ten years. Before this season started Leicester City’s odds were five-thousand to one among gambling authorities in Britain, similar bets paying off at five-thousand to one: are Elvis Presley being found alive, someone finding the Abominable Snowman or Christmas being the warmest day of the year in England. Leicester City despite having nothing going for them heading into the season, despite their opponents having way more money, ended up the Premier League Champions in what some are calling the greatest underdog story in the history of sports.
There is something about great underdog stories that capture the imagination. One of my favorite stories is that of Lysander Spooner. Spooner in the 1840’s though U.S. Post Office Rates were too high. Spooner believed that the Government was abusing its privileges. Spooner was not content to just sit around talking with no intention to act. Spooner had no background in the mail; he was merely a lawyer and not a very good one. Spooner decided that he was going to take on the behemoth of the U.S. Government. Spooner decided to open his company called “The American Letter Mail Company.” Whereas the Government was charging twelve cents for Stamps, Spooner would charge six cents. Spooner’s business was quickly a hit! Spooner sets up offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The U.S Government starts to perceive Spooner as a serious threat, so they take him to court. Legal fees along with congressional action begin to cause Spooner’s business to crumble. When Spooner closed shop in 1851, he had forced the U.S. Post Office down to three cents a stamp from twelve cents several years earlier.
What I want people to remember is underdogs can affect significant change in the world around them.
I want to tell another underdog story on this day. The story centers on Jesus’ disciples. The Disciples after Jesus’ Crucifixion go into hiding. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times because he fears how the crowds might respond to him. The Disciples sit around in the upper room waiting for something to happen. All the Disciples had to go off of was faith that God might come through. Our lesson for today has God finally coming back. The wind starts to blow almost like the heavens were roaring. Fire starts to burn upon the tongues of the Disciples. All we know is that whatever was happening quickly started getting all sorts of attention. Pretty soon people from all over town start to show up. Jews living in Jerusalem from all over the Earth come to see what God is up to on this day. Peter takes the pulpit and begins to preach. Peter’s last experience being called on to speak didn’t go so well. Once Peter gets going, he is so good that three-thousand people from all over the Earth become followers of Jesus on this day.
Pentecost was beyond a five-thousand to one shot coming to fruition in real life. We know this story about Pentecost, yet what I want to do today is reflect upon its meaning for our lives and our congregation.
We might wish that it is easy for us as it seems to be for the Disciples on this day. Three-thousands convert after one great sermon. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a church that was so effective?
As you hear this Pentecost story, consider how unlikely a story that the birth of the Christian church is? The Disciples begin with eleven men then they add Mathias. The Disciples were walking into a world where everyone seemed to be against them. The prominent religious authorities had just put their leader to death. The political authorities tended to view their emperors as gods, not dead guys. The Disciples had recently lost their great teacher. The Disciples had no concrete proof or evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. They only had their experiences. The Disciples had experienced Christ being alive. The Disciples had encountered forgiveness within their broken lives. Now the Disciples are being asked to preach to take their five-thousand to one shot on the day of Pentecost.
Perhaps what Pentecost reminds us is that what happened on that day could happen within our day.
I was reading a book last week written by Adam Grant on original thinkers and how they move the world. Grant pointed out how we often get the personal characteristics of great change agents wrong. We assume that great change agents are super-smart, super-dynamic, super-confident individuals who get by in life with transcendent talents and abilities. As Grant points out, such beliefs would be wrong, as great change agents have fear, they have doubt, and they have anxiety.
There is truth that the greatest evangelists out there are not those shouting on the street proclaiming the end is near, nor are the greatest evangelists those that can amaze others with their knowledge of theology.
Perhaps the best evangelists out there are merely normal people who tend to fit in rather than stand out from the crowd.
One time, while I was working down in Lamberton, we were putting together a youth service. As we were meeting with the Luther League, I asked the kids what they wanted to do. Courtney piped up. Courtney was in seventh-grade and not really outspoken at this time. Courtney asked if she could say the words for Communion?
Courtney’s mom was even hesitant whether this was a good idea. So Courtney and I get together to practice. Courtney worries that she’s going to get nervous when she’s standing in front of the congregation.
To which I say “Don’t worry, I still get nervous.” Courtney responds “That only makes me feel worse that I’m always going to feel this way.”
Courtney did something very important being willing to stand in front of the church. Courtney questioned the default of all the ways and reasons that God couldn’t possibly work through her. People might not want to listen to a seventh-grade girl give Communion. Courtney was able to see the ways on that day that God could work through her regardless of whether it had been done that way before.
The thing about great change agents, as Grant points out, is that they question the default. They question that things will remain like they currently might be today. They question that the kid whose parents just tossed him out of his house is a lost kid. They question those who say that the drunk who can’t control his bodily functions can’t ever possibly find grace. They question whether the person who has sworn off religion for good might, with patience, be open to hearing about the power of forgiveness yet again.
For great change agents, the biggest fear is not failing; the biggest fear is failing to try to impact the lives of others when the opportunity presents itself.
Thomas Edison failed a whole bunch of times, yet we know him best for inventing the lightbulb. Not everything ever written by Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart was a masterpiece instead most of their work lies to the dustbin of history.
I came across an excellent story by Angela Duckworth this week about a guy named Bob Mankoff. Bob Mankoff submitted two-thousand cartoons to The New Yorker before his first one ultimately gets published. Now almost forty years later, Mankoff is the Cartoon Editor for The New Yorker. What this story reminds us is that things will happen in God’s time rather than our own.
Back to the story of Lysander Spooner, Spooner failed in his efforts to bring down the U.S. Government and the Post Office. Spooner was going to keep on challenging the “status quo”. As great is the story is of Spooner and the Post Office, it is not where he made his biggest impact. Spooner’s biggest claim to fame is his work as an abolitionist. Spooner challenged the idea that the text of the Constitution allowed slavery regardless of its author’s original intent. Spooner’s writings before the dawn of the Civil War started a great debate amongst the U.S. Congress. Lysander Spooner’s cause of freedom for the slaves took decades to achieve. Spooner’s setbacks, disappointments, and failures could have crushed him. Spooner though ultimately believed that the cost of inaction was greater than the cost of action.
The Disciples interpreted Pentecost as the sign that they were no longer to remain inside their homes. The Disciples were going to travel now to every corner of the Earth.
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the Ends of the Earth.”-Acts 1:8
What we often misunderstand is how the Early Church started. The Church didn’t start with pastors. The Church didn’t start with people who had backgrounds in public speaking. The Early Church rather began with fishermen and farmers. The Early Church began with parents and grand-parents. The Apostles would go from town to town starting churches. The Apostles would then merely appoint whatever commoners they could find to tell people about Jesus. The Apostles didn’t believe that the Church was going to get going because it could only choose perfect candidates; the Church would stay on fire because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whenever I go into the pulpit, I do not preach the word “alone.” Whenever we seek to teach a “child” in the faith, we do not teach that child “alone”. Whenever we gather to pray in cold, hospital rooms, we can often be overwhelmed by indescribable warmth from above. So even if we can’t name the Spirit’s exact ways, the Spirit’s presence keeps on burning around us.
Too many people out there have grown “cold” and indifferent to God’s purposes in this world. We have all kinds of people whom you know in your lives who wake up every morning, longing for hope. People are longing to receive the fire the Disciples and three-thousand people received on the day of Pentecost.
Many people hear the story of Pentecost today and think it seems far-fetched. They might believe that it appears impossible. Three-thousand people from every corner of the Earth converted by a mediocre preacher! The thing is as long as the Holy Spirit is present within this world. As long as the Word of God is being preached, as long as the Sacraments are being administered, as long as sins are being forgiven, Pentecost could be just around the corner. Some of Jesus’ disciples before this day probably thought it was impossible. They maybe felt they were consigned to spend the rest of their life exiled into a lonely upper room. The Holy Spirit was able to come into that room to take the Disciples’ gifts, and now nearly two-thousand years later, twelve men have become a billion followers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is a reminder that the Holy Spirit can turn the whole world upside down at any given moment. Even more unlikely events than Elvis being found alive can indeed take place! Amen
 Markazi, Arash. “The Longest Shots”. ESPN.com. Bristol, CT. 12. Feb.2016. Web. May.11.2016.
 Acts 2:1-21
 McLarty, Phillip. “When the Fire Grows Cold.” Lectionary.org. 2007. Web. May.11.2016.
 Grant’s book is entitled Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
 Grant, Adam. “The surprising habits of original thinkers.” Ted Talk. Feb.2016. Web. May.12.2016.
 Grant, Adam. “The surprising habits of original thinkers.”
 Story posted on Angela Duckworth Facebook page on May 12,2016. Duckworth expands the story in her book Grit.
 McLarty, Phillip. “When the Fire Grows Cold
 Acts 1:8
 McLarty, Phillip. “When the Fire Grows Cold.”