This morning I’d like to talk specifically to the three youth from our Confirmation Class, Anna, Aubrey, and Luna. If you are here and you are not them, you can listen in if you like!
Luna, Aubrey, and Anna, your presence in this church community is vitally important to us. Each of you has more or less grown up in this church, and each of you has contributed your unique energy, ideas, songs, prayers, and sense of humor. Today one of you is choosing to confirm your commitment to the Christian faith and to formally join the membership of this congregation. And today two of you are choosing to affirm your ongoing spiritual exploration. All of that is good, and all of that is what we have hoped for you.
Today is a day in the life of the church known as Pentecost Sunday. It commemorates the event we just heard about from the Book of Acts. After Jesus’ time on earth was over, his friends gathered in a large room and waited for something amazing that Jesus had promised. No one knew exactly what it would be, but it turned out to be the unleashing of God’s Spirit in a remarkable way. A strong wind blew through the room. Flames of fire were seen on the heads of those who gathered. People spoke languages that they hadn’t learned. It was really pretty bizarre, but everyone in the room knew without question that God was right there with them in a powerful way.
There are a few things I want to share with you as you get ready to confirm your faith or affirm your spiritual journey. Each is related to one of the strange signs of God’s presence at Pentecost. The first is wind. Imagine that you are standing outdoors in a favorite spot by a lake or mountain and a strong breeze blows from the west. Feel it on your face and remember that though you can’t see God, like you can’t see the wind, God is always right there. Wind is a powerful force that turns energy turbines and knocks over tall trees. Wind blows explorers in sailing ships to distant places and new discoveries. Wind moves things. There is so much more for you to know about God and life and this world. Let the wind take you there. Don’t be blown every which way, but set a course and be prepared for God to take you to places you don’t expect.
The second sign is fire. As the friends of Jesus looked around the room, they were surprised to see flames of fire dancing on the heads of those around them. There were one hundred and twenty there, and the fire marshal was nowhere to be seen, so they just took in the wonder of this very unusual moment. Have you ever sat by a campfire and stared into the embers as the flames burned down and glowed with intensity? Fire is mesmerizing. Left on its own, it can destroy great forests, but even in doing so it continues the cycle of life. When you were younger, you were warned not to play with matches. That’s still good advice, but don’t be afraid to catch fire for causes that capture your interest. We older folks need you to inspire us with your enthusiasm for life and your less jaded view of all that is possible. The fire that burns inside you is God’s Spirit prompting you to ignite the world with who you are and what is important to you.
And then there are strange languages. The back story is that Pentecost was a Jewish festival before it was a special day on the church calendar. The Jewish people lived far and wide through Asia and Europe and spoke different languages even though they shared a common faith. People came to Jerusalem from all over for the festival. When the Spirit arrived on Pentecost, the followers of Jesus suddenly started talking with words that sounded like gibberish, even to them, but which conveyed the story of Jesus’ life and message to others. Even though the world as they knew it was divided by language and geography, they were united in the experience of Pentecost which broke down all barriers. Our world needs to be united. Sometimes people and even countries think they can isolate themselves from the rest of this planet. They imagine that they are the only ones who really matter, and they consider only themselves when figuring out how to use the earth’s limited resources. The adults in this congregation look to you to join us and to lead us in caring for all the people on this planet and preserving the earth itself and its atmosphere. Pentecost reminds us that God’s intent is for the people of the earth to hear one another and to cooperate for the good of all.
Wind and fire are some of the most basic elements of the earth. Pentecost roots us in God’s creation, even as it is creating something new. We often refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the church. When the Spirit came, those gathered were topped with flames, looking like a hundred and twenty birthday candles that the wind rushing through the room couldn’t blow out. There were no more people there than we often have at our church on Sunday morning. Because of that day, our church is here and continues to share Jesus’ message of God’s radically inclusive love for all people.
Each of you has a family that loves you deeply and has made sure that the church has been an extended family for you as you’ve grown. We are honored to be part of your family, and we know that whether you are confirming or affirming today, this is a milestone in an ongoing journey. One of the writers of the New Testament sent a letter to a young Christian and included these words: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech and your love and your faith.” There is much in you to celebrate today, and there is much to anticipate for the future.
For any who may be eavesdropping on this message for Luna, Anna, and Aubrey, how is Pentecost evident in your life? Is the wind blowing? Is the fire burning? Are barriers being broken down so that you can be part of God’s great work in uniting this world? When the Spirit comes, anything is possible. Amen!