Act of Communication



Sermon Title “Act of Communication” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  Pentecost Sunday at Creekside — as in the text which Joe just read for us — is a beginning.  Pentecost is sometimes characterized as the birth of the church, or even the birthday of the church, and as with any birthday, it is both a celebration of an event and looking forward to what that event inaugurates — good wishes for the coming year.  The activities of the apostles and the Holy Spirit after the day of Pentecost are recorded in the book of Acts.  The full name of this book is The Acts of the Apostles, but it really should be the Acts of Spirit and the Apostles.  This book is volume 2 of the gospel of Luke: it is written by the same author, who tells us in Acts 1 that the first book was about the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and that this next book is going to continue with the work of the Holy Spirit.  This Sunday through the first Sunday of July, we are going to be considering “Courageous Acts,” that is, the inspiration of the Spirit and the response of the apostles and first believers after Jesus had ascended into heaven.  We are no longer the first believers, but like every believer since the day of Pentecost, we have to figure out how to follow Jesus when Jesus is no longer present to instruct us how to do that.  That is the calling for us and the mission of the church.

Pentecost is an exciting day, what with all the wind and fire, preaching, repenting and baptizing going on.  This beautiful installation captures a sense of the sweep and drama of the occasion.  But fundamentally, the act of the Spirit and the response of the apostles is about something much more prosaic and everyday: Pentecost is an act of communication.  If we are blessed with good intentions and a bit of good luck, communication is a regular occurrence.  Communication is necessary for interpersonal relationships, it’s vital to organizations.  You can get a college degree in communication — I believe at least one person here has one, or be trained on the equipment — radios, computers, whatever — which facilitate communication.  Communication can be informational and straight forward, or it can be cryptic and convoluted.  Communication is notoriously tricky, because it involves at least two people, and often many more.  Communication is not just one person speaking or writing or posting videos: it requires someone else to be listening or reading or watching. And that’s where things can go off the rails.

Let me give you a real-life example.  For years it has been my practice at Creekside to invite those who attend worship on Pentecost to wear red, yellow, orange or white as a sign of the Spirit’s presence with us.  I don’t expect you to remember that on your own before Pentecost Sunday, so I try to put reminders out.  I wasn’t in the pulpit last week, so last Friday I wrote out a list of reminders and prayer concerns for guest speaker Tim Morphew to share.  Apparently I was interrupted when I was writing that email, because I didn’t click Send.  There was a note in the bulletin, but Tim was not told to make that announcement.  Fortunately, Tim is a pro and our Media Team is great at picking up written announcements, so Tim mentioned it, and there was a screen created for it.  I still had the One Call Now notification system, and went through the calculation of when to send that reminder: is Wednesday too soon?  Is Saturday too late?  What other information is being shared on those days? And even as I juggle those concerns, I know that I’m never going to get everyone to wear red, orange, yellow or white on a Sunday morning.  Maybe you’re not signed on to Creekside’s notification system; maybe you only see your Twitter account and don’t look at your email or listen to phone messages; maybe you don’t own anything red, orange, yellow, or white that’s appropriate to wear or that you want to wear; or maybe you got the message, but just don’t care to participate.  Those are all challenges with communication which have little to do with the message itself.  Fortunately, that particular message is not that important.  Wearing red, orange, yellow or white on Pentecost is a sign of the Spirit’s presence and a symbol that the church is individual expressions of one body and it’s really fun to stand up here and see you all . . . but, whatever.  You don’t have to participate in that way. 

But what about communicating things that really matter?  What about what God wants humanity to know?  That happens and has happened in a number of ways — through the prophets, through the words of the Bible, through the Word-made-Flesh Jesus Christ, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Even though that Word from God has been perfect, the act of communication has not been perfect, because its reception has relied on human beings — imperfect people like you and me.  I have forgotten the author’s name, but I remember an article from the Church of the Brethren magazine, Messenger, from years ago.  The author said that if God were to give humanity undeniable proof of God’s existence — say, write in the stars, “I AM HERE” that would be awesome, wonderful.  And then after a few days or a few weeks or a few years, people would begin to ask, “So what?”  Even if I accept that God is up there or out there somewhere, what difference does that make to me?

Pentecost and the Acts of the Apostles is the answer to the question “So what?”   The Holy Spirit rushes in like a mighty wind, appears among the apostles as tongues of fire, and those who are gathered begin to speak — in other languages — languages that people from all over the known world hear as their native language.  And here is a detail that I had not noticed until reading Acts 2 again this week.  The author of Acts, in verses 5 through 13 tells us all about the miraculous speech of the apostles, and lists some of the variety of tribes and nations who hear the message and are amazed and perplexed, the wondering and even skepticism that go along with this communication.  But nowhere in verses 5-13 does the author mention what the apostles are saying.  Are they talking about Jesus?  About faith? About starting a new religious movement?  We aren’t told.  Finally, in verse 14, Peter seizes the reigns and begins his address to the people of Jerusalem and quotes from the prophet Joel.  It is not until verse 32 that Jesus is mentioned by name: Jesus, Lord and Messiah who the people of Jerusalem crucified.

Here is what I believe is the power of Pentecost: it is when God’s Word — that’s a capital W, meaning both the words of the sacred texts and the Word which came to earth in Jesus Christ — it is when that Word is embodied in us that the act of communication has happened.  Communication is not simply God speaking — God has been speaking since the beginning of Creation; it was God’s words which brought Creation into being.  Plenty of people walk around in this amazing creation not paying attention, or if they do, asking “So what?”  What does this have to do with me?  The power of Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit works within us and we begin to understand and act as if this whole Jesus thing matters: his teaching, his life, his crucifixion and resurrection and return to heaven — it happened the way the prophets predicated, it happened the way Jesus predicted, and it happened because God loves us and came to earth in human form to redeem us.  Jesus was the most perfect act of communication that God could send to us; the fire and wind is a way to draw our attention to the message which had already been sent; speaking in different languages is a pretty impressive way to tell us that the message of Jesus Christ is for everybody — no matter what tribe or nation you hail from.  All of this divine communication — God taking on human form, the pyrotechnics of the Spirit — we still need to receive it for the message to make a difference.  The Holy Spirit is still with us because we still need help to receive God’s message of Jesus Christ: we understand it imperfectly, and we often don’t embody it well, either.

Continuing the work of Jesus is the mission of the church: this is the process which began at Pentecost, and, with the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit is what we are doing today — and tomorrow and tomorrow.  Continuing the work of Jesus is both an individual and a corporate calling:  I am seeking to embody the mission of Christ each day, but the church as a collection of individuals is called to be the body of Christ.  We believe that the Spirit inspires leaders and groups of people — the message of Pentecost was not private communication, it was broadcast to anyone present in Jerusalem that morning, in whatever language they were most familiar with.

It’s important to remember that our task on Pentecost Sunday is to hear and embody the Word of God, expressed by the power of the Spirit.  We may each embody that a bit differently, whether we’re Parthians, Medes, folks from Pamphylia (where the pamphlets come from), Americans, Russians, Nigerians, Catholics, Presbyterian or Brethren.  There are a lot of expressions of the mission of God, but there is only one message, and that message has not changed since the day of Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago.  We have to hear that message, not only with our ears, but with our hearts. Peter says it in Acts 2 verse 21: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Here are some selections from the rest of Peter’s sermon in Acts chapter 2: Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Word of God came with deeds of power and sign from God, and we crucified him.  But God has raised Jesus up because death could not hold him in its power.  And we have received the power of the Holy Spirit which has been poured out upon us.  Let everyone know with certainty that God has made Jesus Lord and Messiah. May the Holy Spirit move in our midst as we hear and live the message of the Word of God.  Next week we’ll talk about Acts of Care from the end chapter 2 of the book of Acts.