In Jacksonville, Illinois there are two colleges, but really nothing else except for cornfields. On one side of town there is MacMurray College. This was where I went (for my first two years of school), it was the place you went because your first school said no, or you didn’t have good enough grades to get into a better place, or you really wanted to play two college sports (like me). I remember arriving on campus and seeing the dorm we were staying in for our football training in August and thinking, “I don’t remember them showing us this dorm during my tour of campus.” It was quite the dump. There was no air conditioning (of course) who needs that in 100 degree heat and 90 percent humidity and when we turned the lights out at night you could hear the critters crawling around above the fans that were turned on high. You were thankful to wake up in the morning without being carried away by one of those creatures in the night. And the people, I remember my dad and me saying goodbye and turning around and seeing the most eclectic group of people I had ever seen in my entire life. It was as if a tornado had traveled across the U.S and picked up the strangest, oddest, and most interesting people and placed them all together. I wondered if other people thought the same thing when they looked around.
On the other side of town was Illinois College. They seemed to have everything. They had first class facilities. A new library, many new looking buildings on campus, good looking people walking everywhere. They had beautiful air-conditioned dorms to stay in during their football practice. They had an air-conditioned facility they could practice in when the weather got too hot. They had all of the kids that MacMurray wanted, but they if they got accepted into Illinois College they took one look at their campus with air conditioning and went there instead.
However, when we played them in football every year that was the one time we felt like we were on a level playing field. They wouldn’t be able to play on a shorter field because they had better facilities, they didn’t get 5 downs to get a first down instead of 4, they didn’t get to have 13 guys on the field instead of 11. We were on equal ground for those four quarters because of those common rules.
I wonder if there was some grumbling in our Acts text this morning. You see there are many people gathered together in a room. People from many backgrounds, social status, and education levels. People that had been Christ followers for quite a while, people that weren’t sure what to think about this Jesus guy, and people who just recently became Christian. There were people from Africa, Asia, and Rome. This was a very diverse group. But the text tells us that the Spirit fell on each of these people no matter whether they were young or old. Whether they had been a Christian since the very beginning or whether they had been a Christian for a couple of hours. It didn’t matter whether they were from Jerusalem or the middle of nowhere in Africa. It didn’t matter whether they had seen Jesus when he was alive or whether they had never met him. I wonder if there were some grumbles among those that had been on board all along. Really, seriously that guy just starting following Jesus yesterday and he is given the gift of the Spirit, I have been here all along! It is the same thing that happens to many of us sports fans when our team is having a good year. Whenever the my baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, have a good year and are headed for the playoffs, there are many bandwagon fans and my reaction is the same each time. Come on, seriously, where were you when they finished with 100 losses and were in last place just last year. You don’t deserve to enjoy this as much as I do! Get to the back of the line.
But there is no mention of bandwagon Jesus followers having to wait while those that were long timers were able to get the gift of the Spirit first. All the people had to do was to show up! It reminds me of many of my classes at MacMurray (attendance seemed to be worth half the grade). If they were present in that room, they received the rushing Spirit descending on them.
The gift of the Spirit seemed to have the same effect on all of them. No matter who they were, they could not help but share this gift of the Spirit with those around them. So they left the room and went outside to the crowd that had started to gather. These Spirit filled people then spoke with those gathered from the commotion in the house. At a time when Christianity was not the most popular thing around, this would have been a difficult step for these people to take. But they did it anyway. In fact, even after they spoke in tongues there were those who thought they were drunk. It wasn’t until faithful Peter spoke up and said come on its only 9AM surely they haven’t been drinking yet. I do enjoy how 2000 years ago it was still a bit of a faux pas to drink in morning. Even though this transition was difficult these people filled with the Spirit made it.
A lot of you are making transitions today. Maybe you just graduated high school or college or got an advanced degree, maybe you are moving, or starting a new job. Maybe you are helping a loved one with a transition, and that is simply enough to put your own life on a new track. There are quite a few transitions that happen this time of year. For those of you that are experiencing one of these, this means leaving the place where you have been for a while. That might mean leaving Reynoldsburg, the place where you have grown up your entire life. You know the good places to eat and the best places to hang out. If you have been here long enough you probably know those places don’t really exist. But now you are stepping out into something new and unknown. This is a scary step to take. Just as it must have been for those people at Pentecost who had been filled with the Spirit. However, each of you has been given gifts that will help you along the way. Whether that gift is people that God has placed in your life to make your transition easier, or gifts you didn’t know you had before, or the gift of a church family to walk with you.
One of the things that made my transition easier during those awful 100 degree days in full pads during football practice were a couple of people among those strange guys. I missed those people and places in my hometown of Harvard, Illinois. There isn’t a whole lot to miss in my hometown, but I was comfortable and knew what to expect. At MacMurray College, the only thing I knew was that a giant bug might attack me in the night. After one particularly hot practice, I decided I had enough. I was going to talk to the coach and tell him I was done. On my way I ran into a couple of guys who looked similarly downcast. They said they were thinking about doing what I was planning to do. However, the more we talked and commiserated with one another the more I thought I might be able to make it through these miserable two weeks. Jeremiah, Jacob and I decided to stick it out one more day, and then another and before we knew it we had somehow survived the dorm, the weather, and practice in full pads in the heat.
The connection to Jeremiah and Jacob helped me to make it through a difficult transition. We didn’t care about anything but helping each other through those couple of weeks. I didn’t care (at least during those two weeks) that they rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals (the Cubs rivals).
Just like for each of us. It doesn’t not matter whether you are from Reynoldsburg or Pickerington, or Blacklick or Pataskala, whether you have been a Christian forever or a still unsure about this whole Christianity thing, whether God has blessed you with a thick head of hair or whether you have to put suntan lotion on your head, God has given everyone the same gift of the Spirit, the same holy texts of Scripture, the same opportunities of new life through Jesus Christ. In our baptism each of us is given this gift in those waters. On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, descending down on each of us, to be our leader and guide through transitions and beyond. It is our choice what we do with this rushing Spirit that God has given each of us. This Spirit doesn’t mean that everything in life will be fair or that we will be on equal ground as everyone else. But what it does mean is that God has given each of us gifts and when we use those gifts we are able to enhance the community. The Spirit also reminds us we are not alone, but indeed are connected to all others in this holy Church in the world.
It is a pretty simple message for the people in Acts 2 that experienced the first Pentecost, just show up and God will do the rest. We show up to our new places in life after those transitions, and we pray that the Spirit will bring folks like the Jacobs and Jeremiahs who will help us through these transitions. When we show up, whether that is to worship or on Wednesday nights or even 100-degree heat in the middle of nowhere Illinois we have the opportunity to make the community better around us. Amen