Toto, We Ain’t In Oz

The text for this sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday is Acts 2:1-24.

I’ve learned sometimes you don’t get the change you want. In ninth grade I wanted to be cool so bad. So I made a plan. On the first day of ninth grade, I would go disco. Oh yeah, Saturday Night Fever was out and girls loved John Travolta. So I carefully put together my disco outfit to wear. Tight, tight, pants roll on your bed to put them on tight, white pants not blue jeans. A snazzy, shiny, genuine polyester silk like black shirt with a bold design, two buttons casually unbuttoned, with a gold chain hanging wear I hoped hair would show up before school started. If John Travolta had been 14 with blond hair, braces, pimples and thick aviator glasses he would have looked just like me. I nearly danced into the hallways the first day of school.

I learned sometimes you don’t get the change you want. I wore the outfit once, was humiliated and went home amazed at how far I had gotten it wrong. I wasn’t John Travolta, no matter how tight my pants. A side note, at 45, happily married and too old to care I did stumble upon a sure fire babe magnet that no woman can resist, a scooter. Yeah baby. If only I knew at 14 that a black Honda scooter with 85 horses under the hood was all you needed to drive the ladies crazy.

While no matter how much we wish upon a star for the change we want, when the change we need does happen we reject it. One minute we are sitting in a sleepy little town in Kansas wishing something would change, singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The next minute a tornado whips through and our body, our house and our dog are in Oz. Toto we ain’t in Kansas any longer. The change that happened was not only not what we expected, but it wasn’t what we wanted, either.

We almost hear the collective gasp of the apostles on the day the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit blew into Jerusalem. Toto, we ain’t in Kansas any longer. It is not like these disciples didn’t want change, big change. Just a day before, they asked the resurrected Jesus if this was the time big change was coming to Israel. You know, Jesus, the restoration of the Kingdom of David, a kicking out of the Roman rulers and the Jewish Kings that had sold out their faith in order to stay in power, Messiah stuff. They were anxious for change to happen because it would declare them winners and certain enemies’ losers.

I imagine Jesus smiled at their eagerness. He told them to do nothing but wait. A mighty wind will bring change soon enough. He knew it wouldn’t be the change they wanted, but the change they needed, but he didn’t tell them that. So they waited. They gathered their tiny congregation of believers, about 120 or so people, and waited. Waited for the revolution to start. Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Jesus ascended to heaven and the tiny group of believers continued to wait in Jerusalem as it filled up for the harvest festival of Pentecost, a Jewish holy day celebrated 50 days after Passover every year. Good, faithful Jews from all over the known world were there to give thanks to God for providing for them. While the 120 or so believers huddled in the Upper Room and waited, hoped, tried to will the violent overthrow of their enemies.

Then the wind blew. The tornado of change started early in the morning. Jewish men and women who could not understand each other before, suddenly knew each other as completely as Adam knew Eve before that snake led us all astray. Strangers really, even with a shared religion, their different cultures made them strangers, found a language common to them all, the love of God. The wind blew. Dorothy’s house was thrown off its foundation and swirled around and around and around. Change was happening. This was it! The revolution had started.

Yet the house of change didn’t land and crush the palace of Pontius Pilate, or the palace of the evil King Herod or any of the enemies of Jesus. The change that God had in mind was different than the hopes and dreams of the earliest believers. On that first Pentecost, a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a new people was created that were completely equal to each other. The change God had in mind was radical inclusion. Peter saw it right away and quoted the prophet Joel. Read it. In this time, all people regardless of sex, race, wealth, status even religion are now a part of God’s family, included in God’s love.

This is not the change the first church was praying for. They had violent revolution on their mind. They pictured almost the opposite happening, a gathering by God of the most faithful Jewish believers and making them the rulers over the rest of creation. The change they hoped for when they sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow, was for a narrowing of the family of God, not a huge widening.

They wanted change, but not this change. How could it be that all Jews were equal? The dark skinned ones from Africa equal to the faithful in Jerusalem? Next, God will be saying even Gentiles, Roman pagans are equally loved by God, and gifting them with the flaming tongue of prophecy. They wanted change that would make them the most popular kid in 9th grade. Not change that would make everyone in 9th grade cool. If everyone is equal, who gets special perks, who decides who is in and who is out?

On that first Pentecost the tiny church of believers were the first to struggle with the implications of the gift of the Spirit. God’s Spirit equalizes us all. It does not elevate one above another. God’s Spirit includes us all in the family of God. God’s Spirit does not land with a thud and destroy our enemies. It serves them, invites them and speaks in a language that everyone can understand, love.

The first church struggled with this and we still struggle with the radical love of God. Too often, we busy ourselves with who is in and who is out, ignoring the winds of Pentecost when no one was out and everyone was in. Yet, change still happens. The Pentecost wind still blows. The fire of God is still proclaimed, uniting us when others would divide us, even in God’s name.

For a while, a friend who attends Columbus State had been telling me about a man who stands outside the doors most days at the college, John the Baptist like telling people confidently to repent because God hates fornicators, homosexuals, pedophiles, drunkards and on and on. This week my friend had had enough. He shouted back at the man. God doesn’t hate those people and neither do I. The man turned on him. You love drunkards who kill with their cars? Yes, I love drunkards. Rapists who abuse women? Yes, I love rapists. Pedophiles who molest children. Yes, I love pedophiles. I love all of them because God loves them. My friend was so emotional, he started crying. The crowd around him started to clap. For a brief second, the man who daily tried to convince the world the God we worship is one of hate not love, was silent. The only sound I imagine that could have been heard was wind blowing.

The wind that blew through that first Pentecost was violent, but her violence was directed at tearing down walls not building them up. The wind of that first Pentecost brought change, but it was not the sort of change that declares winners and losers, but rather brings the finish line to all of us. The wind of that first Pentecost is nothing to be nostalgic about because it blows today whenever any one of us speaks a language everyone can understand, by not just words, but more importantly actions. Love.

Change will happen. The Holy Spirit still violently blows through this world. It doesn’t bring the change we want, like I learned in 9th grade. It does bring the change we need. Toto, we ain’t in Kansas any longer, but we are not in Oz either. We are in the Kingdom of God, where the language of love is all any of us needs to know to be understood.  Amen

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