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Pentecost: Positive Apocalypse

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Acts 2: 1-21

A few weeks ago, many of the faithful were disappointed that the Day of Judgment did not arrive as someone had predicted. There was no Rapture of the faithful to heaven, no judgment of the faithless. The terrifying end of the world scenario this person had predicted didn’t come to be.

The thing is, terrifying, end of the world scenarios are happening all the time. We’ve seen our share of them. The Stock Market crash. 9-11. Katrina and other natural disasters. The list goes on. All sorts of end of the world scenarios, things that someone predicrted would be THE WORST THING EVER have ended up happening—yet somehow we’ve survived.

But they’ve left us scarred. We aren’t as trusting as we once were. Not as secure. We’ve lost jobs. Friends. Family. Confidence in our institutions and our leaders.

Maybe we’ve lost some confidence in God.

We are taught to expect the worst, and to a certain extent, we religious folks have been taught to expect the worst OF GOD. God is going to bring some terrible doom upon us all. If you think about it, this flies in the face of other things we’ve been taught about God—that God is loving, merciful, forgiving. I don’t’ want to minimize the fact that we also believe in a coming judgment day, when God separates out the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad—but I do want to point out that such a day will come because God is JUST, not because God is arbitrary, tyrannical, or just exasperated and ready to wipe out the world.

Yet we seem to believe that God IS arbitrary, tyrannical, or exasperated and ready to wipe out the world. So we’re whipsawed between two opposing views, one of God who loves us and the other of God who is out to get us. So when bad things happen, we think God did it—and our trust in God erodes.

We could sure use a good apocalypse—an end of the world scenario where God does GOOD things. Where God resolves the differences that divide us, where God sets free the political prisoners, heals the wounded and sick, wipes the tear from every eye, welcomes the poor, the stranger, the homeless, the widowed and the orphaned, the mistreated, the least of these. A good apocalypse like the bad ones we’ve had, in the sense that it happens in the real world, in the here and now, but isn’t bad like the stock market crash, or 9-11, but good—a world-changing moment that is wonderful and beautiful and reconciling and hopeful.

If you think about it, we HAVE had such moments—the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Velvet Revolution, the end of Aparteid in South Africa, more recently the Arab Spring. Times when the world and history seemed to be forever changed in a positive way. Maybe the effects don’t last forever—but then, neither do the effects of negative apocalypses. The problem is, we often forget the positive moments, but we remember the negative ones often for the rest of our lives.

The people of Jerusalem experienced a positive apocalypse on the Day of Pentecost. God directly invaded history. The Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire and with the sound of rushing wind. It was, we are told, the DAY OF THE LORD—the day of God’s judgment, really—but it wasn’t a NEGATIVE judgment, not at all—it was an incredible POSITIVE JUDGMENT.  Instead of God raptruing the the Good Guys and condemning the Bad Guys, God acted as if GOOD AND BAD didn’t matter—but understanding mattered a lot. People were given the ability to UNDERSTAND THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S LOVE. They were given the ability to UNDERSTAND ONE ANOTHER. God wasn’t separating people based on Good and Bad—God was bringing people together, out of love and mercy. God was giving us the ability to stop judging one another, and start understanding one another.

And here’s another thing: when we talk about the Judgment Day we’re talking about it as if God is going to DO SOMETHING TO US.  God is the ultimate Authority, and we’re helpless peons. But the Pentecost Apocalypse is GOD BECOMING ONE WITH US. That’s what the Holy Spirit is—it is God in us and us in God. On Pentecost we believers became ONE WITH GOD. It’s a curiously democratic judgment day, if you think about it—God of the people, by the people, for the people. Suddenly God’s people are not passive victims of a powerful deity, but active participants in the work of that Deity. We are one with God and God is one with us. Jesus emphasizes this too, when he tells us in our Gospel that because the Holy Spirit is within us, we have God’s holy power either to forgive or to condemn. It’s up to us, because now God dwells with human beings.

Its time for Christians to stop acting like passive victims. We aren’t. God is in us. God is among us. There’s been this amazing democratic apocalypse, where God in God’s grace shared God’s Spirit with all those who believe in Jesus Christ. So why do we keep acting like we’re helpless victims—victims of the forces of economics, or politics, or change? Why do we keep expecting some awful Judgment Day to fall on us from outside? Haven’t we noticed that so many of the Judgment days we’ve already experienced we also brought about ourselves?

So maybe all the positive apocalypses we long for can now also happen the same way. The Spirit living within us and among us means that God doesn’t happen to us—WE ARE GOD HAPPENING IN THE WORLD. We are God active in the world.

It is time for us to reclaim this wonderful, gracious truth. The world is desperately in need of us asserting the truth that God is at work in the world through our lives. We all long for a better world. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives means we have the power, the ability, and the MANDATE to work for a better world. Rather than simply longing for the end of suffering, poverty, and injustice, we can work for the end of suffering, poverty, and injustice. Rather than wishing we could do more, we can start believing we can do more.

And of course, that doesn’t always mean action. Prayer is a powerful tool in promoting change in the world around us. It can change the world, but it also changes us. It makes us more in tune with God’s will, with God’s love for those we don’t love, with God’s forgiveness for those who we can’t forgive, with God’s firmness for those who we don’t have the nerve to hold accountable for their actions.

There’s a rabbinical story. A student comes to his rabbi and says angrily, “I saw a poor man today on the street. It made me so angry! Where was God for that man, rabbi? Where was God for that poor man?”

“Where were you when you saw him?” the rabbi asked.

“I was right there, Father! Right there!’

“Well, what did you do?”

“Why, I immediately came here to talk to you!”

“At that moment, son,  then you were God for that poor man. You were God. Where were you?”

The blessing of the Holy Spirit is the power, the ability, the blessing, and the MANDATE to do what God wants done on the earth. We are not called to wait for someone else to come and do it. We are the ones who are here, right now. So we are God to this needy world.

 

Here we are, Lord. Send us.