Making it up as we go

A sermon for Pentecost 2013

I recently attended a diocesan conference where an improv group performed.

It was so amazing to me that they were able to think so quickly on their feet and were really pretty hilarious. Because, as you know, folks doing improv don’t have a script. They’re responding to what’s happening and what other members of the group are saying. I remember a particular scene that involved two children who were arguing about whether or not one girl was capable of taking care of the other’s hamster.  And then two other people jumped in and replaced them, continuing the scene without missing a beat.

I think improv is actually a great lens for thinking about Pentecost.

NT Wright has suggested that we can look at the bible as a sort of drama with five acts.

The first is creation. You know: God separating the water from the land, the earth from the sky, and creating the heavens, plants, animals, and finally people.

The next act is the Fall.  Remembered famously as a story involving, Adam, Eve, a snake, and a piece of fruit. However, if you read the book of Genesis, you can really see how it is a series of falls, in which people are moving further and further from God

The third act is Israel. Sometimes people leave this out of their summaries of the bible. But if you grab your text from where God calls Abraham to the end of the OT and just hold up that chunk of pages, you’ll see it’s the majority of the Bible. So we don’t want to leave it out. God calls God’s people, leads them to the promised land. They build the temple, eventually institute the monarchy, but then they go into exile and the temple is destroyed. Even after the return from exile they continue to be dominated by other countries.

Then there is Jesus, Act 4. Having sent his messengers the prophets for centuries, God sends his own son, to live and die and rise again.

But then, there’s the ascension. Jesus is gone. And thus begins the fifth act.

People sometimes refer to today as the birthday of the church. You can also think of today’s lesson from the Acts of the apostles, in which the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, as being the first scene of that fifth act.

The fifth act is where God asks us to partner with him, to participate in God’s mission of restoring, redeeming, and healing this broken world. It’s pretty amazing that God trusts us. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say God entrusts this work to us. All this in spite of the fact that we humans are so often petty and selfish. We get caught up in our own stuff. Our insecurities can cause us to do and say hurtful things. And yet, God calls us to something greater, to something more.

And that is one reason we are celebrating today also as Recognition Sunday, to honor and give thanks for so many folks who have served faithfully and well in this place. We’ll recognize the list of names you submitted to us. Of course, this list is undoubtedly missing a few names, there are so many servants of God in this place, but this is one way to offer our communal gratitude for God’s work among us.

As I think about the folks we’re recognizing today and others I’ve known here, I’m reminded of something John McMullen said when he was a guest preacher in this pulpit a few months ago, something that really hit me. John talked about looking at the saints of the church and being intimidated and awed in a way. He talked about meeting people who impressed him with their kindness and their patience.

But he noted, don’t think that these people became who they are overnight.

No, it is in participating in this loving, healing work that the Holy Spirit transforms us into the people God wants us to become.

Which is why, of course, that this is also a day where we acknowledge and welcome new members into this community. We invite you to join us in this work and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your life.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to transform us, in order that we might transform the world.

There’s no script for our lives. We are like players on a stage, improvising as we go. Of course we’ll do a better job if we know the backstory. But it is up to us to determine what we’ll say and do, how we’ll respond to people around us. God trusts us. It’s an awesome thing.

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