Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23 These days the makers of consumer products have to be really careful - almost obsessive - about using warning labels. And they have to do it just to protect themselves from lawsuits. So we find overcautious labels on practically everything, things like household appliances: Warning: do not use this hairdryer in the shower. And maybe we think it’s a bit extreme but at the same time, fair enough, that’s the kind of warning you give just to be safe. But then sometimes, let’s get real, I mean you wonder whether the manufacturer is really trying to be cautious with a certain product or if they’re just trying to have some fun. For instance:
The warning label on a wheelbarrow that reads: Not intended for highway use.
Or this warning on a rock garden: Eating rocks may lead to broken teeth.
And perhaps my favorite, a warning label from a Superman costume: Warning: wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.
It’s silly, it’s downright outrageous to think someone might even try those kinds of things, let alone blame someone; blame the manufacturer, and file a lawsuit. Yet that seems to be the world we live in, because we humans do some crazy stuff. And sometimes we use things in the most - shall we say - unexpected ways.
And so today on Pentecost Sunday, here with a baptism, some people might wonder if we should be using a warning label at church. Not because we don’t trust anyone’s judgment. But just pause for a moment and think about what we’re doing: we’re telling stories about wind and fire, we’re filling a bowl full of water, and yet somehow we think this is a good place to bring a baby. If this happened to be the first time someone walked into a church they might think,
Warning: water, wind, and fire are not children’s toys.
And they’d be exactly right.
Because there is both a sweetness and also a real seriousness (even a fearfulness) about Pentecost, Christian Baptism, and the birth of the Church. In today’s reading from the book of Acts (2:1-21), God’s Spirit is doing something uncomfortable. It’s described as rushing and violent (2:2); something that filled the house so people couldn’t even escape. And then almost by spontaneous combustion (?), these tongues of fire above their heads.
When it’s all said and done these people weren’t just Spirit-filled, they were Spirit-possessed. And in the ancient world just like today, describing someone like that, describing some with a label, Spirit-filled, well that could be a warning label just as much as a compliment. “Watch out, that one’s Spirit-filled, if ya know what I mean!” (cuckoo). These are people who can make us uncomfortable because they just seem, well, combustible, hard to figure out, and sometimes kind of weird. It was the same at Pentecost. On that day, some critics “sneered and said, ‘They’re filled with wine’” (2:13), they’re drunk - and since these critics seemed to have a problem with that, being filled with wine, well we know they weren’t Episcopalians like ourselves, but that’s not the point. The point is that they saw some people who were hard to figure out, they were on the fringe, they were acting kind of bizarre.
So Peter, that bold, blustery, and sometimes babbling Rock of man stands up to speak. He says, “People, these good folk aren’t drunk - they’re not even Episcopalian!” He says, “I know it’s shocking, but this is what happens when God shows up.” In particular, this is what it looks like when God renews the face of the earth. Just like we heard today in this morning’s Psalm, “you send forth your Spirit... and so you renew the face of the earth” (Psa. 37.31).
The reason Peter’s announcing this isn’t just because God is offering a new kind of religious experience that feels good. It’s because God is announcing a new reality. It’s because of Jesus, and because of the Resurrection that God’s Spirit is now being poured out “upon on all flesh, and” Peter says, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and even your old men shall dream dreams” (2:17). Do you see it? He’s describing the very kinds of people that societies usually push to the fringe - both the very young, and the very old. And Peter announces at Pentecost that these people - from the very youngest, to the very oldest - are now meant to be Spirit-filled.
Don’t get nervous. It’s not some command to be socially awkward or just plain weird because we’re “Spirit-filled”. It’s an invitation to be caught up and swept along by the Spirit of the risen Jesus that’s filling and flooding all of creation - just like a rushing wind that filled the apostles’ house. We can also see it right there in today’s Gospel reading from John. The risen Jesus came to his followers on Resurrection Sunday and he, “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20.23). God’s wind and God’s fire, God’s power for new creation is renewing the face of the earth. The Spirit of the risen Jesus is rushing like wind and fire, and it’s being poured out just like water on everyone from the youngest to the oldest.
In just a few moments when we meet Teagan, and her parents Molly and Matthew, and their family we’re going to pray that God’s Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Jesus will be poured upon her too. No one is too young, and no one is too old to be renewed by the Spirit of Jesus. And what that means is that we believe God is using all of us, from the youngest to the oldest to bridge that gap between the broken places of the world and the new life that began with the Resurrection; new life that will one day fill all of creation with a rushing, mighty wind. And we believe that kind of new creation starts right here, with people who follow the risen Jesus.
So, when you get right down to it, maybe the real surprise isn’t that we humans do some eccentric, foolish, and sometimes crazy stuff. Maybe the surprising thing is that God really takes us seriously; that God really uses us, God really includes us, and God really fills us with His own life-giving Spirit. As surprising as it seems, God believes that we’re supposed to be used that way. And it’s not because any of us are especially powerful or smart, but simply because God wants to use people to renew and to restore God’s creation. So it turns out that Pentecost and Baptism really should come with a warning label. But not some warning label that we’re making a mistake with our beliefs or actions today. It’s a more of a warning about what it all means, and about what kind of label Teagan and all of us will be wearing when when we’re finished here today:
Warning: this person is being used by God to renew the face of the earth.