The Guest Who Won't Go Home
Text: Acts 2:1-21
The Session meeting had gone on for nearly five hours and it was rapidly approaching midnight. Yes, midnight! Many elders had come straight from work in D.C. and had not had supper. Nerves were frayed and patience had left the room a couple of hours earlier. The debate was intense and as the night grew later, the debate grew sharper. I kept looking for a wise move to make as Moderator to bring the issue to resolution and to get this never-ending meeting ended.
Just when I thought that we were finally ready for a vote, one of our newest and youngest elders said, “Mr. Moderator, I move that we adjourn this meeting and convene again tomorrow night at 8 p.m. and in the meantime that we enter into a time of deep prayer to discern where the Spirit of God might be leading us.” Being the faithful, patient, and deeply spiritual person that I am, I could have screamed!
“PRAY at MIDNIGHT?!”
“Meet AGAIN tomorrow night?!”
Had he forgotten that weeks and months of thought and prayer had already gone into this matter? What was going to happen in less than 24 hours of additional “deep” prayer and discernment? Absolutely nothing!
When the book of Acts opens, the last place you expect to find the disciples of Jesus is tucked away in a prayer meeting. Luke tells us: “When they reached the city they went to the upper room where they were staying; there were Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Jude son of James. With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:13-14). Now, remember, this prayer meeting was held after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Didn’t these folks have something more important to do at this point than to sit around the house and pray?!
I got home that miserable evening after midnight, feeling anything but in a prayerful mood. After a restless night of little sleep, I awoke to a sense of dread about the meeting ahead. What would possibly be different a day later? The only sure thing is that already exhausted people would arrive feeling resentful for having to come and debate this contentious topic for a second straight night. As for me as Moderator, I would have no greater wisdom to lead us forward than I had had at midnight the night before.
The day dragged on. It seemed as if 8 p.m. would never arrive, but when it did every elder on a large Session was there, even two elders who had missed the meeting the night before. Someone else was there as well. It was not long before you could tell that a guest had slipped into the room, because people started to behave like they do when company is around. They started to speak differently and even to listen to each other differently. The lines in the sand that had been drawn so sharply the night before began to be erased with each new remark. And before the hour hit 9, remarkably – some might say, miraculously – a unanimous decision had been reached on a very contentious issue and I could see the guest smiling in delight.
When Pentecost came, the disciples were huddled together in a prayer meeting, waiting on a visit from God. It is hard to know just what more they were waiting for from God, but still they waited and they prayed. It is hard to say all that happened on that first Pentecost because some experiences defy adequate description.
One thing happened for sure in that upper room in Jerusalem. A guest arrived and arrived not with the subtlety of a quiet observer at a heated Session meeting. This guest arrived with fireworks and thunder, unpacking bags filled with gifts of speaking, hearing, and understanding. The guest not only stayed with them but spurred them on to get out of the house and into the streets. The guest applauded them as these pray-ers became speakers, telling the truth about Jesus in languages that everyone could understand.
Now, some of the urbane and sophisticated folks in Jerusalem dismissed the whole Pentecost phenomena as so much nonsense that often happens when people have had a few too many. Some folks gave these ecstatic speakers a condescending glance. After all, one should not take one’s religious faith, much less the church, too seriously. The Pentecost guest, though, had a different response. The guest just kept smiling, delighted to hear people like Peter speak with such conviction about Jesus when just a few nights earlier, he could not manage to speak one truthful word.
There are some guests that you are happy to help pack after a day or two. You try to be polite, but you wonder when they are ever going to leave and when you are ever going to get back to your tried and true routine. The Pentecost story suggests that this particular guest arrives with bags packed, ready to stay. This guest has no intention of leaving, is going to rearrange all the church furniture, and is going to trouble our tried and true routines.
In Atlanta, my colleague who directed our Outreach and Advocacy Center was a remarkable young pastor who kept a diary of daily prayers. Annually, the Center assisted over three thousand folks battling poverty and homelessness. I would visit the Center frequently, but Kimberly was in throes of desperate people in need every day. Soon after the day of Pentecost a few years ago, Kimberly wrote these words in her diary:
Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!
At the end of this day, that is about all that I can say. I am exhausted. I worked the front desk this morning. Our staff and volunteers saw 30 guests today. The Atlanta Community Food Bank representative saw 10 guests for food stamp application assistance. The staff of Prevent Blindness of Georgia saw 50 guests for eye exams and the fitting of glasses. Guests were in and out all morning asking questions. The lobby stayed full. Tempers were a little short probably because of the heat. It simply was a packed morning and at the end of it, I found that I had absolutely no energy left. I am sure most of the staff and volunteers felt the same way.
I really didn’t feel like writing. My brain and heart just couldn’t process anymore. However, about 2:30 p.m. a church member and her two young boys walked into the Center. They came to my office door with two bags of canned food. I learned that Sam, the older of the two boys had just had a birthday. He asked his friends who were coming to his birthday party to bring canned goods for our guests instead of presents for him!
God, thank you! In the midst of my exhaustion, Sam made my day and made me remember what a privilege it is to serve in the OAC. Instead of “Oh my gosh!” I can now say, “God, thank you!”
My hunch is that the Pentecost guest was in the Outreach Center in Atlanta that afternoon. The guest was no doubt sporting a huge smile when young Sam decided to invite his guests to join him in this joyful, generous act of birthday hospitality. My hunch is that the Pentecost guest was present when Sam’s story lifted Kimberly from absolute exhaustion to overwhelming thanksgiving.
Look around as you come to this festive table today and you might just spot the Pentecost guest grinning from ear to ear, just waiting to greet you and inspire you to live a life full of grace and hospitality, patience and prayer.
Sometimes the Pentecost guest arrives with a flourish, with flames afire, calling everyone to listen and to speak, turning rooms and expectations upside down. In the Celtic tradition, that is when this guest behaves as a Wild Goose, stirring waters that have become too complacent. Sometimes, though, the Pentecost guest arrives quietly and inconspicuously in upper rooms and Session rooms, in bedrooms, in boardrooms, in school rooms and in Outreach rooms, and gives us just the nudge we need to live out our prayers. Oftentimes, the Pentecost guest arrives to remind us that you and I are way too busy not to take time to pray.
And so, on this Pentecost morning, I pray that our guest will never go home or even more, that our guest will make her home with us from this day forth and forevermore.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!