What Does This Mean?

Have you ever been so spilling over with exciting news that you had to share it with pretty much everyone: the cashier, the waiter, the person next to you on the bus?

Your child got baptized today.

Your grandson was born this week.

You got into the school you wanted.

You fell in love and just got engaged.

You got married today.

You found out you’re expecting a much-wanted baby.

You got the job that’s going to change everything.

Or maybe, after wanting to do it for a long time, you finally dared to jump off the high-dive, and you came up splashing and laughing because you lived to tell the tale.

So when the cashier, just making conversation, says, “How’s your day going?” you practically vault over the counter when you say, “It’s going great!!” And your enthusiasm is so beyond the normal range of response that the cashier—and several people in line behind you—all look up and start paying attention. Because whatever is going so great for you, well, they want some of that, too. Who doesn’t love to hear good news?


All of a sudden, the world is wonderful, everything is blooming, all your traffic lights are green, and you can’t stop smiling. Your smile is contagious. Everyone around you brightens up because you’re so happy.


Let’s back up. According to the author of Luke and Acts, the disciples have been sitting in that upper room for fifty days since Jesus’ crucifixion. Fifty days is a long time, and we’re not told what they did during that time. But given how much they moved around when Jesus was leading them, just staying put in itself is an indication of how the core of their universe has dropped out without him.


At first they are likely in shock. If he was the Christ, surely he could have prevented such an end? Everything they think they know and believe must have been called into question.


There is enormous grief. This leader who gave their lives meaning is gone; how can they move forward without him? What can they possibly do?


There must be despair, hopelessness. And fear. If the authorities came for Jesus, are they looking to come for the disciples next? The danger of this prophetic ministry has become clear. If you take on Rome and the powers that be, you can only throw so many stones before they come and get you and squash you like a bug.


During those fifty days I imagine they also told the stories of their adventures. “You remember the time when Jesus said…?” “You remember when we met that woman who…?” “You remember when we fed all those people?” “You remember when we healed all those people?” “You remember when we taught all those people?”


Maybe when they eat together they break the bread and share the cup and beg Jesus to be with them again as their tears fall down their robes. They know they’re not as smart or wise or strong as Jesus. They know that they’re still puzzling over some of his parables. (Aren’t we all?) They know they’re still trying to figure out all that Jesus taught them about God. Who are they to preach and teach and heal, to take on the earthly authorities, to speak up for justice, when they still don’t understand how Jesus did all that he did?


So they sit. Can’t go back. Can’t go forward. They’re paralyzed. They’re very stuck.


Have you ever been in that space? It’s like being on the high dive, looking down at the water, which seems super far down there. You can feel the diving board wobbling and bouncing beneath your bare feet, but at least it’s more solid than free-falling through the air. You’re terrified of standing on the edge of the diving board and taking that next step, the one that’s a long way down, of making the jump and falling and maybe landing with a painful bellyflop. But all the other kids are lined up on the ladder behind you. They’re watching. They’re waiting. There’s no going back. And the longer you wait, the worse it gets. You’re psyching yourself out. You’re paralyzed.


So the disciples are stuck in that upper room like the kid up on the high dive, paralyzed with fear. What if the authorities come after us? What if we try to teach and preach and say the wrong thing and offend God? What if people call us phonies because we’re not Jesus? What if we try to heal someone and nothing happens? It’s the “what ifs” that invade their dreams in the wee hours and their conversations throughout the days.


And then Spirit enters the room. Who knows how Spirit shifted the mood? She blew into the space, danced on their heads like flame, let them know they were beloved children of God just as they were, no matter what happened. And then she pushed them out the door. Take that first step. It’s the hardest. Just do it. And I’ll be with you, Spirit says. I’ll be there with you, always.


And suddenly they are tumbling down the stairs, rolling out into the street, laughing, dancing, shouting. They are giddy! You can hear it in the text. They’re so giddy that people think they’re drunk. All the fears that have held them captive these many days are swept away, and they see that a life full of risks spent doing God’s work is a life worth living, maybe even a life worth dying for. And they’re okay with it.


This is their resurrection, their baptism into their new life of spreading the Good News. No, they’re not Jesus; they are themselves. They will make mistakes. They will try things and fail. There may be a few bellyflops, but they’re not going to fear the high dive anymore.


And that’s the key. They face their fears, and they come out the other side laughing. They face their deepest grief, their greatest insecurities, their own incompetence—and they stop letting those be the excuse—the excuse to do nothing. Spirit pushes them out of their fear, out of their stuck place, and into the joy and exuberance and relief of claiming their lives again as followers of Christ and servants of God.


And with their whole selves—the grieving parts, the confused parts, and also the part that just finally said YES—with their whole selves, they founded the Church. Jesus didn’t found it. Jesus was a Jew his whole life long. Jesus did not know the word “Christian.” The disciples are the ones who, with the help of the Spirit, picked up the work, spread it throughout the known world, learned how to do it as they went, and became the people of God who founded the Church.


The thing about these scripture passages is that they carry forward through the centuries. Perhaps we, like the disciples, have metaphorically been sitting paralyzed in some upper room, afraid to get out in the streets, afraid to commit, afraid we will say or do the wrong thing. Maybe we say, “I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I’m too stupid, I’m too…” fill in the blank. Those are excuses. Like the disciples, we get to see them for what they are. With Spirit filling our hearts, we get to set those excuses aside and do the bold thing anyway. If we wait until we are the perfect person to do the thing, we will never do the thing. You don’t learn how to dive by standing on the diving board. You learn by leaping off that diving board and getting in the water. You learn by taking some bellyflops and then figuring out how to do better.


So on this Pentecost Sunday every year, we celebrate the founding of the Church. We celebrate those who have stood on that high dive and felt Spirit not only push them to take the next step, but then stay with them all the way into the water. We celebrate those who said, “No, I’m not Jesus, and I can’t do everything that he did,” but then went ahead and did what they could. And God used them, bellyflops and all.


Friends, that is our invitation today. We don’t celebrate the birthday of the Church and then say “Done.” We celebrate that Spirit is alive in our midst today, dancing on our heads, overflowing from our hearts, pushing us out—just as we are—to dance in the streets and to share the Good News. May it ever be so. Amen.

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