God is Smiling
Pentecost Sunday C-16
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
I heard a man speak about something his father once said. I listened as he told his story on the radio. He wasn’t a religious man. But he cherished the memory of his father speaking to him as a boy. He said, ‘God lives within you and he is smiling.’
God lives within you –and is smiling! It’s not a bad way to summarize the whole gospel in a single sentence. With wind and fire the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you us. God lives within you. I find the message of Pentecost both deeply comforting and profoundly disturbing. While the love of God heals me, the restless grace of God propels me into the messy, confusing realities of this world.
How often have we heard Pentecost is the birthday of the church? But, that’s not Luke’s only point in Acts, chapter 2. An inclusive community marked by word and sacrament was already gathered around the risen Jesus when the wind and fire came (cf. Luke 24:28-35, 36-51; Acts 1:1-5, 12-26). What comes into being on Pentecost is not the church but rather the mission of the church in the world. Just as Luke’s Gospel opened with the promise of the Spirit coming upon Mary to do the impossible (a virgin would conceive; 1:34-35), so Acts opens with the promise of the Spirit coming upon the community to take on an impossible mission –to make the small community of Jesus-followers, gathered in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension, into a nation of prophets (Acts 1:5-8; cf. Luke 24:45-49).
“…God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 17). You will speak and it will not be your word, but the Word of God that is within you. You shall touch and it will not be your touch, but the healing power of God that can make a life saving difference for others.
With your hands and voice; through the fruits of your imagination and faithful service, God is present in the world –and it makes a real difference for people’s lives. God is within you and she is smiling. At times, God’s smile inspires us to dream dreams, or swells our hearts with confidence, or fills us with determination to do better next time.
Our ancestors in faith tell us what we could only have guessed for ourselves. The gift of God’s presence is the voice of truth. It is the challenge of conscience. It is the capacity for empathy and compassion. It is the inner sense that welcomes beauty, or that drives us to harmonize diverse voices and lives. It is the restlessness to create. Today we adorn the church in red, the color of life-giving blood and passion so we might remember the gift of the Spirit that has put humanity into every human.
We have never lived a day without the gift of God’s presence and so, it may become easy to mistake the divine spark within us for something that belongs to us. Like those who find buried treasure in their backyard and begin to put on airs of superiority, we betray our humanity by building monuments to ourselves like infamous the tower of babel of old.
The book of Genesis begins with two chapters which establish that human beings are blessed by God, followed by nine chapters that walk us through all the ways hubris and self-centeredness lead to our own demise. These stories are not intended to chronicle unique events in ancient history, but to tell us the kind of things that happen over and over again.
After creation had begun with a perfect relationship between God and humans, between man and woman, between people and animals and plants, sin ruined all these relationships. In the Babel story, the people want to make a name for themselves apart from God. They count themselves as equals to God. They use a technological breakthrough in brick making to cement their idolatrous faith in themselves and to strengthen their unity through conformity by building walls to shut out the world.
Time exposes the folly of all who put their trust in monuments of their own making. The ruins of cities and civilizations litter the landscape. There is only one life that lasts. Only one way for everything we do to count forever. It is God who gives purpose and meaning—God who has given us all a name in Christ Jesus; God who creates unity in diversity. At Pentecost the story of babel is reversed. We have become living stones in a temple not made with hands—a living sanctuary of hope and grace.
God puts sinew to bone and builds the body of Christ out of us, making good use of our our diverse backgrounds, varieties of gifts, conflicting politics, and clashing perspectives. God joins us together in community that is as beautiful and joyous as it is improbable and difficult to define. Just look at us, a bystander would say it is not clear what all these people have in common. We have Christ in common. We are gathered and sent for a common mission to welcome one another and all the peoples of earth as we would welcome Christ for that is who they are. God is alive in you today and God is smiling. Let all the people say, Amen!