17 May 2016

Breaking the Sound Barrier: How the Holy Spirit Works

Look at the Second Chapter of Acts in the New Testament. 

What do you see?

You see one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. 

It includes miracles of sight and hearing. 

Then it quotes an apocalyptic Old Testament text from Joel. 

Let's try to get at some of the wildness of the story today. 

I'm referring to what happened in Acts 2:1-21.

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Do you remember how it felt when the Holy Spirit was pushing us into the Single Parent Family Ministry? That uneasy, queasy, scared, unsure, tentative type of feeling? I remember it. Finally you come to a point where you’ve either got to do it or no. You’ve either got to be courageous and go forward or you’ve got to just let it go and then count your losses.

That kind of feeling I had last night. I was at my son’s high school. They were having a performance in the theater department. Three hundred parents were there. We had a silent auction on the side trying to raise some money for a trip to Edinburgh. I felt like I should stand up and say that we have this booth over here if you’d like to donate. We had iPads on each table if you’d like to donate. We’re having a great year. We appreciate the director. Let’s give him some applause. We appreciate the principal of the school for supporting this program. Let’s give him applause. We appreciate the people that cooked all this food tonight. Let’s give them applause.” But I wasn’t sure.

Before all that, I was going to say, “I’m Jon Burnham. I’m the pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church. We’re having worship tomorrow if ya’ll want to come.” I was going to do that too. Well, I did not do it. I just did not do it. It was like there was a sound barrier around me and I could not break through it. Now would it have been the right thing for me to do or not? I don’t know. I don’t know that group well enough to know if that would’ve been appropriate. But had that kind of feeling. Wow, here’s an opportunity. I need to speak, I need to break the sound barrier, but I’m scared. I’m not sure, and so I didn’t.

That’s kind of how Jonah felt when God told him to go to Nineveh. It was a great city of the ancient world. God called Jonah to go and announce that God was going to judge the city. That’s not something you want to volunteer for or agree to when your life could be at stake. And Jonah didn't even like the people living in Ninevah.

It’s the same kind of feeling Moses had when he stood before the burning bush. God calls him and says, “I’m going to send you up to Israel."  Yes, I understand they’re slaves to the Egyptians right now. I know Pharaoh is the most powerful man on Earth. But you’re going to speak to him because I’m going to give you the power to do it.

And Moses stuttered like, “Ah ah ah ah ah I can’t even do this.”

And God said, “No, this is what you’re going to do. Moses felt uncomfortable. He trembled. There was a sound barrier full of fearful silence surrounding him. He finally broke it. He spoke out and God let the people of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land.

Or remember Jesus himself after his baptism in the river Jordan. Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit pushed him out into the wilderness. That word for "push" is "ball-o" in Greek and it's where we get the word baseball. The Spirit threw Jesus out in the wilderness. I imagine he was a little scared and uncomfortable. That wilderness in Israel  didn’t have any wild animals there at that time. This was a metaphorical image. Jesus was going to struggle with his mission. He was going to deal with what God was calling him to do. He knew what that was going to take. So yes, he had some fear and some uncomfortableness around that. 

It’s the kind of feeling that you get when I say this. “Hey, could you give me the email address of somebody that you know that we can put on our church newsletter list?” There are some heart palpitations around that. There’s a sound barrier around us. We're not comfortable speaking about our faith in Jesus.

“What are people going to think?” We wonder.You know the feeling. That’s the kind of feeling that the disciples were having on the day of the Pentecost. That's when the Spirit broke the sound barrier. They started hearing people speaking in all different languages. The people gathered from all over the world. They were at a festival. Everybody heard the gospel in their own language. Never mind the person speaking didn't know the language. The Spirit broke the sound barrier.

There’s a great story here about Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier in air flight. It happened on October 19, 1947 at Edwards Air Force Base. The problem happened in the airplane at that speed around seven hundred sixty five miles per hour. When you’re about to break the sound barrier, your plane starts vibrating and rattling. The assumption was if you went five, ten, fifteen miles per hour faster, your plane would explode. The test pilot would get right on the edge of that speed and breaking the sound barrier. The plane would start shaking and the pilot would reduce the speed because he did not want to die. But Chuck Yeager was one of those pilots and he decided he was going to do it. Thirteen hours before he got into that plane for that flight, he had an accident. He was riding a horse and into a stable when “WHAM,” he ran right into the gate, breaking two ribs. Thirteen hours before this flight. He decided, “I’m going to do it anyway.” Even through the pain.

When he got in the little tiny space for the cockpit, he couldn’t even close the door because he was in so much pain. It was like closing a bank vault. He had to take a broomstick. to shut the door from the inside. One of his engineers told him how he could finagle it to get the door to shut. 

So, he gets up in the big plane that took him way up high, and they dropped him out of his plane. It’s like dropping a bomb. That’s what that big plane does. It drops bombs. It dropped Yeager's plane from its bomb door way up high in the air. 

Yeager is flying the test plane now. He wants to break the sound barrier. So he takes off and circles back around, getting plenty of height in case something happens. So he’ll maybe have a chance to get out of it if an accident happens. He comes up to that speed nearly breaking the sound barrier. It was around seven hundred sixty five miles per hour when he starts shaking. But instead of backing off the speed, he hits the gas! And then,“BOOM!” people on the ground heard this sound. “BOOM!” they thought he was dead. They thought the plane exploded. What had happened is that he had broken the sound barrier. That explosive sound is what happens when you break the sound barrier. “BOOM!” is the sound. And what he found on the other side was quiet, and peaceful. The plane was not shaking any more. Everything is fine once you get through that sound barrier.

The secret was to speed up when everybody else slows down! Isn’t that crazy? That’s what the Holy Spirit did to the church on the day of Pentecost. The disciples are sitting around, they’re frozen in fear, they’re shaking, “Oh God, Jesus. They killed Jesus, they’re liable to come for us. We can’t leave this room. Somebody might see us. If they identify us as Christians, they may hang us up on a cross.” They’re in fear, trembling. You think it’s hard for you to get somebody to sign up for your church email list? If they spoke to someone about it, they thought they might die or get killed! And what does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit just jumps right over their head and starts speaking.  through all the people in the crowd. The church is trying to put on the breaks and the Spirit is trying to push the gas. That, my friends, is how the church was born. If the Spirit had not broken the sound barrier, I don’t think any of us would be sitting here today. So that is how the Spirit works.

What does that mean for us? I don’t know. You tell me. Think about it, pray about it. We Presbyterians excel in slowing down. It’s so easy to slow anything down in this church, or in any church. All you have to do is tell a committee and that’s good. We have a process and I understand that. I love the Presbyterian way of doing things. But sometimes to break through to the next level, you’ve got to speed up instead of slowing down. Especially when you start feeling anxiety and that turbulence and the fear. So let’s just pray on this day of Pentecost that God will give us the courage to do what needs to happen. Whatever that may be. I don’t know what that is, I’m just telling you what the Bible says. You all have got to figure it out. You’re all smarter than I am anyway, so I’m not worried about it. Let’s take a moment and reflect on what we’ve read and heard.

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