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Amazed and Astonished

Kallie’s eyes popped open in her dark room. Her hand instinctively reached for her phone and checked the time. Exactly a half hour before the alarm was set to go off. Her brain had become trained to wake up in order to feed on the pixels it would need to make it through the day. She checked social media first, clearing backwards through the time she missed while she was sleeping. Then, her schedule for the day – where she needed to be and when, and what meetings she had at work. Finally, she checked the weather forecast. Hour by hour, she planned when she would be outside and when she would need an umbrella or a jacket.

As she jumped in the shower, she had a sinking feeling. There was absolutely no mystery in her life anymore. No longer was anything really a surprise in her job – she shared her electronic calendar with co-workers and they all knew where the other was going to be and when. No longer did she wait for the gossip at work – it was all over Facebook and she knew it before her Special K was finished. No longer did she even act surprised when the rain started to fall – her Weather Underground app knew to the minute what the weather was going to look like. Absolutely no mystery.

As she went throughout her Saturday at work, everything happened about how she expected it to happen. Meetings that had been planned. A lunch hour where she and her colleagues hardly said a word to each other while they checked their phones. Even the rain fell exactly when she expected, and her umbrella was ready to go. No more mystery.

She went out with friends that night to a club and had fun dancing and hanging out with friends, but her nagging lack of mystery weighed on her mind. Her friends introduced her to a new guy at work and she admitted that he was pretty cute. They seemed to hit it off, and so she made sure that he tagged her in his Instagram posts. From his tag, she linked to his account, and to Facebook and Twitter. While he went out on the dance floor for a few minutes, she checked out his profile. His relationship status. Where he worked. Where he went to school. What his interests were. Even what looked like pictures of his last girlfriend. Good news: no red flags. Bad news: no mystery. Once again, she had reduced all of the potential mystery of a new relationship and even the possibility of a first date, to a set of bullet points on a screen. No more mystery. And as she laid her head down that night, she wondered if she was ever going to experience mystery again.

The next morning, everything started the same way again. Weather check. Social media. Click “like” on all the photos from the club last night. Out the door, she stowed her phone in her purse as she drove to the church where she and her friends sang in the choir. As she pulled in, she felt on edge, even a little anxious. And as she parked and walked in, it started to dawn on her – she didn’t know what to expect, at least not in the way that she usually did. Most of her fellow altos in the choir weren’t on Facebook, or if they were, they got once a week to “like” the pictures of their grandkids. When she sat down with them, she actually got to talk for a minute about their lives, which seemed different and foreign from her own. As she listened to their stories and smiled as she told hers, she noticed that her anxiety was actually kind of cool. It was the nervous energy of not knowing exactly what was going to happen next. Even the Scripture passage of the day was unexpected. As the liturgist read the story of the Pentecost, Kallie thought the words sounded so foreign: the grammar, the crazy place names that the liturgist had to pronounce, the telling of the story of tongues of fire on people’s heads. What in the world? Finally, she thought, a mystery! And the pastor’s sermon was about embracing the mystery of the life of faith. She spoke of the Holy Spirit and the ways that the people in Acts waited on its guidance to tell them what to do. Where to go and preach. Who to talk to. She thought, as she listened, “what if they had had a phone to tell them all of that stuff?” What would have happened to their mystery?

The next morning, her day began for her a new sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit. When she woke up, she left the phone on the charger until after her shower, thinking and praying and imagining what the day might look like, and what God might have in store for her. All week at work, she put away the phone and started talking to the people in the break room at lunch. They looked a little shocked, but they joined in, and actually had a great conversation.   And by Thursday, she was a little amazed when there was a downpour on her way to the parking garage. No umbrella to speak of, she ran to an overhang, where someone was just then stepping out of a door with umbrella in hand. He offered to share, when she looked up and noticed that it was the guy from the club the weekend before. With a smile on her face, she started a real conversation with a real human being. And as he dropped her off at her car with a smile, she decided that maybe could get the hang of this whole mystery thing.

 

It was Pentecost morning, and the intrepid mission trip team climbed into the back of the pick-up truck once more, a little wide-eyed at what they were about to experience in the hills of Haiti. All that they had been told was that they were worshipping in a small community about an hour’s drive away, and that they would have an interpreter to go with them to translate. Their translator was a young Haitian woman in a plain blue dress, with her hair covered with a plain blue scarf. She was quiet and unassuming, and the team was immediately impressed with her demeanor, her English skills, and her willingness to climb onto the truck with them to ride down the bumpy and busy road, in order to translate for them. Little did they know the real journey that they had just begun.

They listened to her story as they rumbled through the broken streets of northern Haiti. She had been educated at the University there in northern Haiti, receiving a degree in business within the last few years. But the education that had truly changed her life was that which she had received from the local missionary. She taught groups of women in the living rooms of Haiti. And she taught, it seemed, that women were not mean to be submissive and subservient, like so many in the culture had taught. Instead, they were created by God to serve, to lead, and to show power instead of give it away. Theirs were to be lives of power and strength, and not guilt and shame. And so, she found herself empowered to and strengthened to ride with this group of Americans into the countryside to worship at a Haitian church.

The pastor of the group thought that he was ahead of the game. He suspected that an invitation for the group to the church would mean an invitation for him to preach, and so he was prepared. Or he thought he was. The sermon he had brought, written for a white congregation in an American church, was not going gangbusters in the congregation of small town Haitian believers. Enter the unassuming translator in the plain blue dress and plain blue scarf. Whenever the preacher would speak a phrase, she would translate. But her words were more than an academic repetition that she had learned in school. He would read a phrase from his prepared remarks. But she would preach. Her words captured the Haitian congregation and called them to respond, loudly and passionately. On Pentecost, once more, the Spirit of God spoke through those willing to preach, and there was transformation and joy.

Four Pentecosts later, that same translator finds herself in a very different world. She has traded in the plain blue dress for pulpit robes, as she has come to the States to earn a nursing degree and is now working on a ministry degree. She has traded the plain blue headscarf for a head full of natural curly locks.

And on this Pentecost, she has traded her place as student for that of teacher. On this very day, she finds herself echoing the words of her former teacher and mentor. Today, in the upper rooms of Tijuana, Mexico, she teaches that women are not to be submissive and subservient, like so many in the culture still teach. Instead, they are created by God to serve, to lead, and to show power instead of give it away. Theirs are to be lives of power and strength, and not guilt and shame. Once empowered, she now empowers.

 

Kyle made his way into the back room of the bar. His greeting wasn’t quite like Norm’s on cheers, but it was pretty close. This is the place that he could go where everyone knew his name. He greeted friends, ordered a Shiner, and plopped down in his favorite seat. As the hour of 9:00 approached, the room began to fill up. All the old regulars were there, as well as some new faces. A few minutes after 9:00, one of the women seated at the end of the room stood up, and invited everyone to open their Bibles to Acts 2.

Theirs was a community of believers who gathered every Saturday night at the local tavern, in order to enjoy fellowship, study the Bible, pray for one another, and even share an occasional hymn or two. Sometimes called a “pub church,” their fellowship was one of many like it that had begun to pop up around the country. It scratched an itch for those who had become disillusioned with traditional churches, but still wanted to follow the teachings of Christ in their lives. And Kyle had been coming for over a year now, had been baptized last month, and was considering an invitation to preach in a few weeks.

Tonight’s preacher began by telling the story of the Pentecost in Acts 2. She talked about the disciples and the coming of the Spirit. She talked about the diversity of believers who had gathered for the Pentecost festival in Jerusalem, and the way that they heard the Gospel in their own language. She talked about the sermon that Peter preached, and the impact that it had on others. And then she opened it up for questions and comments about how the Pentecost story connects to our lives.

One of the folks in the room spoke up about how he was struck by the verse where the listeners claimed they were drunk, and Peter’s response that they couldn’t be drunk because it was only nine in the morning. He had often been accused of being a drunkard because of the pub church where he attended. Around the room, heads nodded as he told about members of the traditional church who had chastised him because of the way that he chose to follow Jesus. Kyle immediately went back to the conversation that he had had with his grandparents a couple of weeks earlier. They had accused him of being an alcoholic and told him he better get his life straightened out before the Judgment. He tried for a while to explain that what he was doing was following Jesus, but he didn’t get very far with them.

It had been his experience for most of his life. His grandparents never were much for listening to him or his questions. In fact, his uncomfortable – and even borderline abusive – experiences with his grandparents and their church was part of the reason that he was so resentful of the traditional church. In the summers, he would spend weeks at a time with them, and they would take him to their church. It was there that Kyle was told how bad he was and how his feelings and urges and thoughts were a reason to be ashamed. He had been baptized three summers in a row, as he tried his hardest to clean away the darkness that he was told infested him.

As Kyle told this story to his friends at the pub church, there was a dark edge to his voice as the anger and resentment crept in. A few more folks told their stories, too, and the pile on began. Left and right, folks were sharing their stories about the traditional church and how it had let them down. Finally, it was the pastor who brought them back to the story in Acts.

“Let’s not paint anyone with too broad a brush tonight, she began. Remember that what made the Pentecost so significant was that everyone heard the Gospel in their own language. We are all invited to hear the good news, but we are all going to need to hear it differently. Kyle, I agree that your grandparents are missing part of the big picture, here, but we have to be careful not to judge them as harshly as they judge us. Acts tells us that Parthians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians – each of them heard that day that God was a God of love and grace. I would hope that on this Pentecost, we could open our hearts to the fact that there are a lot of ways for the Gospel to speak to our hearts and to our lives. If there was one thing I hope you leave tonight knowing, it is that the God of Christ who came and dwelt among us, and the Holy Spirit that spoke to everyone in their own language, knows who you are and how you hear best, and is trying to tell you that you are loved by the Creator of the Skies and Seas. It is my hope that every one of you here tonight – and every person that walks into a traditional church tomorrow morning with their high heels and sport coats – hears this loud and clear: you are loved. Live as one loved and cherished.”

And as they raised their glasses for the final benediction, there was a new opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak in a new language, and those who listened heard the words afresh: you are loved. Live as one beloved.

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