Sunday May 28, 2023
Rev. Brent Gundlah

Many years ago, when we were younger and bolder, Valerie and I drove out to the easternmost point in Maine in order to look at a house that was for sale. Sure, it would have been one heck of a commute between there and our jobs in New York but, like I said, we were younger and bolder back then and so off we went, dreaming all the while about the possibility of a new and different on that rocky coast at the edge of the continent.

The house was built back in the eighteenth century and it was a complete mess, but the setting was absolutely amazing — it had, as they say in the real estate business, a lot of “potential.”

Just beyond the front lawn was a tidal river, on which the original owner repaired fishing boats and sailing ships. He was able to do this work there because a tidal river is a natural dry dock — you can sail a ship in when the tide is high, work on it when the tide is low, and sail it back out when the tide returns. Such a simple idea, really, but one that requires a great deal of awareness of the moment; I mean, if you don’t remember to plug up that hole on the boat you’re fixing before the tide rolls in again you’ll have more to worry about than just a boat with a hole in it. You really have to pay attention to what’s going on around you all the time.

Anyway, as I sat there on the grass watching the salt water do what salt water does over the course of the day, I thought one of those profound thoughts that one tends to think when there’s not whole lot else to think about, which was this:

there is a time in each tide that marks an inflection point — a moment at which all is held in perfect tension; a moment of neither ebb nor flow; a moment defined by the potential of becoming something else, something new, something different.

And today feels like such a moment in the life of the church; indeed, on Pentecost, it seems like everything is about to change.

In the biblical context, as our story from Acts begins, Jesus has just ascended to heaven; before leaving, he orders his disciples not to leave Jerusalem before the Holy Spirit can show up and give them the power they need in order to go to the ends of the earth and be gospel witnesses.

Imagine their relief: after all they’ve just been through (Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension), God’s reign would soon arrive, their troubles would cease, and all would be good with the world. But things don’t end up going exactly the way they thought or planned. Then again, do things ever go exactly the way we thought or planned?  

You see, they were banking on God making their lives easier;

they were figuring that God would grant them some peace and quiet after all that’s happened in their individual and collective lives as of late;

they were expecting God to lead them beside green pastures and still waters — just like the psalm says.

But they got something entirely different that day

when the Holy Spirit arrived out of nowhere,

amidst violent wind and tongues of fire,

and presented them with a chance (that was more like an order, really)

to do something else, something new, something different;

by shoving them out the door and calling them to carry out the hard and risky work of spreading the good news to a world that needed to hear it,

but that often didn’t want to.

An opportunity – an unforeseen, unsought-after, perhaps even unwanted, gift of unfathomable potential,

reminding them — reminding us — in no uncertain terms,

that God’s plans and our plans

aren’t always the same.

The funny thing is, these disciples had potential all along, and Jesus knew this — that’s why he’d been on their case to get out there and show their love for God and their neighbors for a while by that point.

So when the Holy Spirit showed up that Pentecost day breathing wind and fire it wasn’t to hand out potential to the disciples like it was an award or a diploma (because, like I said, they already had it).

And it sure as heck wasn’t to freeze time and encourage the disciples to revel in the here and now forever (as much as they might have wanted to do exactly that).

No, the Holy Spirit came there that day to give them all the kick in the seat they needed to go and live into their potential, to become all that they could be;

the Holy Spirit came there that day to compel them to repent, in the truest sense of that word: to change their hearts and minds, to change their whole perspective on everything, to leave where they were in order to do what God was calling them to do.      

But change is scary — and so we humans tend to want things to be the same as they’ve always been, because it makes us feel stable and safe and comfortable. But stability and safety and comfort have never been at the top of God’s priority list, as evidenced by the world that God actually created and dropped us into — a world in which change is the rule, not the exception.

Now let’s return to the shores of Down East Maine in order to reflect a bit more upon that moment at which the tide is poised to move from ebb to flow – when all is, at least in theory, standing completely still.

In reality, this is pure fiction because the truth is that the ocean is always moving; it’s never, ever, ever the same place twice; it is always being changed by all it comes into contact with, and always changing everything it comes into contact with, in some way, shape or form. And the same can be said for us.

As much as we might want to linger in important moments like our birthdays and graduations and holidays, as much as we want the season of life in which we currently find ourselves to last forever, we know deep down inside that this can’t be, because life itself is change.  

And so maybe the reason for occasions like these — for times such as today — is to remind us to stop for a moment to reflect upon who and whose we really are;

to wonder what God is calling us to do with the gift of our potential;

to consider what we’ve been and what we are becoming,

to understand that we are inherently works in progress,

to know that we are always becoming.

For this and for so much more, thanks be to God.