“Start Your Engines”
May 28, 2023
Rev. Robert Heimach
Race Day in Indianapolis is generally a washout for churches, some of them even close
for the day. For those churches who remain open, usually, there is a substitute
preacher, like me, who missed out on getting race tickets. And usually, there is a
congregation, like you, who missed out on getting invited to a race party. And because
of the TV blackout, usually, the only racing we see is who can get to the donut holes
first after the final hymn. We are like the race car drivers who are assigned to the last
row: we will need a miracle to get anything good out of today.
This year is different though. Today is Pentecost and you can call Pentecost a lot of
different things but a “washout” is not one of them. You can call Pentecost a party for
the Holy Spirit. You can call it a celebration of God’s presence in the world. You can call
it the birthday of the church. Or, if you are a frozen chosen Presbyterian you can call it
very awkward. But it is certainly not a “washout.” It is tongues of fire, it is pounding
drums, it is red balloons and red shirts and red stoles. And it makes the Indy 500 look
like a circus sideshow.
So, congratulations for coming to church today. And as they will say in about 45
minutes, down the road in Speedway, “It is time to start your engines.”
The thing is, Pentecost was the moment in time 2000 plus years ago, when this whole
Christianity thing got started. Yes, the resurrection of Jesus lit the fuse for believers,
but Pentecost was the resulting explosion. On the day of Pentecost, we are told that
God came to people through the Spirit and filled them with the inspiration and
motivation and dedication to spread the news about Jesus. Pentecost was not just “a”
rally for God, it was “the” rally. As the Spirit moved among them like tongues of fire,
Peter stood up among the followers and said, “Now is the time. We, men and women,
need to prophesy and see visions and dream dreams and do our best for God.” Or, in
other words, Peter was saying, “Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, start your engines!”
That’s why Pentecost is a big deal for Christians. 50 days after Easter, the time had
come to press the accelerator and put the Gospel into the fast lane.
Back then, according to scripture, there were high expectations. There were
prophesies to be proclaimed, dreams to be explored and visions to turn into realities.
The Spirit of God was seen as a courageous manifestation of the Divine, who
relentlessly pursued goodness and justice and the abundance of God’s grace. With
God by their side, nothing was impossible, no one could stop them, and maybe, just
maybe, the world was going to be O.K. The promise of Pentecost was truly the
promise that would save the world.
Fast forward 2000 plus years, and here we are. And not to be a Debbie Downer but you
and I both know that the promise of Pentecost remains unfulfilled. Why? You know
why. Because America has experienced over 200 mass shootings this year. Because
mental illness and drug addiction have brought ruin on millions of people. Because we
have turned thousands of refugees into criminals, and we don’t even seem
embarrassed by the shambles of our political system. On and on with our brokenness.
So it is not just that the promise of Pentecost is unfilled, it is almost like we have given
back the promise, like we don’t even think it is a possibility. “Oh, we don’t want the
Spirit to help us. We don’t want to prophesy or dream dreams or see visions. We just
want to move from crisis to crisis, and bury our head in the sand.” Our engines are not
started, they are stalled, …and there doesn’t seem to be a mechanic in sight. With that
kind of thinking, maybe it is apropos that the Indy 500 is held on Pentecost this year.
Because going around in circles, getting nowhere, seems to be what we do best, as a
country and as a church.
Last fall, Jenni and I moved into a small house on the east side. We had lived
downtown in a condo for 10 years which was great while we were both working. But
then, when we retired, the condo, for some mysterious reason, seemed much smaller
than before. So, we bought a house and moved.
All was fine until I realized that I had to start mowing grass again. 10 years before I had
a nice gasoline lawn mower and mowing was easy. But I got rid of the mower when we
moved to the condo, and the only mower I kept was an old reel mower that relied on
human-power to push and turn the blades and cut the grass. No problem, I thought. I
was strong, I had time, I needed the exercise.
This spring, I realized that there was a problem. The grass in my yard was thick and it
was growing fast. Pushing the mower was difficult and getting more difficult every time
I did it, which was twice a week. After mowing, I would come in the house exhausted,
whining to Jenni how hard it was. But she didn’t believe me. I think her words were:
“Quit whining. Put your back into it.” Until one Saturday morning a few weeks ago. I
came back from a bike ride and there was Jenni, in the front yard, mowing. Or, trying to
mow. Her first words to me were: “I believe you now.” So, I got online and bought a
new mower, an electric mower. It came a couple weeks ago and oh my, now I just want
to mow grass all day. My life is now complete.
As Christians, we seem to be mired in the high grass. For quite a while now, our
mowers have seemed to stall. We are not prophesying or dreaming big dreams or
seeing great visions,…we are in the slow lane to nowhere. It is as if we have given back
the Holy Spirit and now rely only on ourselves. We think our brute strength can push us
through barriers and make things O.K. Brute strength is just like it sounds, brutal.
People get hurt. People get bullied. People get disillusioned. When it happens in a
country we get insurrections and Oath Keepers and book bans. When it happens in a
church, people run away as fast as they can. And they probably should. Because a
church that has given back the Holy Spirit, is a church that lives without a promise.
I know I am talking to Presbyterians here, and we Presbyterians have never been
known to be Holy Spirit cheerleaders: “We’ve got Spirit yes, we do, we’ve got Spirit,
how about you?” That’s not us. That’s not how we affirm our faith. And I am as nervous
as anyone of you to be labeled as spiritual. You’ll never catch me speaking in tongues
or rockin’ & rollin’ with the Spirit. Singing “Kumbayah” around the campfire is as
spiritual as I ever get, and I haven’t done that in years.
But getting spiritually drunk is not what scripture is asking us to do. Peter says that the
Spirit isn’t just for us personally, for our own benefit, it is for the good of everyone. So,
we are called to prophesy… on behalf of everyone. We are called to see visions…on
behalf of everyone. We are called to dream dreams…for the child, the Gen Zer’s, the
Millennials, the Gen Xers and even for us old fogy Baby Boomers. When was the last
time we even tried to do any of that? Dreams, visions, prophesies that serve everyone
are big time ideas for Christians. The Holy Spirit gains traction in our lives when we put
aside the boring routines and sinful prejudices that hold us back from truly
experiencing Christian community. This promised community is a Pentecostal place.
And it happens in a church that dreams big and then acts on those dreams.
I was so excited to hear that a week ago, this church hosted a mental health workshop
for youth leaders. It took months to organize and money to sponsor. But you did it. In
my eyes, in that workshop you welcomed back some of the Holy Spirit. It was
prophetic and the result of a vision. Your engine started and ran for a while. Now, the
question is, will it keep running? If you continue to dream big dreams it will.
For the church, the whole church, going in circles has brought us to the point of
destruction. It shows up as declining attendance in some churches and in other
churches it means locking the doors. So, here is a prophesy for you: doing things the
same way doesn’t work. Unlocking your doors and hoping people will come in, doesn’t
work. I had an elder in my old church who harangued me constantly to go hang flyers
on door handles of the neighbors, inviting them to church. Well, you know what, Jack?
That doesn’t work. It doesn’t. If you are dreaming dreams about door hangers, you are
missing the promise of Pentecost. This is the promise that is about building a
community of loving, caring, welcoming people who refuse to do things the same way
they did 40 years ago. Who see a problem like mental illness and address it, who step
into the high grass and mow it down, who welcome the stranger, the refugee, the
LGBTQ soul who thinks the Holy Spirit doesn’t care about them. Well, let me tell you.
The Holy Spirit cares big time. And if you have the Holy Spirit you will know that.
A sermon like this is certainly not the end-all tale of the Holy Spirit. I have preached on
Pentecost for about 35 years and I admit that I don’t know anything about anything.
The Spirit is way bigger than me and the best I can hope for is that I am moving in the
same direction that the Spirit is moving. But I can say, with certainty, that the Spirit
does not move in circles, going nowhere. It moves forward. It brings prophesy and
visions and dreams to us. And the best we can do, is to grab these dreams and visions
and hold on for dear life as the Spirit races toward a future of goodness and love.
I know it is a cliche to say “Start your engines,” especially on Race Day. But we should
not be afraid of a cliche when it speaks the truth. So, my friends, take back the Holy
Spirit today, prophesy about what might be, don’t be afraid of a far-reaching vision and
dream the most outrageous, tremendous dreams you can dream. Start your engines
and go straight where the Spirit leads you. This is the Pentecostal promise that might
just save the world from itself.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God. Amen.