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June 11, 2019, 9:16 AM

Astonish the World - Sermon, 6/9/19


Some movies just do not age well – especially science fiction ones and especially the special effects in some science fiction movies. We need only re-watch the original Star Wars movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s to see how dated some of the special effects seem. The special effects seemed amazing 40 years ago, but they have not aged well.

 

However, there is at least one science fiction movie that largely escapes seeming dated, even 26 years after its initial release: the original Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park was released on Memorial Day weekend in 1993 – just slightly more than 26 years ago.

 

My dad and I went to see Jurassic Park on opening weekend. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I had not read the book the movie was based on. At that point in my life – I was 16-years old – I had very little interest in anything having to do with science fiction. There had been so much advertising for the movie, though, that I agreed to sit in a crowded theater on opening weekend to see what all the fuss was about.

 

I was so glad I agreed to go with my dad to see the movie! Even though the theater was crowded and I was missing out on time with my friends – I didn’t mind. The movie absolutely blew me away! The special effects in Jurassic Park were completely amazing – especially using 1993 technology.

 

In the 26 years since its original release, I have probably watched the original Jurassic Park a hundred times, especially because it seems to be on television every other Sunday when I come home from church. I am consistently amazed by just how advanced the special effects were, even at the very beginning of using CGI technology.

 

The special effects techniques used to make the original Jurassic Park have certainly improved over the years, but, even 26 years later, those original special effects still lead to a good movie-watching experience. In fact, there is a scene with a velociraptor that continues to scare – or shall I say “surprise” me – all these times later and all these years later.

 

The reality is, though, that we are – in general – hard people to impress these days. To impress us, we need bigger, better, louder, cooler everything. We are even harder to astonish these days. For so many of us, we have become used to being surprised or shocked or astonished. There is very little that astonishes us any more.

 

It makes sense, then, that we are not astonished by the scripture readings we hear on Sunday mornings. We are used to hearing so many of these stories – year after year, cycle after cycle, feast after feast.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – God created the world. Yeah, yeah, yeah – God spoke through the prophets. Yeah, yeah, yeah – Jesus was born. Yeah, yeah, yeah – Jesus rose from the grave. Yeah, yeah, yeah – the Holy Spirit was sent as a gift to the early followers of Jesus.

 

The challenge, both for me as your preacher and for you as today’s hearers of these stories, the challenge is to hear these stories anew. These stories still need to astonish us. There is something new in every story – whether we are hearing it for the first time or the eightieth time.

 

Whether we are celebrating our first Pentecost or our eightieth Pentecost as Christians, there is something in the story of the original Pentecost that needs to astonish us. It’s not just the details of the story that need to astonish us. After all, Pentecost is about more than the “rush of a violent wind” or the appearance of “divided tongues, as of fire.”

 

Although, come to think of it, the sound of that violent wind and the sight of divided tongues of fire might be enough to at least begin to astonish us. Imagine the special effects that could be used to portray this story on the big screen! But it’s not just the wind and the fire that might astonish us.

 

The description of the crowds gathered in Jerusalem might also astonish us. No fake special effects of fake crowds used here. There really were thousands of people gathered in the Holy City. And there really were people gathered from countries around the known world. And there really were multiple languages spoken at the same time. And there really were people who heard the word of God in their first languages.

 

Perhaps the part of the story that might astonish us the most is the fact that the disciples left the room where they had gathered. Perhaps the part of the story that might astonish us the most is that the disciples spoke – not just in unfamiliar languages, but the disciples spoke of their faith in Jesus. In the streets. Among people they didn’t know.

 

The story begins with disciples gathered in one place. Nothing too astonishing there. We often hear stories of the disciples hiding or cowering or gathering in a room apart from the rest of society, especially after the resurrection of Jesus. The astonishing thing happens when the disciples decide that they no longer need to hide.

 

In the sharing of the Holy Spirit, God compelled the disciples out of the “one place” they had gathered. In the sharing of the Holy Spirit, God compelled the disciples onto the streets. In the sharing of the Holy Spirit, God compelled the disciples to speak of “God’s deeds of power” in Jesus Christ. In the streets. In languages they didn’t know. Among people they didn’t know.

 

Bishop Andy Doyle, the excellent and eloquent and challenging bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, wrote this in his blog. He wrote, “It is humorous that on this day where the Spirit of God is so clear, that God will not be locked away behind religious closed doors, that literally thousands and thousands of Christians will hear this in churches across the world in huddled masses away from the world.”

 

Bishop Doyle’s blog entry reminds us that the message of Pentecost is not about the “one place” where the disciples first received the Holy Spirit. Instead, the message of Pentecost is about LEAVING that “one place,” going out into the streets, and sharing with other stories of “God’s deeds of power” in Jesus Christ.

 

Yes, we hear the story of the first Pentecost today. Yes, we allow ourselves to be astonished by the birth of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now it’s time for us to astonish the rest of the world. Amen.


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