Bold Worship: May 28, 2023

May 28, 2023

 Year A, Pentecost                                           Acts 2:1-21                                                                           

started as a simple chapel service at Asbury University on Feb 8th,
where the assistant soccer coach preached a sermon on Romans 12.  After he left the worship service he texted
his wife and told her that the sermon was a “total stinker.”  He left, but about 20 students stayed to
pray.  Some left, but more joined.  This turned into an 11 day non-stop worship
service.    Asbury University is a
Christian school in the town of Wilmore Kentucky, which has a population of
6,000. This 11 day worship service attracted tens of thousands of people.  At one time, there was a line ½ mile long to
get into the university’s chapel.

of the things that enabled word to spread about this 11 day worship service was
social medial platforms like Tiktok. 
People came from across the country to witness what was happening.  It was on virtually every news outlet in print,
online and on TV.  Many who learned about
it were thrilled.  Given the constant
news that we read and hear which tells us that young people, especially
Generation Z, is moving away from faith and religion, it was inspiring and
heart warming to see so many young people in one place lost in worship.  And if you look at the pictures of where they
were worshipping, it’s a traditional church. 
There weren’t big screens or flashy effects.  They had a band, but it wasn’t anything
outrageous.  All in in all, it was
traditional worship with singing, praying, preaching and testimonies.  

as you can imagine, there was also a fair share of naysayers, people who were
skeptical.  This was not just coming from
people who were not religious. It was coming from Episcopalians, Lutherans,
Presbyterians…those of us who are a little more skeptical of worship that seems
unstructured and spontaneous.  Many
people decided that anything that reeks of a revival must be contrived.  People said it was emotional and spiritual

However, there was no money being made,
no flashy celebrity preachers.  Once the
administration of the school got organized, they decided not to let big name
pastors and musicians come in and take over. They explicitly said, “There are no celebrities here, no superstars, except
Jesus.”  Still the criticism came from
all sides.  There were countless articles
and blogs on how we could determine whether this was a real experience of
God.  Could we only know based on what
the outcome was—OR—is it about how it transformed the hearts and minds of
those who attended?

all happened in February of this year.  I
read a bit about it when it was happening, but hadn’t really thought about it
much since.  However, as I was reading
this lesson from Acts, I found some interesting similarities.   First of all, both of these outpourings of
the spirit started because people were already gathered in a place, ready and
willing to worship God.  The students
were at a chapel service.   The disciples
were gathered in prayer.  There was also
a large group who had collected in Jerusalem, apparently right around where the
disciples were. 
people were Jews from many different nations, who had come together for their
own holy feast, the Jewish feast of Pentecost (we took their name.) In the Jewish
faith, Pentecost marks the end of the spring harvest.  It was when people came together to present
the first fruits of the harvest.  It was
a time to praise God and show gratitude for all God had given. 

other similarity is the reaction that this spontaneous worship received.  In the Acts story of Pentecost, onlookers
accused the disciples of being drunk on wine. 
Peter had to start his speech by saying, “Indeed, these are not drunk as
you suppose, for it’s only 9am in the morning.”   What a way to start a sermon.  No one accused the students at Asbury and
those who eventually joined of being drunk. 
But they were accused of spiritual and emotional manipulation.  People assumed their worship couldn’t
possibly be genuine…that we would only know if it was a real revival if lives
and communities were transformed.  I
would love to know who gets to make that determination.

these two events, 2,000 years apart, it makes me realize that it  doesn’t matter how you worship, someone is
going to accuse you of not being genuine. 
When Episcopalians go visit a church with screens and bands, they often
will call it a performance.  When those
who are not accustomed to traditional liturgy observe our worship, they see the
liturgy as performative.  They observe us
reading words out of our Book of Common Prayer or our service leaflet and
conclude that we cannot possibly mean what we are saying because we are reading
instead of praying from the heart.

It doesn’t matter what way we worship, someone
somewhere will judge us.  It’s been
happening for millennia and it will continue to happen.  Sometimes I think that awareness inhibits us
from talking to others about our faith. 
God forbid someone calls us a hypocrite. 
God forbid someone thinks that we don’t know exactly what we are talking
about.  Here’s how I think that we can
know the Spirit was present at Asbury University 4 months ago and in Jerusalem
2000 years ago— they didn’t let the critics stop them.  They let the spirit dictate how they were
worshiping, how long they were worshipping and in the case of Acts, what they
sounded like when they worshipped.

We have been hearing about the Holy
Spirit for a few weeks in our readings and I spoke about it in a two sermons.  In one I said that I wasn’t sure how I felt
about the images that we use on Pentecost—images like fire and wind.  Because when Jesus described the Holy Spirit,
it was by saying that it abided with us, it stayed with us, the people of God.  And wind and fire…they don’t usually stick

However, I think there is a place for a
Holy Spirit that presents itself with wind and fire. Why? Because, it’s
public.  It’s in your face.  It’s unavoidable.  We love our subtle evangelism in the Episcopal
Church.  We love to say that we don’t
have to talk about faith because we let our actions show how and what we
believe.  Actions are important.  But the thing about Pentecost Sunday is that
it was all about a very public display of faith that came in words that all who
attended could understand.  That is how
the Holy Spirit showed up—with wind, fire, words, comprehension and then a
sermon that summed it all up. 

Where will that wind and fire take you?
I hope that it will give us all some boldness, not only in action, but in
speech, that we need not be ashamed of who we worship, or how we worship—that
we need not  be ashamed of how Christian
we are or are not—that instead we can hold on to that Holy Spirit that abides
with us and gives us strength…but that we can also  let the flames and winds of Pentecost
embolden us as they did the first disciples and converts—that the wind might
propel us out into our neighborhoods and workplaces so that we can be the
Christians (in word and action) that God has called us to be.  Where will the wind and fire take you?  I don’t know? 
I hope it takes you somewhere that needs God’s love and passion and then
brings you back to be fed by the Holy Spirit once more.