The last time we went to the Smithsonian art museum we saw a Claus Oldenburg sculpture suspended from the ceiling. It was a 5-foot in diameter meatball. Beside it was a 20-foot long fork. The museum informed visitors that his sculpture was “post-modern.” Now, if modern is supposed to be the most up-to-date thing there is, how is something “post-modern.” Yes, I understand that post-modernism is a convoluted “new” philosophy which questions absolute truth, but I am just bothered by the word.
Everybody thinks they are living in the “new age.” When the industrial revolution started folks thought they were living in the “new age.” The Renaissance before that was supposed to be the “new age.” Classical Roman and Grecian writers before the time of Christ were convinced there’s was the “new age.” Now there are whole sections of bookstores devoted to “new age” literature.
It is as if every era in human history must define itself as newer and better. We think that the age in which we are living is the best and brightest of all ages and that, somehow, all that went on in the past serves only as backdrop to our special chosen age.
Maybe the trick is to not “gauge our age” in terms of faster cars, faster computers, and (so it seems) faster calendars. Maybe the trick is to “gauge our age” against the backdrop of God’s history – God’s ages. When we look at God’s history there is an “old age” and a “new age.” And there is a dividing line between that “old age” and “new age.” That dividing line is what we are celebrating today – Pentecost – the birthday of the church.
The Old Age was the one where the our relationship with God failed. God put forth the terms of the agreement: God said, “I will be your God if you will be my people. Here are a set of directions about how to be my people. Just follow the directions and you will be OK.” So then God’s people did just what people often do when they open the assemble-it-yourself bookcase from IKEA. We set aside the directions and go by our own instincts. That doesn’t work with Ikea. That didn’t work with God.
So God gave more directions. He sent judges and priests and prophets and kings. God got angry. God wrote down the directions. He sent floods and fire and pharaohs. He gave his people a time out in Babylon. He tried shock probation. The old arrangement just wouldn’t work.
So then God did for his children what they could not do for themselves. He sent his only begotten son so that all who simply believed in him would never perish, but would have life everlasting. His son lived, died, and rose again. And before he ascended into heaven he promised that God would send his spirit to be present among his people, thus ushering in a new age. Jesus gave them this promise: “The spirit of truth who comes from the father will testify on my behalf.”
And when the New Age arrived it did so like the rush of a violent wind – maybe like the very breath God had breathed into the human he had created back at the beginning of all things – like the rush of a violent wind – and the entire house was filled with it. And isn’t it more than just interesting that the tongues of fire which came to rest upon all who were gathered in that house gave the followers the ability to speak in languages so that all those gathered in Jerusalem could hear the good news.
A new age! The old age was the old time told of back in the old part of of the Old Testament when the children of God thought that their time was the paramount time of all time, so much so that they attempted to build a tower clear up into the heavens as sort of a monument to the godliness which they had bestowed upon themselves. The legend goes that God punished hem by giving them many different languages to speak so that each other’s speech sounded like babble and this great monument to the accomplishments of humankind became the Tower of Babel.
How significant that, at the ushering in of the New Age – Pentecost – God made the spirit of truth understandable to all people of all nations and all languages.
When I was a small child my parents took a trip around the world. When they came back my mother sat me down and told me all about it. People in other countries don’t speak the same words we do she told me. They speak different languages. Well, how about laughing and crying, I wanted to know. Yes, she said. All the people in all the countries laughed and cried just the very same way we do. As a matter of fact, she said, onetime when she heard a little Fiji Island boy laugh, she turned around to see if was me.
At the first Pentecost – the first day of the new age – all the believers suddenly heard the message in their own language – and it strikes me that the gospel is like laughing and crying; it is a language spoken by all. Understood by all. A cup of cold water given in His name is the gospel. And it is the same in all languages. A word of comfort. A helping hand. It is a language everyone understands. After church someone please remind me who said, “Always preach the gospel. Sometimes use words.”
There is another term which we use to claim that a new thing is better and brighter than the old thing. The term is “state-of-the-art.” I guess the word “modern” is now “old fashioned.” We use “state of the art” to mean something is as current as it in its state of development. Further developments are expected, but this particular model represents the very current – most state of the art.
Maybe that’s not a bad way to describe Christians who are consistently being transformed by the spirit of God. By the waters of baptism we have been brought into God’s kingdom – wholly and fully. But by the spirit of God we are continually growing and developing in God’s grace.
You and I are “state of the art” Christians. That doesn’t mean that we are all that we can be. We change. We develop. We grow in God’s grace. We are always in the state of becoming new. We may be Christian version 3.0. But tomorrow we may be 4.0. Two newer versions of my smart phone have come out since I purchased the one I have now. I’m sure that, in that period of time, many of you have grown in God’s grace, have had epiphanies, have felt the movement of the spirit, have been enlightened, sanctified – even called – and are newer and more powerful versions of yourselves.
Today, Pentecost, the birthday of the church, marks a new age. Luther said that each and everyday we should die to our old selves and rise to a new life in Christ. Pentecost isn’t a one-off event which happened 2,000 years ago and somehow we are supposed to get all excited because some people got all excited way back then. Each and every day the spirit of God calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us.
We may be state of the art but God’s not done with us yet!
Text: Acts 2:1-21 and John 14:23-29