Above the Noise

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How can we listen for God’s call with the frantic pace of our lives?

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Selections from Acts 2

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”


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Full Text of Sermon

We live in an increasingly noisy world.

How are we supposed to filter noise and listen for God’s voice?

“A diamond is forever.”
“For all you do, this Bud’s for you!”
“Just Do It!”
“Only you can prevent forest fires.”
“Got Milk?”
“Cause I’m a woman . . . Enjoli.”
“Have it your way.”
“Own your tomorrow.”
“Think Different.”
“Can You Hear Me Now? Good.”

We are inundated by messages telling us that happiness will come through purchases or a magic number in our accounts. Leaders tell us that we need to be scared so often that both of my sons and most of their friends actively worries about being drafted to serve in World War III. Many of you here today have shared that you are having trouble sleeping and that your anxiety levels are the highest at any point you can remember.

Let’s pause for a moment. Please take another deep breath with me.

Breathe in God’s mercies. Exhale your worries.

I invite you to journey with me to remember another time when the Holy Spirit breathed unity and hope into the world in a time of chaos and fear.

Today we celebrate Pentecost, sometimes referred to as the beginning of the Christian Church. Pentecost means fifty, and the first one came about fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. On that day, thousands gathered and something supernatural happened—they could understand each other! A unity they had never known came over the crowd, but not everyone was on board with this.

Many assumed they had been doing some early morning drinking, maybe a few too many mimosas. Peter, one of the original disciples of Jesus, jumps to their defense: “Indeed, these are not drunk as you suppose for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Had Peter been around Bay to Breakers or many other events in our fair city, he probably wouldn’t have assumed people were sober merely because it was 9:00 am.

Dr. Margaret Aymer, biblical scholar from Austin Seminary, provides a noteworthy take on today’s passage from Acts, writing that “It describes not the birth of the church, but rather the empowerment of the believers to bear witness to the ends of the earth . . .”[1] Dr. Aymer explains that those gathered were speaking actual languages of the Mediterranean basin, not some vague spiritual language. They each had their own distinct cultures, yet somehow were able to understand each other and God’s call to them.

On Pentecost, “That church consists mainly of immigrants, people of different languages and cultures with different mother tongues (Acts 2:5, 9-12, 14). To these, the message goes forth, a message of the coming of the Day of the Lord, full of heavenly portents and prophetic women, slaves, and men. But in the midst of the chaos of Pentecost rests an anchor. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The scene was chaotic and more bewildering than comforting.

A mighty wind blew that day. The people were thunderstruck.

The Holy Spirit was speaking. They were called.

The Holy Spirit is still speaking. We are called.

But how do we know?

I don’t claim to have any kind of exhaustive checklist for discerning God’s call, but in the Bible and in my life experience there are some indicators.

The call of the Holy Spirit is rarely convenient. (see Jesus)

The call of the Holy Spirit is selfless. (see Jesus)

The call of the Holy Spirit tends to give up power, rather than claim more of it. (see Jesus)

And finally, God’s call is nowhere near as linear as we would like it do be. (Think of the Israelites wandering in the desert in the Exodus from Egypt, taking 40 years to travel 240 miles)

God’s call continues through the wandering and through the chaos. Sometimes it comes like a mighty wind that leaves us bewildered and thunderstruck. At other times it comes when we are startled awake at 3 in the morning or when we’re riding the bus staring off into space. Though we are customized to getting what we want on demand, God’s call frustratingly doesn’t seem to arrive that way.

But it does arrive.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through science telling us to wake up and not leverage the care of Earth as a political tool. Earth justice is politicized, but it is more of a moral and spiritual matter than any politician may claim as his or her own.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through music as is so often the case through our choir here and will be on display this afternoon as our own Rick Harrell empowers veterans through poetry and music with Heroes’ Voices.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through people showing up at our door, as so often happens in this city and on our doorstep as unhoused neighbors arrive seeking assistance, or having just shown up from other countries such as Turkey or Iran seeking a home.

God continues to speak in profound ways.

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to lead service trips to an orphanage called the Mother of Peace Community in Zimbabwe that cared for nearly 200 children who lost their parents in the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In Zimbabwe, it is common for children to receive a name in the Shona language with a literal meaning.  One girl’s name was “No Matter.” She was the fifth of five children. Her parents were very poor and simply had little hope that they would be able to raise her. No Matter’s parents both eventually died of AIDS, and No Matter and her brothers and sisters were sent to live with an Uncle. That Uncle abused her in terrible ways, to the point that she had little will to live. No Matter ended up in the Mother of Peace Community. Though she was surrounded with love, she continued to be deeply depressed. My friend Roni, Bishop Yvette Flunder and their team from City of Refuge Church had served in Zimbabwe approximately one year before I met them.  They wondered about this girl named No Matter who was withdrawn. They spoke with her. They prayed with her. They reassured her that the awful actions of her Uncle were not her fault. One of the volunteers said, “I know what we must do, No Matter. We must give you a new name!” She chose her new name, Princess.

On my first trip to Zimbabwe, I was walking the grounds when I came across a competition—a track meet. One of the children came up to me and boldly said, “I challenge you to a race!” Now what this young person did not know was that they had just challenged the Southern Idaho 1600-meter district high school champion. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass a child, but a challenge is a challenge, right? We approached the starting line. Ready . . . set . . . go. And within seconds there was a cloud of dust on the dirt track, and I was already at least 50 meters behind the young challenger. I ended up losing by at least 100 meters, and the children danced and celebrated. Huffing and puffing and thoroughly exhausted, I stumbled over to congratulate the challenger. “What is your name?” I asked. “Princess,” she replied.

The Holy Spirit broke through the noise of the world to tell a girl name No Matter that she was a beloved child of God’s covenant, claimed in the Holy Spirit who does matter and her name is Princess. She is now 23 and serves as a teacher.

When the Holy Spirit speaks, God rises above the noise of the world.

Her voice can come through us.

You are a beloved child of God, claimed in the Holy Spirit.

How is God calling you?

[1] Margaret Aymer, Commentary on Acts 2:1-21, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3282


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