VISIONS ABOUT THE CHURCH

 June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

One day some twenty years ago three men walked into my study and told me that God had sent them to talk with me. I become nervous whenever someone tells me that they have a message directly from God for me. I was unsure over whether to believe them or not. I wonder if I will be gullible for believing them or guilty later for not. The men introduced themselves as leaders from a Christian congregation that was at that time meeting in a hotel lobby in downtown Stamford.

They explained that some weeks prior they had been eating lunch at Nick’s Pizza restaurant across the road, when one of them had a vision, a vision about this church building. Looking across the street at this church building, he envisioned a stream of people coming into and out of this building. As he watched intently, he noticed that the people represented diverse ethnicities; some were Hispanics, some Asians, some Anglos, and some Africans. He was inspired by what he saw, and according to what he told me, he sensed that God’s Spirit had prophesied to him about this church building.

He and his two companions came to me and informed me that God had sent them to tell the dream to me and to interpret the prophecy for me. I was admittedly quite taken aback to meet someone who claimed to be a prophet sent from God, and even more taken aback to hear that they had a prophecy for this congregation and me. The vision of a multiracial crowd streaming into and out of this building both surprised me and appealed to me because at that time there were only two or three persons of color among the members of the Union Memorial Church. However, their interpretation of the dream left me puzzled and agitated, for they predicted that God had chosen them to fulfill the prophecy.

I shared with the leadership of the Union Memorial Church what the three men told me. The man’s vision appealed to them. The man’s interpretation did not. When I later called one of the three men to inform him that our board was not interested in renting space to them, he was not pleased. I confess that I eventually forgot my conversation with those three strangers, until recently when it dawned on me that their vision concerning this building is coming true. 

This morning we are fulfilling part of that vision as we planned to gather today on Pentecost to worship our Lord with believers from four congregations: the Haitian American Center of the New Jerusalem Church, the Jesus Family Tamil Church, the Pentecostal Ebenezer Assembly of God, and the Union Memorial Church. We represent a diversity of languages, nationalities, and ethnic groups, as that visionary had prophesied. Among our congregations are Christians from India, Haiti, Central America, Philippines, Germany, Columbia, Peru, Chile, Jamaica, Barbados, Estonia, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Canada, and the United States of America. Among our congregations some speak English, some Spanish, some Tamil, others Creole, others speak German, French, or Korean. You are part of the fulfillment of a modern prophecy from twenty years ago.

Our Christian fellowship this morning on Pentecost is also an ongoing fulfillment of an even older prophecy, a much older one. More than 2,500 years in the obscure backwater region of Judea, in the region we now call Israel, a lone pundit prophesied an ecological crisis. We have no idea what training or background that pundit Joel had, we simply know that he was fired up about predicting massive crop failures. He predicted that swarms of locust would devour all the harvests, causing massive food shortages. Not content with spelling out a vision of a natural environmental catastrophe, he dared to interpret the catastrophe as supernatural divine judgment on the entire nation. From Joel’s perspective, the cause was not natural. God was sending a plague of locusts on the land to punish the people.

Thankfully Joel’s prophecies were not all doom and gloom. Thankfully he predicted that someday God would stop punishing and start blessing, and not just bless the poor downtrodden people in Judea, but bless people all kinds of people: young and old, men and women, sons and daughters from all over the place. Speaking on behalf of God, Joel predicted: “I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

Joel prophesied that all kinds of people would be caught up in the spirit of God, just as all kinds of people could be caught up in the spirit of a World Cup soccer match, a political campaign rally, or a food fight in a school cafeteria. When we get caught up in the spirit, we sense that some other power is energizing us. Catching some school spirit puts us on our feet to root for the team. Catching some patriotic spirit spurs us to cheer for World War II veterans on the anniversary of D-Day. Likewise, catching some of God’s spirit moves us to speak up for God, carry on for God.

Joel had a vision that catching the spirit would be as contagious as catching the flu or measles. Anyone could catch it: young and old, men and women, sons and daughters. Joel prophesied that someday everyone would catch it. People from all over the world would have a sense that God was spurring them on, inspiring them, moving them.

Reports of the vision were passed down from generation to generation. One day an upstart preacher claimed that the prophecy was coming true before his very own eyes. Fifty or so days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the small band of his devoted followers had gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of the annual Jewish harvest festival. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims had traveled from across the Mediterranean region to attend the annual festivities in Jerusalem. They had come from distant and hard-to-pronounce lands such as Cappadocia, Pontus, Phyrygia, and Pamphylia. They spoke foreign languages such as Parthian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. They included tourists from Egypt, Cyrene, Libya, Rome, and Crete.

One morning a micro-tornado battered a house in the city. Occupants rushed into the street clamoring about balls of fire dropping down on them from the ceiling. On-lookers looked askance at the frenzied occupants mustered on the sidewalk. Then members of the crowd started whispering to one another, shrugging their shoulders in disbelief. They could not believe what they were hearing. All the Israelis who had fled from the fire within the building were babbling about catching the spirit to follow Jesus. The crowd, at first amused, became bemused as they realized that these native Israelis were speaking fluently in so many different languages. It was as if everyone had instantly uploaded Google translators onto their headphones. A few thought the commotion was due to a half-crazed, mostly drunk flash mob putting on a show.

But, then one of the flash mob members stood up and motioned for the crowd to hush. Addressing the bewildered crowd, the self-appointed spokesperson said the whole show was an act of God. The exuberant flash-mob caught up in the spirit of the moment was actually the fulfillment of a five-hundred year old Jewish prophecy. Reciting from heart the nearly forgotten prophetic omen from the soothsayer Joel, Peter quoted the prediction: “I [God] will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I [God] will pour out my spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). Peter claimed that the prophecy was coming true before their very eyes.

God was blessing all kinds of people: young and old, men and women, and sons and daughters from all over the place. If they believed in Jesus, they could catch on to what God was doing. They could catch the spirit. This was a sign that Joel’s prophecy was coming true.

I wonder if the audience felt nervous hearing someone claim to speak to them directly on behalf of God. I wonder if they felt skeptical or excited, as I had felt when those three men told me God had sent them to give a message to me. At the time, I wondered if I would be gullible for believing them, or feel guilty later for not. Only time would tell the difference.

As I look back from today, I am relieved and humbled to sense that their vision is coming true. Streams of people speaking different languages, sporting different hues, reflecting different cultures are together in this sanctuary for worship. You can feel privileged to be part of God fulfilling a prophecy, whether you trace that prophecy back 20 years or 2,500 hundred years. God’s vision has been and still is for all kinds of people to catch the Spirit. We reflect that vision as much as did the different kinds of people who caught the Spirit at that first Pentecost. Our being together is part of God’s dream coming true.