(Note: Mel Kenyon Classic Go-Kart Race Community Worship Service)
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, go-kart racing was part of my childhood. WhiIe I never competed in anything as serious as the Mel Kenyon Classic, on Sunday afternoons I ruled the streets of the trailer park where my dad lived! This weekend, the sights, sounds and smells here in the Heart of Lebanon, immediately take me back to my childhood. Speaking of sounds, I would like for you listen to a brief clip of a sound and see if you know what it is:
(play racing audio clip of end of Indy 500).
You all know what that is, right? As much as it sounds like what I think the original Pentecost might have sounded like...it's actually the last lap of the Indy 500 broadcasted in three different languages. It starts in French, switched to Portuguese, and wrapped up in Japanese. And while probably less than 5 people in this Park could actually translate the foreign broadcasters...even folks who didn't watch the race (which is also probably less than 5 people in the Park) understood what was going on. We instinctively knew that it was the finish of the race. It turns out that that in racing there is a common language...and it's not necessarily English!
That's why even though there were eleven different nations represented in the 11 rows of the Indy 500, the drivers and crews are able to communicate with each other despite the language barriers. Now of course, some of that communication comes in gestures that we probably should not demonstrate on a Sunday morning...but it is safe to say that every single driver, owners, and crew member completely understood what that blood-curdling scream from Takuma Soto meant.
Now, this isn't exactly what happened on Pentecost...but something equally as powerful and unifying took place when the Holy Spirit arrived and enabled all these uneducated country-folk Galileans to speak in different languages such that everyone could hear and understand in their own language what was being said about God's deeds of power. In fact, like the most spectacular event in racing, this moment in the church's faith history...which some call the birthday of the church...was so incredible it drew the attention of crowds from all over the region. All those nations I listed that were gathered and living in Jerusalem...were drawn to the apostles to see for themselves what was going on. Some were amazed, and others not so impressed.
The point of this Pentecost moment, though, was never to impress or convince the people...it was to transform the disciples from followers to leaders...from those who witness to those who proclaim and do. Just as Jesus had promised, even though he was no longer with them physically, the apostles would be given God's Spirit to continue the work of healing and redemption and peace that he had started. In racing-talk, it was the checkered flag for Jesus and the "Ladies and Gentlemen start your engines" for his church.
In fact, I think this Pentecost story makes it clear that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the church to do and be who we are. It is our engine, if you will. And some days, the Spirit of God is like a Chevy engine...a peaceful presence...comforting, steadying, leading us through life. Albeit not necessarily moving at break-neck speed...but very reliable. Yet other times -- actually I'd say more of than not -- the Spirit functions more like a Honda...moving fast and furious, yet unpredictable. You never know what she is going to do...or ask us to do. Now, let me be clear though, I know this is not a perfect analogy. You see, although the Holy Spirit definitely challenges and frustrates us at times, the Holy Spirit never stalls out on you 179 laps into the race of life like the Honda did on Fernando Alonso last Sunday.
No, the Holy Spirit is an engine that never fails...which if 500 championships are any indication, that would be the Offenhauser, which still holds the record for most Indy 500 victories, although it has not qualified there since 1983.
I know, I'm just a wealth of racing facts today...but it seems appropriate!
Seriously, though, regardless of what engine is your favorite...I personally drive a Chevy...but that's more for the gas mileage than the power...trust me...it's a Chevy Cruze...enough said...for Christians, the Holy Spirit of God in each of us...and work within the church...is our source of power in the world. It gives us the power to do incredible things in the name of Christ.
More specifically, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to communicate with the world. Now, not in every different language like the apostles did - that phenomenon was clearly a unique Holy Spirit moment in the history of Christianity - but by using a universal language that everyone can understand.
The Holy Spirit gives God's people the power to speak the language of love. Through it, we are able to communicate welcome and kindness...compassion and mercy and justice to the world...often...without ever saying a word.
When it comes to speaking God's love into the world, we do not have to be fluent in the same language...have the same accent...observe the same holidays...or live in the same social context in order to know kindness and goodness when we see it. We do not need to be of the same race, same nationality, same religion, or same political belief to comprehend acts of compassion when they are carried out.
And...rest assured....regardless of whether we have a good job, a great job or no job...whether our bank account is secure, or sad, or empty, no matter how much education, how many mistakes, how big or small our family, or even whom we love...we all share the universal need for mercy, and we all are free to experience grace when it is offered. The Holy Spirit makes it possible...both by empowering us to offer love and opening us to receive it.
Yes, friends, the Holy Spirit has that kind of power. Power to welcome...power to heal...power to reconcile...power to unite.
Always. The power of the Holy Spirit to unite is always greater than the power of evil to divide. By the Holy Spirit --all of us gathered here today -- race fans, not race fans, regular church goers, occasional attendees, and those just curious about what's holding up the race -- we are all united in God's love.
And, in the same way, the Holy Spirit also has the power to send us - with all our differences -- into a world that is even more diverse to share that which we have been given.
Now folks, again, sometimes the Spirit gently sends us, like a steady Chevy, and sometimes he shoves us like an edgy Honda...and sometimes the Spirit leads us like a pace car...but the purpose of our sending is always the same...to share the grace and mercy and peace of Christ - in a way that the world can hear and receive. We are sent to speak the language of love so that others will know God amazing, endless, boundless grace. As one person put it...the Holy Spirit has the power to give the "gathered community the courage and gifts to be the scattered community" so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Church, neighbors, racing community, friends -old and new - may this Pentecost celebration remind us that when it comes to living out the gospel of Jesus Christ, every day is race day. So, in the infamous and slightly adapted words of the Hullman-George family -- Church...start your engines...it's time to race.