Date: May 15, 2016
Title: “Yes, And…”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: John 14:8-17
There is a classic improvisational theater game called “Yes, and…” The object of the game is to tell a story, or to act out a scene collaboratively. One person begins to lay it out, and the next person picks it up and moves it forward by saying “Yes, and…” as they add the next elements of action, character development or context.
Now the point of this exercise is to practice three things. First, it is to practice paying attention – you can’t respond to the story if you don’t receive it. You have to pay attention. Secondly, the exercise helps you practice listening without judgement – you can’t move anything forward if you are stuck in the past. Third, the game helps you to practice letting go of your own agenda. This is the hardest part for most of us, because sometimes the story unfolds in ways you didn’t plan and in ways you could never imagine. Sometimes, the story unfolds in ways that were even better than you could have dreamed!
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the ultimate “Yes, and…” celebration. You remember how the story goes… Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension have left the disciples feeling confused, fearful and bereft. So they are hiding out together, hoping to evade those who would do them harm, and trying to figure out what to do next. When all of a sudden, they see “tongues of fire”, flames licking at their heads. And a great wind is accompanied by the sound of many languages spoken all at once.
Jill Oglesby Evans reminds us that:
On that first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers are transformed from a clutch of scared, like-minded folks hiding out from a baffling world, to an absurd collection of human candles set on fire to share what they know with the disbelieving and baffled world.
And when they open their mouths to say “Hey! Watch out! Your head’s on fire!” what comes out instead are weird words, and strange languages, until the great noise they are making draws a crowd. People start leaning through the doors and windows of their hideout to hear themselves addressed in words they all can understand, until there’s not enough room for all of them in the hideout anymore.
Which is kind of the point of Pentecost, after all! The Holy Spirit shows up and God is made understandable – or at least embraceable – by everyone. And there is no longer any need for nay of us to hide out any more. Christine Valters Paintner put it this way: “Pentecost is the story of the courage that comes from breaking established boundaries.”
Last year at this time I was traveling through southern Spain with my daughter Sarah. I’ve been thinking a lot about those days in these days of General Conference. Yes, and… sangria on the square every afternoon. Yes, and…floating in the Mediterranean… Yes, and…sitting in a Legislative Committee?!
I’ve also been thinking about the daily requirement I instituted on that trip…Una hora por dia solo hablamos Espanol. One hour a day – sometimes a very quiet hour – when we would only speak Spanish. This was no problem for Sarah, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Mt. Holyoke College. But it was a big deal for me, who appears to be linguistically challenged! One hour a day Sarah would try to teach me and I would try to learn.
I did learn some things, and it was fun to try. But toward the end of our trip, Sarah suggested that it wasn’t enough. If all I wanted to do was talk to my daughter… so what?! The whole point was to risk leaving the hideout of English and begin to engage with others in Spanish! The whole point was the find the courage to break my own established boundaries.
Yes! And God is forever inviting you to find that same courage! God is calling you into this Pentecost moment. Yes! And God is offering you the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yes! And wit that gift you will find the courage to move beyond past pain, you will be given the courage to go beyond present anxieties, you will be filled with the courage to travel beyond all your future fears. Gracias a Dios!
So today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate receiving the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. And what better day could there be for us to celebrate Confirmation with Sophia, Abbie, Lee, Jessica and Casey? If Pentecost is the ultimate “Yes, and…” celebration, Confirmation is the ultimate “Yes, and…” experience. You Confirmands know that you are not perfect. I hope you also know that God’s love is more powerful than any of your imperfections. You know that God’s grace will transform you in amazing ways throughout your lives. I hope you also know that the gift of the Holy Spirit will be with you to help you move your own story forward from here.
You can move your story forward if you practice paying attention to God in every moment, noticing the little things as well as the big ones; noticing the people, the places, and the moments which seem to rush by so quickly they are often overlooked. You can move your story forward if you practice listening without judgment, allowing for new thoughts; considering new possibilities before shutting them down; and opening up beyond past judgments to see God’s present power. You can move your story forward if you can practice letting go of your own agenda. Yes! And we will do the work of Jesus with the Holy Spirit in our lives!
There are some here who will tell you that you are now an adult in the eyes of the church. And you may have an underlying expectation that [whew!] you are finally “done” now that you are confirmed. There is a kernel of truth in both of these statements, but it is only a kernel. You are full-fledged members of the Body of Christ and of this congregation. Your formal Confirmation classes are finished, but that does not mean your learning is done. Confirmation is not the final destination in anyone’s faith journey.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who tried to stop the Nazis in World War II said this:
You do not have your faith once and for all. The faith you confess today with all your hearts needs to be regained tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. Indeed, every day anew. Because faith is a daily decision.
Faith is a daily decision which sometimes comes easily and at other times is fraught with struggle. So please, be generous with yourselves when you feel close to God, and equally gentle when you feel far away. Remember that God is big enough to handle the greatest distance and the most intimate connection. If you need to shake your fist at God from time to time, remember you can also throw yourself into God’s arms at any time.
And remember you are not alone in your faith. This whole community is here for you, because we are your partners, we are part of the same body. And there is much work for us to do together, to make this world a place of justice and peace for all of creation.
As hard as you work, don’t forget that you are also called to play – to rejoice in God’s presence and to revel in the beauty of life. It is a good thing to be joyful and light-hearted. Don’t ever take yourself so seriously that you miss out on wonder or let go of awe. And finally, never underestimate yourself. Connected to God’s love, filled with God’s Spirit, and freed by God’s grace, there is no limit to who you may become.
Yes, and…On this Sunday smack dab in the middle of General Conference, I can’t help wondering, what might our beloved United Methodist Church be like, if we could practice paying attention? What might happen if we could learn to listen without judgment? How might the Church be different if we managed to let go of our own agendas? Connected to God’s love, filled with God’s Spirit, and freed by God’s grace, there is no limited to what this Church could become.
Yes! And it is time… it is way past time…for us to find the courage to break our own established boundaries. It is time…it is way past time…for us to truly welcome the world. It is time…it is way past time…for our hearts and our minds to be as open as our doors, for all God’s children, no exceptions. Period.
Yes! And God’s grace will move us beyond our past pain. Yes! And God’s grace will take us beyond our present anxiety. Yes! And God’s grace will transport us even beyond our most fantastic future fears. My friends, the Holy Spirit is resting upon us all. Do not let this Pentecost moment pass you by. Yes! And… Gracias a Dios! Amen.