The first reading today opens up with the disciples all together – in one accord – in the upper room. And then, suddenly, there came a sound from heaven, like the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house, where they were sitting. On each of their heads appear what looks to be like tongues of divided fire. And then they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak with other tongues – other languages – as the spirit prompted them to.

There were many God-fearing people who lived in Jerusalem – people from other countries and nations – who had heard the mighty sound coming from this house, and they gathered around outside of it. Then the disciples came down and spoke to them, each in their own language, and the gathered people were confused. Confused because how on earth were they all understanding these disciples in their own language? How was that possible? The disciples were telling them about the mighty works of God, but doing it in a way that each of these people could understand. And people were amazed – and yet of course, confused by what was happening.

Pentecost. This day is often called the Birthday of the Church. And here’s why. While some people were amazed at what was happening, others stood laughing, saying that the disciples were just drunk, “full of new wine,” and that they were merely muttering incomprehensible things. And in order to counter this spirit of doubt, Peter stood up in front of all of those that had gathered around the house and started preaching, telling them all about how the Prophet Joel had foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit, and how Jesus of Nazareth had been put to death, and yet rose again from the dead, conquering sin and death and opening up the way for all of them to stand in the presence of Almighty God.

And what happened?

Later in chapter two, it says that among those who gladly received his message, about 3,000 souls were added to them. And not just among the Jewish people who lived in Jerusalem, but from all those who were there who were from other countries and other regions and other nations. This tiny band of Jewish believers who followed a man called Jesus grew exponentially that day. All because these disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke in ways that the gathered people could understand.

But Pentecost is not only called the Birthday of the Church because so many people were added to the group of believers, but because there was a drastic change in the disciples themselves. And because this change in the disciples changed how the group of believers structured themselves.

You see, the Holy Spirit provides newness, the Spirit provides change, and transformation. Just like the winds blow through the sands of the desert and reshape the mighty sand dunes from one day to another, the Holy Spirit blows through believers, through congregations, and even denominations. Just like mighty sand dunes are moved one grain of sand at a time, so too the Spirit transforms each individual life first, and once that life is transformed it causes change to their congregation and to their denomination, and even, sometimes, to the ends of the earth.

Think of the mighty change that happened in the lives of the disciples who, according to John’s Gospel, were in that upper room because they were scared of being associated with Jesus, scared of being found out and arrested. Or, more to the point, think of the radical transformation that happened in the life of Peter. 

In Lent, we listened to stories of how Peter stood in the courtyard of the High Priest, and denied three times that he even knew Jesus. He denied it adamantly, it says. “I do not know him,” Peter practically shouted. And then the rooster crowed, and Peter was crushed by his own guilt.

But then there is Pentecost. And the Holy Spirit descends upon Peter and the other disciples, and there are those who are mocking the disciples spouting what sounds to them like gibberish, saying that they are drunk on new wine.

And Peter gets up, in front of all those who are gathered and not only does he admit that he was a follower of Jesus, but he tells them that some of them were complicit in convicting Jesus as a criminal, and that this Jesus was killed on a cross and yet rose again from the dead. And then he tells them all gathered there that they could have this same new life, if only they believed in Jesus, the Christ.

To go from a man who denied he even knew Jesus – for the fear of losing his own life, to a man who proclaimed the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in front of a crowd of people without any fear for his own life, that right there is true transformation.

Our Gospel today has Jesus telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit – the Advocate – will not come to them unless he – Jesus – goes back to the Father. But if he goes away, then the Advocate would come. The disciples would have preferred to have Jesus around. But that is not the way that Jesus had intended for the church to operate. 

You see, if the Disciples could always turn to Jesus to have Jesus fix everything whenever they couldn’t seem to get things accomplished, then they would not learn.

Christ’s work in the world is to reconcile the world to God, and Jesus was training the disciples to do that work for him. He knew how things were going to end for him, and he needed them to learn what they needed to learn, and do what they needed to do once he was gone from this world. But he also knew that it would never happen as long as they kept coming back to him to fix things from them, instead of learning to fly on their own. …

The eagle, in order to teach its young how to fly, will fly a fresh catch of food just by its young, and then go and land within plain sight of the nest and start eating the food itself, rather than bringing the food to their young. This will continue until the young bird is hungry enough to try and spread its wings and venture outside of the nest. Once the young bird has flown outside the nest to the food, then the parent shares with its young.

Jesus needed the disciples to spread their wings, to fly, to care for the next generation of believers. He needed them to understand the task he had placed before them. And he did that by leaving them alone, and having them wait until he sent the Holy Spirit. And once the Holy Spirit had come, their joy became infectious, and their lives were transformed by the power of the Spirit of Truth. And the face of the church changed that day. The face of the church changed from one led by a single solitary figure, a charismatic leader who worked miracles and healed the sick, to one led by the people that he had trained and prepared to do the very same work. No longer were the disciples just followers of the man from Nazareth, but now they were ministers of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, Son of the Most High, courageous leaders who shared the love of God despite their own fear.

Imagine yourself as a baby eagle for a moment. Imagine this Life in Christ, this Spiritual Life of ours as the food that God has placed before you, just out of reach unless you jump from the nest and try to fly. 

Is it God asking you to try something new? Is it God asking you to stop doing something that brings you comfort, but pulls you away from community and from God? Or is it God asking for you to step up and take up a new ministry that he has asked you to do? Each of these might seem a bit scary, a bit like taking a leap of faith out of a perfectly comfortable nest. 

There is a difference between the disciples that we hear about in the story of Pentecost, and us. We are not waiting for the Holy Spirit, since we received the Holy Spirit at our baptism. What we need to do is recognize that we are already filled with the Holy Spirit, and allow the Spirit to move within us, to change our hearts and minds, and transform us. We need to recognize that the power and the joy that flooded that upper room and transformed the lives of the disciples – that power is already within each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit is with us, and among us. We do not need to wait for a mighty wind and tongues of fire to understand that we all are already ministers of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, Son of the Most High God.

Stepping out of the nest is not really as much of a leap of faith as we might think it is. Rather, it is more of an acceptance of a gift that is already in our hands.

With the disciples, the Holy Spirit made a dramatic entrance, pouring into that upper room like a mighty wind, and dancing upon their heads like tongues of fire. And the joy, the understanding, and the transformation that swept through them changed the face of the church, the city of Jerusalem, and ultimately, the world. 

Imagine what just one spark of the fire of that day could do.

For you. 
For this church. 
For the world.
That spark is already there.

We just need to be reminded to look at it, to hold it, and to allow it to become the flame it is meant to be.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on May 19, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

One thought on “Jumping Out of the Nest

  1. Love this! It spoke directly to my heart and I think way you retold the happening and the history/story behind that day was intriguing and made us reconsider some thoughts.

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