Acts 2: 1-17
Standing on the precipice of life and death in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Antonio proclaims: What is past is prologue. And we look at these fine graduates this morning we smile in agreement.
What is past is prologue.
Frederick Buechner put it this way:
In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.
All these years you have been shaped and molded in your faith at FBC, all these things are now in the past, and as we look back at them we realize that they were only the prologue to today, the prelude to the future God has for you. A story that you and God will now begin to write together.
And as you begin to work on the plot of your story, Parker Palmer’s little book Let Your Life Speak is encouraging:
You must try to listen to your life and try to understand what it is truly about—quite apart from what you would like it to be about—or your life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest your intentions…Vocation does not mean a goal that you pursue. It means a calling that you hear. Before you can tell your life what you want to do with it, you must listen to your life telling you who you are. (p.4)
That’s what Vedran Smailovic did. In 1992, Vedran was a cellist in Sarajevo. Your parents remember that time, but you don’t. Your picture should be something like the bombed out streets of Aleppo, Syria.
Fighting had ravaged the Balkan region and Sarajevo especially. Automatic weapons fire, bombs, and explosions were an every day occurrence. In the spring of 1992, most of the storefronts had been closed, but one bakery was still making bread and a long line went out the door and into the street. At 4:00 p.m. a shell exploded right in the middle of that bread line, and 22 people were killed instantly.
Paul Sullivan wrote in Hope Magazine that Vedran Smailovic, the principal cellist of the local opera house lived nearby, and he hoped to return to his old life of concerts and comfort…
…But when he saw the carnage that day outside his window, he was pushed beyond his capacity to absorb and endure any more. He resolved to do the thing he could do best…Every day thereafter, at 4:00 p.m., Vedran put on his full, formal concert attire, took up his cello, and walked out of his apartment into the battle raging around him. He placed a little stool in the blood-stained, glass-splattered crater where the shell had landed, and every day, for 22 days, he played Albinoni’s Adagio as tribute to the 22 dead. Snipers fired at him (they missed), mortar shells fell all around him, but he played that music to the abandoned streets, the smashed trucks, the burning buildings, and to the terrified people still hiding in the cellars, who heard him.
Vedran let his life speak…he let it sing! Like those apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, Vedran reached out and spoke in another language—music—to people who needed hope in the midst of chaos. And this incredible act of generosity on his part is indicative of the Feast of Pentecost.
You know, I think we always imagine that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in that room in Jerusalem…and as luck would have it, they opened the windows and wow! Thousands of people have just wandered by and—just like y’all—they can’t wait to hear some preaching!
No, we forget that Pentecost was a Jewish Feast long before this event Christians celebrate. And do you know why the Jews were feasting? Because it was a time of Thanksgiving to celebrate God’s provision for their lives, the giving of the law, and the coming harvest. So the Jews in Jerusalem were thankful—their hearts were full of gratitude.
And the disciples also had full hearts. They had just witnessed Jesus ascending into heaven right in front of them, and then angels told them to go wait on the Holy Spirit. You know they were re-hashing that story over and over again, almost in disbelief that it was happening, but also incredibly grateful to have been there, and gratefully awaiting what was coming next.
I believe with all of my heart that we can begin to see and hear the Holy Spirit’s most impressive work when our hearts are full of gratitude.
And now here we are, almost in disbelief that some of you actually made it! (I’ve talked with your parents…we know!) But our hearts are full and overflowing with gratitude for your lives and the promise that the future holds…full of gratitude for where the wind of God might blow in your lives.
But like those Jews in Jerusalem who have come from all over the world and who become the first converts to the early church…once the wind of the Spirit starts blowing, things were never going to be the same for them. And like those disciples who were right in the midst of God’s transforming Spirit, once the sound of a mighty, rushing wind started blowing through their lives, they were never going to be the same again.
And the same thing is true for you…and me…and everyone else who walked unsuspectingly into this “same ol’ room” this morning. Once the Spirit starts moving and blowing through our lives then we’d better be ready for some changes!
And most of us nod and say, “Bring it on! We’re ready for changes!” But in the very next breath we walk into the sanctuary and “Hey, somebody’s sitting in our spot!” Are we really ready for change?
Lionel didn’t think he was ready for a change, but oh, was he ever! Matt Cook, Pastor of First Wilmington, shared Lionel’s story at CBF last summer.
In the economic slump of 2008, Lionel Rodia, of suburban Philadelphia, got laid off from his job at a staffing company. It hit him hard, but Lionel, 42, did what any true Phillies fan would do: He started begging, borrowing and stealing his way into every game he could. And nobody nudges better than Lionel. Lionel’s best friend, Tom (Tush) Millison says: “I’ve never been to a Springsteen concert with him where he didn’t say, ‘Follow me,’ and we didn’t end up in the front row.”
Pretty impressive. But the final game of the World Series…now that’s a step beyond! When the Phillies played in the soggy World Series Game 5—up three games to one—Lionel sat along the leftfield foul pole in a seat he’d gotten for free, but he was looking for change the moment he came through the gate.
In the 6th inning it started pouring down rain, and Lionel saw his opportunity and took it. It’s pouring down rain so no one is really paying attention to him, and somehow he sneaked his way into the swanky Diamond Club section behind home plate, where Tush has season tickets. And wouldn’t you know it, Lionel sits there in the pouring rain until the game is called for rain an hour later. And he gets a ticket.
The next night, when the game is restarted, Lionel’s best friend Tush gets a call on his cell: “Look to your right,” Lionel says. And there he is, sitting TWO rows back, DEAD CENTER behind home plate, grinning like…a senior on graduation day.
And then the Phillies win! Players are piling on each other on the field, fans are screaming and high-fiving…but Lionel notices a guy in a suit walking down the aisle. He looks important, so Lionel slinks in behind him, through a gate and toward the dugout. And what does he see? Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and the World Series trophy, both of which are on the field a minute later.
Then a bat boy starts throwing championship T-shirts to everyone, including…you-know-who. Now here comes a Hawaiian woman handing out leis. And because Lionel has all kinds of time to read every word about his beloved Phillies, he knows she’s the mom of outfielder Shane Victorino, and he says, “Hey, Mrs. Victorino!” And she puts one around his neck and kisses him on the mouth and begins to cry.
Tush’s cell rings again. “Look on the mound,” says Lionel. And there he is, on the mound, his arms raised in victory.
Just imagine if Lionel had been satisfied with his seat, if he’d been okay with the outfield, if he had been unwilling to ride the wild wind, the wind of change and possibility…to let the winds of change blow through his life?
One thing’s for sure: Lionel wouldn’t have been out there on the mound with the world champs!
But there he is, on the mound, all 5’8” 240lbs. And Lionel’s got the same shirt and he looks like a player, so he’s suddenly in the middle of every hug. And then all-star 2nd baseman Chase Utley says to all-star shortstop Jimmy Rollins: “Let’s go celebrate!” And Lionel says exactly what you’d say: “I’m with you guys!”
So now he’s in the clubhouse, where he sees tubs of champagne, and Lionel starts going champagne crazy, spraying multimillionaire athletes in the face and down the shorts. Outfielder Matt Stairs gives him a head butt. He kisses pitcher Jamie Moyer and yells, “Thank you for everything!” And Moyer yells, “No, man, thank YOU!”
Thank you, seniors. Thank you for your investment into our lives here at First Baptist as well as the lives you have touched all over the world. Thank you for allowing us to pour God’s love into you in Sunday School and retreats and for letting us teach you songs of faith that will continue to sustain you through the good and the bad that life throws at you.
And thank you, First Baptist teachers…from the nursery to the Youth Department, on Sundays and Wednesdays and lots of times in between, spending countless hours on Sunday School lessons and VBS crafts and worship in the arts camp and Family Life Retreats and sports camp and…
Thank you for loving them all the time—when they deserved it, and especially when they didn’t. Now seniors, it’s your calling to go live out what you’ve learned here, to show compassion to a broken world…to remind them what the word “beloved” means.
Live it out like Lou Olivera. Do you know Lou?
Last year, the Fayetteville Observer told the story of NC District Court Judge Lou Olivera, a veteran of the judicial bench, but also a veteran of the Gulf War. And one of Judge Olivera’s jobs is to preside over a court for vets whose PTSD has led to addiction and other issues.
Retired Special Forces Sgt. Joe Serna stood in front of the Judge last year accused of violating his probation. Serna was no stranger to the Judge. Judge Olivera knew that Serna, a purple heart recipient, had served 3 tours in Afghanistan, was almost killed by a suicide bomber, and had lost many friends in battle.
Judge Olivera also knew that Serna had not been able to leave the horrors of war behind and that he struggled with alcoholism. But the Judge had no choice, so he sentenced Serna to a night in jail.
And then the Judge did the unexpected. Concerned that jail might trigger Serna’s PTSD—the Judge drove his fellow veteran to a nearby jail in Lumberton and convinced the jailer (also a fellow vet and good friend) to let him serve the sentence with Serna. There were bare walls, a steel toilet, and only one cot in the cell. The Judge made Serna take the cot while the jailer gave the Judge a mat so he could sleep on the floor.
But they got very little sleep because from about 5:00 that evening until 6:30 a.m., the two men talked about their military service, their families, and their dreams for their families…and the road that would take them there.
Later, Serna said:
“I can’t even put into words how I feel about him. I’ve seen a lot of things, but this by far is the most compassionate thing I’ve ever seen anyone give to anybody. I will never let him down again.”
May the Spirit of God—at loose in your very lives—set our hearts ablaze with such love and compassion that others may see our good works and give glory to God…that same God who has lavished you with love and care, and whose winds of change are still blowing this morning. Amen.