Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!”
So begins Theodore Geisel, Dr. Suess, in his book for all ages “All the Places You’ll Go.” It’s summer, schools out, holidays on the horizon, let’s go.
It was fifty days after Easter, and the women and men who followed Jesus were waiting for something to happen. They didn’t know what they would do next, so they prayed about it. They prayed for guidance, direction, and wisdom.
There is a saying “be careful what you pray for. God might just answer.”
That day, God answered their prayers. But not as they expected. A mighty wind blew through the room where they were staying. Flames burst forth, dancing above every head. The room shook and they were driven outdoors into the busy streets of Jerusalem.
What would you do if suddenly a mighty wind blew through this room? What if you saw flames hovering over James’ and Lyla’s heads, or Nelson’s, or Rev. Pam’s, or your own?
Author Annie Dillard advises that when we go to church, it might be wise to strap yourself to the pews and put on a crash helmet, just in case the Holy Spirit shows up in all her glory!
Now, I love maps. When I plan a trip, I pore over the maps – maps on paper, not on my GPS or computer screen – to imagine the lay of the land. This October, I’m giving a lecture at a seminary in Nova Scotia and so I’m imagining Nova Scotia – Halifax, Cape Breton, and all the other places we’ll go.
The story is told of European mapmakers – from England, Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain – making maps over 700 years ago. When they drew their maps, they wrote on the edges – “ne plus ultra.” “There is no more.” The land of “no more” that didn’t exist in their imaginations was Cape Cod, and North and South America. After voyagers from Europe crossed the seas, they had to change their maps to read “plus ultra.” “There is more.”
That’s what happened on Pentecost! The disciples experienced the glory of God – ran into the street; shared good news that God loves everyone; and then discovered something that changed all their maps – regardless of nation, everyone understood each other in their own language. People from Rome, Northern Africa, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia – barriers broken down, everyone part of a joyful family, regardless of race, age, or whether they were rich or poor, or male or female.
I’m a student of mysticism, and a mystic is someone who experiences God in a life-changing way. I believe we’re all mystics. When we look deeper, when our senses are opened, we discover how amazing the world is – how wonderful it is to kick a soccer ball, read a book, pretend to be a superhero, gaze at the waves on Covell’s Beach, walk down the aisle at graduation, or go outside on a summer night and see a sky filled with stars. Suddenly, the heavens declare the glory of God, our cells sing melodies, and our hearts are filled with joy.
Annie Dillard talks about a girl who was blind from birth and after an operation saw the world clearly for the first time. When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl, no longer blind, saw what she described as “the tree with the lights in it.”
Then Dillard tells of her quest to see the world in that same childlike way. “One day I was walking along Tinker creek…and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed…Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes… but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars… through the crack, and the mountains slam.”
That day, the disciples saw the world through new eyes. They saw everyone as part of one big family. That’s what happened to Thomas Merton, a monk, who left our world to seek God far away from the crowded city. But, on March 18, 1958, as he returned to the crowded streets of Louisville, Kentucky, on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, Merton recalls: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers -everyone was walking around shining like the sun.”
That’s what we’re looking for. Beauty, wonder, love, adventure, excellence…and when we see it, we’re never the same.
Next Sunday, I’m going to talk about Peter’s speech, and how God showed the disciples that we all belong in one loving family, whether we are male, female, old, young, gay or straight, black, brown, white, rich or poor.
Today, just remember, whether you’re looking forward to summer vacation, thinking about retirement, or dealing with the changes brought on by the aging process, God still has a dream for you. You can revise your map of the world. You can go out in the street, experience new things, see everyone shining with God’s love, and share a greater love for stranger and friend alike, and open your hearts to all the places you’ll go.