June 9, 2019
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Somewhere I realized…that my whole life…has been about walking the path…that is in front of me…the path that the Spirit led me down. It has not always been a path that I have wanted to walk…it’s not always been a path that’s been easy…as a matter of fact there have been many times when it’s been a path of difficulty and challenge, a path that has on occasion…taken me right to the edge.
But in spite of whatever is in front of me…I have found…that there is a point, a point at which you are absolutely forced to say…as a believer… ‘Yes my Lord, I will walk this way…, I will do what I believe to be your will for me. Yes, my Lord I will go…’
In the book of the prophet Isaiah and in Chapter 6, we hear about one of these moments…in that passage Isaiah is bemoaning the fact that he feels so unworthy…and yet, a voice cries out from heaven asking, ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for me’, who will do what it is that I need done?’ And the prophet humbly answers, ‘Here I am Lord, send me’.
And so somewhere, getting to that point…being able to answer that way…is in fact our call. Somewhere, acknowledging the pull of the Spirit on your heart, and submitting to it, becomes the content of a Christian life. The Holy Spirit is a gift that is given freely…because it really is just the movement of God into the soul of one of God’s children. I don’t know at what point it goes in, I don’t know, if it is already there…but I do know that it is something that a soul needs to acknowledge…it is a gift that requires one allowing room…for that Spirit to live and to act within. Not that anyone is capable of walking in the Spirit, by the Spirit, all the time, every minute of every day…but that there most surely is a presence of the Spirit within you…which, if you are quiet, if you are attentive…if you are willing to hear it, sometimes as soft as a whisper…then it will lead you, it will guide you, so that your life accomplishes the will of God laid out for you.
This is a great challenge…with a great reward. And so somewhere, though I have more than once resisted it…somewhere this Spirit of holiness once acknowledged, persistently seeks to guide, and if needed, to correct your path…in order to direct it more closely into the flow of God’s will. But that moment that I was speaking about, that moment when you are up against it, that moment when it seems that what’s in front of you threatens to take your last ounce of strength, your last ounce of ability, your last ounce of patience…when you are up against it…and yet somehow…you know that you got there, you got to that place walking with God.
So it is hard, it’s hard at that point, to turn around, or to turn away, or to look away and to say, ‘Why God have you brought me here, or, why have you abandoned me here, why is it your presence is no longer palpable, why is it no longer real for me?’
Truly, it can be a dark place… but it is also a place where your faith needs to empower your next step, it’s a place where you need to walk without assurance, without knowledge, without visible signs of the Spirits guidance. It’s a place…where your faith needs to lead you, it’s like…a bump in the road I guess. And the interesting thing is that, if you do take that step, if you do walk a little further within that place of not having the energy, of not having the strength, not having the will, not at all being convinced that this is where God is leading you…if you do take that step and walk on in faith…then there will be a moment, maybe not right away, but there will be a moment…when you understand why. And there will be a realization that in stepping out in faith…you have built, or allowed, a deeper relationship, a deeper trust, to grow between you and God.
Today’s scripture passage talks about a very, very visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit, visible to all, not just to the individual, not just one of those moments when you are able to say, ‘That, now that was definitely God!’ No, this is a group, a whole group of people who hear and feel an inflowing of some wondrous force, a force that appears as ‘tongues of fire’ on their heads.
Now, they are all from Galilee, they all have that rough coarse dialect that Peter had, a manner of speaking Hebrew that gave away his presence outside the house of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus was being tried after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Someone there, after hearing Peter speak, accused him saying, ‘We know that you were one of his disciples, whoever you are, just because of the way you speak, you’ve got that country dialect, you’ve got that Galilean thing going’.
So, this gathering there in Jerusalem, this gathering of disciples, of believers…are all from Galilee. But it is also a time, a festival, when there are a whole lot of other people from many different places there as well. It is a challenge just to pronounce the names of all the different cities, countries, and places from where this crowd has come, who witness this amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And these Galileans, these rough-cut country folk, started speaking in languages that prior to that moment, they had no knowledge of. They had no idea how to speak to those of Pamphylia, of Parthia, Elam, or ancient Media. And so, the languages they were voicing were foreign to them…but the message that they were spreading…the Spirit flowing through them, was speaking to all others gathered there, of the grace and the love of God, and telling of the amazing gift of our God in the form of Jesus Christ.
So even there, as in those times when we allow it, the disciples were being used to accomplish the will of God, to spread the good news, to be a testimony of grace. And so, together’…I know I speak about this often, but together we are called to be a witness of grace. Together we are called to allow the Spirit to move through us, and to show others, just who God is, just how great God’s love is…and to show it to our community. We are called to show it together, to make it visible for those from other nations, those from other countries, those from other faiths, those from other places perhaps…and definitely for those from a place of having no faith. And, we are also supposed to be bolstered within as a community by the Holy Spirit. Strengthened for each other…by each other.
As a community, we are called, not just to show the outside world how wonderful God is, but to affirm over and over to each other, how amazing our God is. We have a duty to each other to be bearers of, to be vessels of, an indwelling and holy Spirit, so that perhaps, when someone is at a low spot…perhaps when someone is up against it…perhaps, when someone cannot at that moment sense the Spirit’s presence…then another one of us might bear needed testimony. So, it is a corporate or a whole-body gathered responsibility and blessing, as well as a personal indwelling.
I started out by talking about my life…myself…and about times when I have been up against it…times when, I thought I had gotten to a place by grace, I thought I had arrived at a particular spot in my life, a particular juncture…truly by listening, truly by walking, truly by working hard to do what I believed the Spirit was saying I should do, telling me I should do…but…but I just wasn’t sure anymore where I was headed, or…perhaps the next step forward seemed either totally unclear, or seemed to be a place I didn’t want to go.
Now, a ‘place you don’t want to go’ can mean several things. A ‘lack of clarity’, is easy to understand. A lack of clarity means you don’t know…you just have no idea what to do next, you have…no clue. But it is also possible that the way forward may be something you feel is too dangerous, too unfamiliar, or too fearful…a place that you really do not want to go without the sure knowledge that God is there, the knowledge that Jesus is right beside you…the knowledge, that the Spirit has you under its protection. But there’s another one, another way in which things can seem unclear…a way that is I think, perhaps more difficult. And that is when you’ve been walking, living, working, striving to do the will of God and, you are just not happy there, you just don’t have…you’ve run out of energy, you’ve run out of persistence, you’ve run out of the ability to stay the course without real inner turmoil and exhaustion, cause perhaps…you just don’t like it…and somewhere…you just can’t find the Spirit…
When I first took the job at Cascade Farm as the estate caretaker, I honestly didn’t know what the job entailed, I knew I wanted to be there, I knew I was supposed to be there…in fact, it was an exciting answer in itself to one of those difficult moments. The company I was leaving had been bought out by some Canadian investors, and in my position as Vice President of the Corporation, I was asked to work with the current CEO and original owner to conduct a search for a new President and CEO to replace him. And so, the two of us interviewed numerous candidates and went back to the investors and said, ‘These two or three we are very comfortable with, they seem very capable, they seem to have the right credentials…and these others, do not, we don’t feel the chemistry, we don’t feel like they are the ones you should choose from’. Now the investors had done their own research on the candidates we were interviewing, and they said, ‘Well, how about this one?’ And we looked at each other, and said, ‘Well honestly, that was the one we felt was least qualified’, least able to carry on the trajectory of growth and goodness that the company had come to represent. And within a month or so, that was the candidate that the investors had decided to hire.
And backing up two steps, the current president, the original CEO and owner of the company who became a dear friend, had spent a long time grooming me in all the complexities of the business world. He taught me an amazing number of things, in fact, he spent an enormous amount of time teaching me, mentoring me. We also got to know each other deeply, and as people of faith, we talked a lot about God and what God had done, and what God was doing in our lives, and within the company. We really felt from the beginning, that the company was a witness of God’s goodness for all who came through the doors either as customers, or as employees.
And in our late day talks, after the employees had all gone home, he said to me several times, ‘You know David, what I think you need, is a job as an estate caretaker’. And I was like, ‘Well, why do you say that?’ And he said, ‘Well, because it would allow you to be outdoors, which you have such a deep passion for, and it would allow you time to write, to reflect, to draw nearer to God and to seek out God’s future for you and your family.
And when he said it, it sounded amazing. And it was something that put a spark of hope in my heart, that there might be something like that for me someday. But he followed it up with, ‘But I don’t know if we will ever come across one, because they are jobs that are few and far between. Because you are talking about only a limited number of property owners who actually need a caretaker, and once someone gets one of those jobs, they tend to hold on to them because they have a lot of benefits to them’. And so, I kind of thought about it, and then set it aside as perhaps an unfulfilled dream.
But, getting back to my story, the investors had hired this one individual who we had felt was the least qualified to fill the office of President and CEO. And it wasn’t long before our fears were realized. In fact, under his leadership the company was driven into the ground, it lost its character, it lost its purpose and mission, and within about two or three years it was forced out of business and the assets were sold off to competitors.
But those first six months with him were horrendous, because I was still the Vice President and I was the one tasked with helping (of course that is a strange thing, because I didn’t feel like it was help), but I was the one who was asked to…to do the work of reducing the company, the cutting back on expenses, the cutting back on personnel. I was the one forced to go to dear friends, fellow employees, who I had worked with for years, and to tell them that their job was over, that they were in a sense ‘fired’.
And this new CEO was not at all generous with severance packages…it was just, ‘You’re gone, you’re done!’ ‘David…go tell them!’ And there were tears, there was anger, there was sadness…and I found myself up against it. I found myself at my wits end, I found myself running out of patience, I found myself devoid of hope, I found myself mourning deep within at what was such a wondrous experience in my life now being so callously torn apart and reduced to a meaningless shell of what it had been.
And so…I prayed…I said, ‘God, you’ve got to get me out of here, I can’t, this is not who I am, this is not what I want to do, this is not…I cannot do this…I need to leave…’. I no longer felt the Spirit’s presence like I had up until that moment, I did not see the path forward, I did not want to do what I was being asked to do, I did not want to continue doing it, I was dying deep within…every day. No longer did I go to work with an upbeat smile, and walk around encouraging and welcoming the new day into each of the employee’s lives…being glad together with them at the goodness, the good things we were about, the way that we could help people…it was gone, all gone. And so, I said, ‘God, you’ve got to get me out of here’.
And it took a while…because I think…I think I was screaming more than I was listening. I think my prayers were pretty much one sided…I’m sure God was tired of hearing me say the same things over and over again…but…at one point I was quiet, I did listen, and I heard the most remarkable thing.
The Holy Spirit said to me, ‘David, if I asked you to remain in that place, if I asked you to remain in that position, if I asked you to be in that company for my sake, to do my will, are you willing’?
I did not want to hear that…that was not on my list of answers, that was not what I was prepared to hear…
…but it was also a question and a response to which I had to say…‘yes’…and so I said yes, ‘yes Lord, if that is your will…if that is what you want me to do…you have gotten me to this point, you have walked me this far…so if that’s what you want, if you want me to be there for you, although I don’t know how to do it, I don’t feel like I know how to do it anymore, I don’t feel like I am capable of being your grace, capable of bearing your light, your love, because I am so broken in this place…but…if that is your desire…here I am’.
The original owner and CEO of the company, my dear friend and mentor Peter Roberts had invited us to attend his daughter’s wedding some six months after the new CEO had come on board. And so, two weeks after I had said ‘Yes Lord’, we went to the wedding and reception at the Pawling Fire House. And it was a great gathering of friends, it was a lot of fun. And somewhere in the middle of the reception, Pete pulled me aside. Now he knew my struggles, he knew my turmoil because we were that close. And he knew what was happening at the company he had built, that he had started…he knew what I was being told to do. And he called me over and took me aside and said to me, ‘You know what, I just heard a very interesting thing from my nephew. His wife is the sister of the wife of the current caretaker at the estate that is right next to my property. And it seems that he has just given notice and they are planning on leaving very soon. It is a beautiful piece of property, it is mostly woods, and a pretty estate, and the Falencki’s are good people. Maybe you should look into it.’
And somewhere within me a dam broke, and a flood of emotions ran like a river all through me as I realized that this was a call, a call from the Spirit, a call finally to come away, to step free of the prison in which I had been living for the past six months, this was the moment in which I realized that if I said yes Lord…if I walked on in faith…that the blessings of the Spirit would follow.
The next week I hand wrote a letter of application, explaining who I was to this family who lived in NY and stayed on the estate in the summer…and it was a letter in which I was very honest. I talked about my faith, I talked about the fact that I trusted in people, I trusted in goodness, and I wrote that the corporate job which I was currently holding, was preventing me from being who I am, preventing me from spending time with my wife and my two young sons.
And I went down to NY and applied in person. I sat down in this apartment on 5th Ave in midtown Manhattan, and spoke to the Falencki’s for a long time…and I received the blessing of being hired, and of having a new path open up before me. And, it was, and has been everything I had ever hoped and dreamed it would be.
…when I was up against it, when I said ‘no more’, when I said, ‘Lord, I just can’t’…the Spirit said, ‘But will you, if I ask’…? When I was able to say ‘Yes Lord, here I am’, my steps became clear before me, a pathway opened up and I journeyed on…I began a journey that brought me all the way to this pulpit. Our God is so good, the Holy Spirit is so dear…and it is right here…in the midst of us, and within us…just waiting…
…touch our God…