A few years back, a delightful comedian named Bill Engvall did a recurring routine based on the premise that stupid people should have to wear warning signs that simply state "I'm stupid." Each time someone said something dumb, someone would reply with a sarcastic comment ending with the phrase “here’s your sign.” Here’s your sign that you are not very bright. For example, Engvall told of a trucker who got his truck stuck under an overpass, and the responding policeman asked "Hey, you get your truck stuck?" The trucker answered, "No sir, I was delivering that overpass and I ran out of gas. Here's your sign." It got to the point that whenever Engvall told a story like this, when he got to the snarky response, there would be a two second beat, and then the whole audience would chime in with the tagline – “Here’s your sign.”
Signs are important to us, and not just to suss out who’s bright and who’s not.
We like to have clear and unambiguous signs to tell us what is going on, whether we’re driving in a strange city or trying to figure out who is the power player in a business meeting. We feel ill at ease if we are in a different place or situation than we have known before – some guidance helps reduce our anxiety. That’s the reason why books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” are such bestsellers!
In the midst of frightening, disorienting moments, we want someone to say, “Here’s your sign!”
Well, imagine you’re the disciple Philip. Jesus has died, risen again, and has come back and visited for a while. Nothing has prepared you for this strange situation, so you are trying to figure out how to make sense of it all. So you ask Jesus to provide you with a sign. “Show us the Father.” I don’t know if Philip is simply trying to see if Jesus is really who he says he is – as if there were anyone else who could do what Jesus had done by reappearing to the disciples after death and resurrection – or if he is still trying to wrestle with the notion that Creator God sent his Son to earth. In any case, he is looking for a sign, something that will help him figure this thing out. And here’s the point where Jesus could say, “Here’s your sign,” because Jesus knows this is the dumbest thing Philip could ask for to figure things out, but instead, Jesus is a bit kinder than Bill Engvall.
Listen to what he says: "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” In other words, I am the sign you are looking for, both in my words and in my actions. I am the Father, the Father is me. Here’s your sign.
We don’t know how Philip responded to Jesus’ words in this exchange, because Jesus keeps on talking and talking, trying to get out all the things he has to tell them before he ascends to heaven. It takes all the way to the middle of the next chapter in John’s gospel for the disciples to get a word in edgewise, and then they simply say, “Yes, we understand now.” Somewhere in the midst of all those words, they get the sign they need.
And then Jesus ascends to heaven, and they are left alone. They gather in a room together to try and figure out what happens next. It is a profoundly disorienting and difficult time for them. It was all so much easier when Jesus was there, able to explain things, but now they are on their own, it seems. They need a sign, even more than Philip did. Something, anything, that might help alleviate the fear that they are unable to do what they are supposed to do, maybe even the fear that they don’t really know what to do. So we have this group of sweaty, stressed out disciples in the room. Perhaps they’ve argued about what to do next. Perhaps some of them think they should just go back to their everyday lives. Perhaps there’s a little jockeying for power going on.
But whatever is going through their minds, something very strange happens. A great wind rushes through the room. Little bits of flame – tongues of fire – appear over each of their heads, as if some energy force was sprouting there, or entering there. And suddenly they have been changed in some way. When they speak, they can speak in a whole panoply of different languages. Not just Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek or even a little Latin, the most likely languages for these disciples to speak. No, they are speaking languages that they could not have possibly known before this very moment, when that great wind swept into the room and into them.
Other people hear the commotion and come to see what is going on. It’s Jerusalem, a hub of the Eastern and Western world, so there are people from all over, each of whom speaks his or her own language.
And it is the oddest thing. Each of those people, speaking each of those languages, understand what the disciples are saying.
Here’s your sign.
Well, what is it a sign of? Jesus has ascended to heaven. They are now on their own. The wind, that rushing wind, has filled them with something, an ability, a charism – that Greek work for gift – to share the word, not only to those who speak like them, but to everyone, in any language.
If the disciples had had any doubt about what they were supposed to do next, this final gift from the One who loves us all takes away any doubt. They are now fully equipped to go and share the story of what happened to them, when they met Jesus of Nazareth. They are now able to tell everyone everywhere the good news – that we are beloved by our Creator, who sent his only Son Jesus to teach us about how great that love is. Here’s their sign.
Some people say that this day, Pentecost, marks the birthday of the church. And if it is a birthday, there must be candles, right? Imagine the disciples, in that room, feeling the whoosh of that rushing wind, and then the dancing tongues of flame atop their heads, warming their hearts but not burning them. In that moment , they have become the candles, the birthday candles. They have become, as Jesus said, a light to the world.
But the real miracle of Pentecost is that gifts like those that were bestowed on the disciples in the room are also are bestowed on us. Some of us may speak different languages, that gift mentioned in the story, but some of us have been given other gifts: listening hearts, a gentle touch, fierce advocacy, an ability to share Christ’s story with simplicity and grace…
Those gifts dance on our heads with greater beauty than the little dance that Harrison and I attempted this morning – neither of us have a career in dance, I’m afraid. But our collective gifts as members of the Body of Christ, will help us to welcome others into the story that Jesus told those disciples, that Jesus has told struggling people throughout the centuries, that Jesus keeps on telling those who need to hear his voice today, through us and our words and works and prayers.
Pentecost is not a one-day thing. It isn’t just that one day over 2000 years ago. It isn’t just the one day a year we remember that first Pentecost. No, it is every day. Every day, we are given the gifts we need from God to do what God requires of us. We are the candles. We are now the light of the world.
And all that’s left to ask is this: how are you going to shine? Here’s your sign. Here’s your shine. Go from here today aflame, on fire, ready to light up the world.