Heavy Metal, Severed Body Parts, and the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:1-21 | Psalm 104:24-34, 35b | 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 | John 20:19-23

Jeremy Richards

When I was 14 or 15 I went to my first metal show.

My dad drove me to the venue and when I got there I was greeted by a long line of people waiting to get in. Everyone was wearing black t-shirts and tight jeans. I had shaggy snowboarder hair, baggy jeans, and a bright orange polo shirt on. To make matters worse, my dad went to the front of the line to see if someone could tell him what time the concert would be over.

At that point in my life I was at a bit of a crossroads. I had grown up in the church, accepted Jesus at the young age of 3, and had been baptized when I was 9. But I was beginning to lose interest in church. The pastor I had grown up with for most of my life was a strict, stern man who was always getting mad at us kids for something. Meanwhile my friends I and were in the midst of trying to figure out who we were. We had hit the age where we were becoming responsible for who we would be. At that point in my life it seemed like Christianity consisted of a bunch of “don’ts” – don’t do this, don’t do that – and I was getting tired of it.

It seemed like who I wanted to be – a snowboarder who like punk and metal music, who liked to have fun and goof around with my friends – was in conflict with being Christian, which I associated with tucking in your shirt and watching movies made by Focus on the Family. So I was beginning to think Christianity wasn’t for me. It seemed like faith in Jesus came at the expense of my self. After all, John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a part of a religion that didn’t let me be me.

I came to the show to see the opening band, who I thought was pretty heavy, but, I soon found out, they were nothing compared to the rest of the bands – the ones everyone else had come to see. People hardly paid any attention to the band I had come to see, which was nice because I got to stand right up front – the kid with the baggy pants and the bright orange polo shirt, looking awkward and unsure of how one should act at a show.

Then the band I came to see was done. They broke down their set and a new band set theirs up. I didn’t know what to expect so I kept standing where I had been, in the middle of the floor. My bright orange polo must have read like a kick-me sign on the back of my shirt, because that’s exactly what happened. As soon as the music started this huge dude in a jersey kicked me and I went flying. The pit “opened up” and the room exploded.

I couldn’t get out of their quick enough. I found a quiet little perch on the balcony that looked over the floor and the stage and watched the rest of the show from there.

I was mesmerized. The band was so full of energy, and the singer, who never sang but only screamed into the mic was running from side to side, jumping into the audience. He’d hand the mic to people in the audience and they would scream along. I was shocked that they could tell what he was saying.

But every now and then I would hear the word “Jesus” being screamed through the microphone.

Towards the end of the set the singer said, “We love you guys. And we love Jesus. We’re Christians and we can’t deny that.” And that was it.

But that was one of, if not the, most pivotal moments of my life. It’s hard to say how God would have worked, but I wonder if I would be here today if not for that moment.

Because at that show, I saw a group of young dudes wearing black t-shirts, screaming into microphones, going crazy on stage, and saying it was all for the glory of God. I thought, “If they can be who they are and be Christian, then I can too.” From that moment on, I’ve known that God made me to be me, and I’ll glorify God most when I live most fully into who God created me to be. I’m not saying there aren’t sacrifices, but there’s a difference between making sacrifices and sacrificing, or negating, who you are, the person God created you to be.

Christians love to talk about self-denial, but we need to be clear about what we mean when we talk about self-denial. Self-denial doesn’t mean we deny who we are, as if God wants us to stop being us. On the contrary, we were created to be in communion with God. We are most “us” when we are most connected to the One who made us.

What’s great is that there isn’t a one-size-fits all, but we all have our own unique gifts and callings. You might even say “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”

The same Spirit that filled those young men who I saw on that stage when I was 14 or 15 filled my 70 year old Sunday school teacher when I was 5. The same Spirit that fills a preacher a rural church in Africa fills a Christian social worker in the United States who gives her life to help others. The same Spirit that fills our church this morning fills churches around the globe – Catholic and Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Methodist, Episcopal and Anglican – it maybe even fills a few mosques and synagogues as well, who are we to say who the Spirit fills?

And all of these people and communities become most fully who they truly are when they are most fully receptive to the Holy Spirit – the One who unites us in all our difference, who doesn’t want cookie-cutter Christians, but celebrates the very characteristics that make us unique.

I Corinthians 12 says we’re like body parts, and body parts can be very, very different. A nose and a finger have very different functions, in fact, they are completely different, except that they’re a part of the same body.

The Spirit is the glue that holds the body of Christ together. So that those who look and act and speak completely different, are, in fact, part of the same body and share a common life with God, and, therefore, a common life with one another.

Acts is another picture of this. In Acts, the Spirit accommodates and makes room for all the people present, regardless of where their home is and what language they speak. The Spirit doesn’t somehow create a single language that they all can speak, because that would be erasing the identities of those who are present. Language is tied to identity, and the Spirit shows, in Acts 2, that it will not erase identity but will bring all identities into the life of God.

God wants all of you. God doesn’t want you to leave any part of who you are behind. Your quirks, your passions, your flaws, your fears, your anxieties, your wants and desires, your race, your gender, your sexuality, your abilities. God wants it all. God wants to water and grow the parts of you that are truly you, and God wants to weed out all the junk that keeps you from becoming the true you, like insecurities and the lies we’re told about ourselves.

But this growing and weeding out always, always happens in community. There is no life with God that isn’t life with others. I saw a bumper sticker this week that said “Only God.” No. Not even God says only God. Jesus said that “love God and love your neighbor” were two sides of the same coin.

A single body part, on its own, inspires terror and disgust. Think of every scary movie you’ve ever seen. A severed finger, a severed hand, a severed head. They’re terrifying! Body parts are not meant to exist apart from one another.

We live in a society that’s obsessed with individualism and our Christianity has bought into it. So often the Christian message is presented as a personal decision to follow Jesus without any explanation as to the communal nature of our faith.

But in all three of the Scriptures we heard today – all three – the Spirit is revealed in community. In John it’s a group of disciples. In Acts it’s Jews who are visiting Jerusalem from all over the known world. In 1 Corinthians it’s the Corinthian church, which is made up of Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slaves and free people.

The work of the Spirit is the work of bringing people together, drawing them ever deeper into the life of God, and we are drawn into this life with the rest of the Church – past, present, and future.

We like the idea that the Spirit that draws us into life with God wants us to be our fullest selves. However, we aren’t always so excited when the Spirit wants others to be their fullest selves, especially when who they are makes us uncomfortable.

The messy history of Christian missions during the age of colonialism is a prime example. During this era, Christianizing and Westernizing were usually inseparable. Instead of seeing native peoples as beautiful in their difference and creating room for their unique cultures, beliefs, and practices to breathe new life into the Church, missionaries did everything they could to eradicate the native culture and force Western culture and practices on the native peoples.

Even today, even among people in the same countries, the same denominations, the same churches, there is often a refusal to listen to the experiences of those who are different.

Here’s just one example. In the 1950s and 60s liberation theology emerged in Latin American and North America. Theologians like James Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez began to do theology from their particular social locations. They pointed out that much of what was assumed to simply be “theology” was actually theology from a uniquely white, Western perspective. Soon after, female theologians pointed out that theology was also usually done from a uniquely male perspective. These liberation theologians began to develop their theologies from the place of the oppressed and the colonized, claiming that God was a God of freedom, liberation, and justice, which was very different than the theology of the colonizers.

These new theologies were very different from the traditional, white theologies that had dominated mainline and evangelical churches and seminaries since the enlightenment.

It was like these theologians were speaking another language.

Most male, white pastors, scholars, and theologians rejected these theologians, because acknowledging their voice would mean they would have to change. They would have to learn a new language. And learning a new language is hard. It requires you to become a student, and most of these people were used to being teachers. It means acknowledging other’s perspectives and giving them as much attention and respect as you give your own.

Being drawn by the Holy Spirit into life with those who are not like you – who don’t speak the same language as you – can be extremely disruptive. Acts 2 is disruptive.

The Spirit doesn’t descend like a dove, like it did for Jesus. Instead, it falls like fire. Margaret Aymar, a professor of New Testament at Austin Seminary says, “This is no gentle inbreaking. The spirit comes suddenly (aphno), even violently (biaias) upon the gathered…[the word] ‘amazed’ (v. 7) should be considered a less than pleasant emotion. This is not the joy of a child seeing a magic trick. These have gathered because they also heard the violent wind (Acts 2:6). Their sentiment is closer to bewilderment; they are flummoxed by all of the signs and portents.”[1]

The Spirit’s work of joining all kinds of different people to one another in order to form the body of Christ here on earth is beautiful, but it’s also disconcerting. It means listening to the words of others – words that seem foreign to us, or challenge us, maybe even words that implicate us. It means learning those words ourselves, and letting them shape us, which is often painful, so that we can more fully be the hands, the feet, the eyes, the voice of Christ.

There is a way in which, since these earliest days of the Church, individuals have laid hold of this new identity as members of the body of Christ. After the passage we heard today from Acts 2, Peter continues to preach for a little while, and the crowd who hears him speak asks him and the other disciples, “What should we do?” And Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 38)

It’s through baptism that we claim our new identity as members of the body of Christ. Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians today tells his audience, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we are all made to drink of one Spirit.” In baptism God takes us in all our particularity and joins us to one another and to the Trinity.

As I mentioned earlier today, we’re planning a baptism for this summer. If you haven’t been baptized, I would really encourage you to begin to think about it and pray about it. I’d be happy to talk to you if you have any questions about it.

We don’t believe that you need to be baptized to be “saved,” but that’s mainly because we think salvation is a journey more than a one time event – a journey deeper into life with God and life with one another, which is also a journey deeper into our truest selves.

Baptism is one of the first steps on that journey – it’s the new passport that helps us understand who we are, and where we’re supposed to go. Whenever we get mixed up by the events of the world, or we get tired, or we forget who we are and what we’re here for, we look back at our baptism to remember, like looking at a passport that has all our information on it.

In a minute we’ll celebrate communion, which is a way that we consciously remember our baptism. Because remembering who we are also means remembering who Jesus is.

Jesus was the one who was fully God and fully human. Baptism means following Jesus, becoming a disciple of Jesus’, so that we might also learn how to be fully human – how to fully be ourselves.

Which might mean being the best teacher you can be, or the best grandparent you can be, or the best barista you can be, or, maybe, the best heavy metal singer-screamer you can be.

I guess it all depends on who God made you to be.

[1] Margaret Aymer, “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21,” Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3282