Fred was a traveling salesman back in the 1950s. He worked on commission only, with one valuable perk: the luxury of a vehicle.
At the beginning of each week, Fred was sent off in his van with five washing machines. So long as all five were sold each week, Fred could keep the van. He was very successful, week after week.
"It was a matter of honor," he would say, "that if one of the washers was taken from the van for a demonstration, it was never put back."
A Thursday evening came when three machines remained in his van. The area where he normally worked was played out, and so, although he had only 24 hours until his van turned into a pumpkin, he was determined to find new pastures.
On that icy cold winter evening, he turned east and set off to a new town.
Disaster struck when the van hit a patch of black ice, spun out of control, left the road, and hit a tree. Fred was flung through the windshield, severing an artery in the process.
He remembers watching his life's blood spurting into the cold night air and thinking his end had come. Fortunately for him, two farmers' wives heard the crash and ran across the field to his aid.
They called an ambulance and stopped the flow of blood as Fred drifted in and out of consciousness. The ambulance arrived and took Fred to the hospital; in the meantime, each of the farmer's wives had signed up to become the proud owner of a shiny new washing machine.
"You see, I did it," Fred told everyone, "and when I came out of the hospital, there was a new van waiting for me."
"Hold on," someone said, "what about the third machine?" "Oh," said Fred, "that's still going strong. It belongs to an ambulance driver. I think he's retired now."
Fred was enthusiastic about his work? Are we? Since the ascension, we Christians have become the body of Christ. We are here to do Jesus' work. At the first Pentecost, which signifies the beginning of Jesus' church, the people who were gathered together were excited about their faith and about their calling. These people were on fire with something positive and earth-shaking.
This can be a cruel, uncaring world, but it is not a hopeless world. The Spirit of God has invaded our world. As Christ promised, there is a Spirit that is available to each of us. We may not speak in strange tongues. We may not have fire dancing above our heads, but God's Spirit dwells in our hearts. Something positive has entered our world. God's Spirit is a positive force in the world. We are that positive force. We are those for whom the Spirit of God is intended, not for our own benefit, but for the world's.
Something positive is expected out of you and me. Pentecost says that you and I are to make a difference in the lives of people we meet daily. That is how we will build the kind of world God desires - one person at a time.
A few years back, a pastor decided to leave the ministry. Throughout the years, a negative attitude had taken hold in his heart. He had lost his excitement for ministry. He was tired of difficult people. He was tired of fielding everyone's complaints. He was tired of the church's constant money problems. He had lost his focus, and he wanted out.
Not long after this, he and his family went on vacation. The pastor spent a day in a local park praying and reading his Bible. He was searching for some sign from God that would help him discern what was next.
As he prayed, three dirty, ragged little children entered the park and sat down nearby. The oldest child took it upon herself to make introductions. Her name was Samantha, and she was 12 years old. The other two children were her half-sister, Brandy, 10 years old, and her half-brother, Sam, 6 years old.
Samantha proceeded to explain that they each had different fathers, and that Sam's father was abusive, and that the children's mother was filing for a divorce. The mother had dropped the kids at the park so that she could go gambling at the local casino. With a touch of sadness, Deanna reported that ever since their mother had lost her job, the family had been living in a tent on the outskirts of town.
Then Deanna asked Matthew if he had a job. He replied that he was a pastor. Deanna thought about this answer for a while, then she asked, "Mister Pastor, can you tell me something? I've heard stories about Jesus walking around healing people and loving people. Why doesn't he do that anymore?"
The pastor tried his best to answer her question. He talked about the Incarnation, and salvation, and everything else he could remember from his seminary training. But he knew it didn't make sense to the kids.
It didn't even make sense to him. These three poor, abused, neglected children needed to know the real story. So he stopped in mid-sentence, and, fighting back tears, said, "Children, let me start over. Do you have any idea how much Jesus loves you right now?" And he shared the story of Jesus' love with those three children in the park.
That day in the park brought that pastor face-to-face with the loving, compassionate God that he had forgotten about. He returned to the ministry reminded that ministry isn't about pleasing people, or having a big church, or preaching the perfect sermon. It is about sharing the message of God with hurting people who desperately need to know that they are loved.
And that is what Pentecost is about for you and me. It is a call to offer the world the Spirit of the living God - that positive force that has come into our world. It is a call to share the love of Jesus with everyone we meet.
It is a simple message, this message of Pentecost, but it is the means by which God is transforming this world. Something positive has come into our world. Something positive is expected out of God's people. Something positive is expected from you and me. Amen!