The Why Game

Preacher: Jessie Houff Scripture: Acts 2:1-21 and Romans 8:22-27

Today is Pentecost Sunday. As I think back to my childhood, I very vaguely remember Pentecost. To me it was just another Sunday. As a child growing up in the church, I couldn’t comprehend The Holy Spirit or what it meant. I do remember one random Sunday every year where all the ladies of the church wore red blouses and the men wore red shirts or ties. When I asked, “Why is everyone wearing red??” They would reply, “It’s Pentecost!” And I would just accept that as an answer and move on. Or if I did push further and ask, “Why do people wear red on Pentecost?” I feel like the response was always just, “It’s tradition” or “Because of the Holy Spirit”. Very helpful answers. So when I looked it up, I found that in the west, Red symbolises the Holy Spirit – the fire of the Holy Spirit, more specifically as it descended on the apostles that day. Ok, NOW I get it – at least on a surface level. We wear red to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit having been descended on us.

This made me think of the nature of tradition. It’s a very interesting thing. It is something to be valued, appreciated, and respected. Religions have many traditions. So do families, cultures, and organizations. But sometimes traditions can become monotonous. 

We can get so used to doing the same thing every year, every day, or every season that sometimes we forget where these traditions came from and why we do them in the first place. Have you ever worked for a company or organization that when you asked “Why do we do it this way?” the response was, “We’ve always done it this way”? It’s such a frustrating response. Now, I recognize there is a difference between tradition and policy, but I think it’s ok to revisit “old” ways and edit them to better reflect the people who were not there to start said traditions or policies. What if instead of accepting the response of, “It’s always been done this way,” and conform, we reflect on the WHY? 

We can learn from children here. Have you ever been in a never-ending “why?” back and forth conversation with a child? You say something and a child asks why, so you answer but instead of accepting that answer the child again asks, “Why?” This pattern continues until the adult usually ends it in a frustrating huff or redirects the child’s efforts to go do something else. I call it “The Why Game”. As a teacher of middle school youth for several years, I was involuntarily engaged in this game quite a bit. For me, this “game” usually ends up in frustration because children never accept your answer and conclude the questioning…you can ALWAYS ask why to anything someone says. Even when you answer, “I don’t know” they ask why you don’t know. Never. Ending.

I’d like to give this conversation a try and see how far we can get. Is there anyone on the call who is really good at this game and would like to give it a try? You make the statement shown and I’ll ask “Why?” You’ll answer and I’ll continue to ask “Why?” This is a community effort, so if you can’t answer the why question anymore, someone else jump in and take over. Ok? Who wants to start? We’ll start with this general statement: We wear red on Pentecost Sunday…

(Jeff made the statement and Jessie asked the Whys)

We wear red on Pentecost Sunday. Why? Well, because it’s about the flames tongues of fire that came down at the first Pentecost. Why? Because fire is red, and so that’s why we wear red. Why? Because Pentecost is important. Why? Because it means the Holy Spirit is with us. Why? Because Jesus isn’t here in person anymore. Why? He ascended into Heaven. Why? So he could be with God. Why? Because it was time for him to go back to be with God because his work on earth was done. Why? Because he died on the cross. Why? Because he had to die as a sacrifice for our sins. Why? That’s a good question. A lot of people wonder about that, but it used to be that it was believed that a blood sacrifice of some kind was required to make up for the things that we did wrong. Why? I don’t know. Why? Because I don’t know as many things as I wish I did. Why? Because it’s impossible to know everything. Why? If I knew everything, I’d be God! Why? Because God knows everything. We call that omniscient. Why? That’s just the word we use. Why? I don’t know again. That one I don’t know. Why? I think you’ve run to the end of my abilities, Jessie. Why? That’s kind of how I’m feeling.

Alright, well everyone let’s give a round of applause for Jeff.

Thank you all so much for obliging my little experiment/game. There are infinite ways this conversation could have gone. Something that I really admire about Jesus’ disciples is that they asked “why” a lot, and I think they eventually learned that Jesus’ sneaky responses would almost immediately shut them up. Or they would be such profound answers in story form that it required so much thought before they could ask more questions. Jesus answered in narratives intentionally so we would think for ourselves instead of just getting a straight answer and moving on. They had to work for the answer and we have to work for them too. 

Last week Nate talked about the ascension of Jesus into heaven, leaving the apostles behind. I’m sure the apostles wondered why Jesus had to leave. I think the Romans scriptureI read earlier comes into play here:

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;”

Jesus had to leave this earthly world so that we could grow. Jesus doesn’t give us straight answers because we need to grow on our own. To me, it feels like graduation. We go to school to learn and once our teachers teach us all we NEED, we graduate and go into the world. Our teachers say goodbye and we leave our dorm room or our parents house or even just our comfort zones so we can find our own way in this world. But Jesus didn’t leave without a gift – he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t just come once a year on some random Sunday after Easter. It’s within us all the time. It was given to us before we were born.

Whether we’re in a transitional period like graduating from school, getting a new job, or we’re just heading to the pond to fish, or listening to a sermon on Sunday, I pray we can always feel the presence of the Holy Spirit that isn’t just descended upon us, but within us always. Amen.

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