*First, I never do this. I don’t think I’ve written a manuscript of a sermon of mine in nearly ten years. However, for those of you who either couldn’t be in church on Pentecost OR if you were at the 9:30 Music Appreciation Service where we did not have a sermon, then this is for you! My spoken sermon and then some :), for May 20th 2018 - Pentecost Sunday/Music Appreciation/Volunteer Appreciation Sunday @ Hope Lutheran Church.
The miraculous Cocoon.
Stop for a second and think about the word ‘cocoon’. What comes to mind? What image? What feeling? What emotion?
For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the movie COCOON directed by Ron Howard. The movie was released in 1985 and was about an alien race who had been to earth several millennia before humans had even been…well…human. The aliens had to evacuate the planet for one reason or another and could not take all of their people with them. Some had to stay behind. They placed those who had to stay behind in cocoons to keep them safe for what I think the movie said was 10,000 years!(1)
The point of the cocoon was to keep those aliens who were left behind protected, keep them guarded, keep them alive. A cocoon in light of this movie is defined as that which safeguards, shelters and preserves that which is on the inside.
I had Googled (yes, ‘googled’ is now a verb…look it up…I did😁(2)) the word ‘cocoon’ and the definition according to Merriam-Webster is “an envelope often largely of silk which an insect larva forms about itself and in which it passes the pupa stage” and, “any of various other protective coverings produced by animals”.(3)
That is what most people think of when it comes to a cocoon. They think of a safe place.
Except….except a cocoon is anything but safe, right? In fact, a cocoon isn’t a safe place at all!
Sure, a cocoon keeps something safe from dangers that might exist on the outside, but think for just a second on what is happening on the inside!
What is a cocoon for the caterpillar?
A caterpillar must undergo molting and metamorphosis in which the insect's morphology is entirely rearranged. A cocoon is where a caterpillar risks it all; where it enters total chaos; where it undergoes total rebuilding; where it dies to one way of locomotion and life and is born into a new way of living. A cocoon is where a caterpillar allows itself to literally disintegrate into a blob of gelatinous liquid without structure or identity so that it can emerge with sharpened sensory perceptions and breathtaking beauty!(4)
Safe?!? Yeah right…not safe at all when you really think about it…
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The text for this sermon is Acts 2:5-13(5) and you could really use almost the entire second chapter. This text is the traditional text used for Pentecost Sunday and shows what can happen when the Spirit of God actually shows up. In verse two you read about the “sound like the blowing of a violent wind”(6). In verse three the text continues with a description of what “seemed like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them”(7). Finally, those present began to speak in other languages that presumably were unbeknownst to them(8), acting in such a way where others who were witnessing this thought that they were acting so oddly, so out of character, that they must have been drinking even though it was only nine o’clock in the morning(9).
These are certainly fantastic occurrences attributed to the Spirit. I’m sure that many more unexplainable events could be attributed to the Spirit and used to teach us about nature of God. However, there is something quite subtle in this text and it has to do with the disciples. It isn’t what happens to them in these handful of verses, but rather how they change throughout the greater context of the story. You see…this text may not be as much about the impressive presence of the Spirit but rather this text might be about something else altogether.
It might be about metamorphosis.
Remember that the Gospel of Luke and the book called Acts of the Apostles are actually one book written by the same author. They go together and are only separated because of a shift in genre (one is a ‘gospel’ and one isn’t). When looked at together you see a change, a shift, an evolution in the behavior of the disciples.
Near the end of the Gospel of Luke when Jesus is arrested, Peter actually disowns Jesus, disassociating with him completely(10). This is generally the posture of all of those close to Jesus during the time of the arrest, torture, crucifixion, and even in immediate proximity to the resurrection. They cowered in fear and hid away and were likely concerned that if they made themselves known that they would be next. They certainly did not show any willingness to risk their own lives…
…at least not until the Spirit showed up.
* * * * * *
The power, importance, and awesome reality of the Spirit isn’t the fantastic things that one sees and experiences, but rather the work the Spirit does on the inside of each and every one of us. The power of the Spirit is the power of transformation, evolution, rebirth, and yes, metamorphosis.
…but the power and presence of the Spirit is also a catalyst for risk.
The caterpillar when it willingly creates a cocoon, it does so at its own risk right. It risks losing everything that it is, everything it is created to be. It quite simply puts its entire identity on the line and is willing to be completely changed.
Peter as well as the rest of the disciples were scared out of their minds by the time Jesus was resurrected. Then suddenly the Spirit shows up like a violent wind(11) and their attitude, perspective, outlook and behavior is radically reborn so much so that Peter is willing to stand in front of strangers appearing crazy enough where people think he is drunk by preaching that Jesus is the Messiah. When he did, about three thousand were baptized(12).
But that was risky. He moved from denial, silence, and trembling in a room to shouting the story of Jesus in front of the world like a crazy person. How crazy do people think you are due to how you live your faith?
* * * * *
Maybe the cocoon is a metaphor for the gospel itself. Right?
From a ‘safety’ standpoint, the gospel assures us not simply that all will be ok, but that all is ok. That we are forgiven, accepted, and loved. Period. Done. Nothing to worry about. You could say that the gospel is a cocoon in that sense.
However, once that gospel is impressed upon us, once we begin to actually live like people of the resurrection we are changed…completely changed from the inside out. We can no longer be what we once were. The trappings of this world can no longer be where we find our comfort nor our identity. We can no longer find acceptance from the world around us. So much so that in our attempt to live and spread the gospel of God’s love and grace that the world will look at us as if we are crazy and even drunk.
Only in taking the risk of entering that cocoon can the caterpillar go from dormancy to potency. This is the reason why the butterfly is an authentic symbol of resurrection! Not because it's cute, but because it risks dying to be born to new life.
What are we risking for the gospel? What are we dying to in order to experience new life? Or maybe better said, what are we dying to so that new life (not even new life to us or new life that we want, but new life for the other and for God’s world) might spring forth for the sake of the gospel? Are we living safe gospel lives? Are we truly entering the cocoon of the gospel, safe from death but expecting to be completely transformed?
I’m not so sure I am…how about you? Are you really willing to be changed?
1 - Yes, the effect of the cocoons is the life force that ends up leaking out and making older people feel young again…in effect a fountain of youth. This is the human experience of cocoons of being in proximity to the cocoons.
2 - Google. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/googled
3 - Cocoon. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cocoon
4 - Concepts of the inside of a cocoon as a metaphor taken from various writings and sermons of my mentor Leonard Sweet. Don’t know who he is? Here is link to a wiki write up and a list of some of the books he has authored. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Sweet
5 - Acts 2:5-13, Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+2&version=NIV
6 - Acts 2:2 NIV
7 - Acts 2:3 NIV
8 - Acts 2:4 NIV
9 - Acts 2:13-16
10 - Luke 22:54-62
11 - I’m guessing the Spirit was always present…they maybe just noticed it for the first time. I wonder if we notice the presence of the Spirit and when we do is it experienced as a violent rushing wind?
12 - Acts 2:41