Sermon, Pentecost Sunday
May 20, 2018 St John’s Episcopal Church
Good morning, beloved of God, and welcome to Pentecost Sunday. May the God whose Spirit is with us give us visions and dreams, and may that Spirit be unfettered in our hearts and minds, so that the whole world would hear our songs of joy, plans of peace and purpose of love. Amen.
We begin this morning lighting ten candles for the students who lost their lives in Santa Fe this past week. Ten points of light which represent our prayers for the healing of their families and the many injured by this latest school shooting in our land.
3. For the Human Family, Book of Common Prayer, pg. 815
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
What a week and a weekend. This past week saw dozens of Palestinians gunned down in Gaza with hundreds more injured, and we pray for peace, reconciliation and a lessening of fear in Palestine and Israel. Then we began the weekend here in our own country on Friday with news of the school shooting in Santa Fe, TX, where 10 children lost their lives and at least ten more were injured in our epidemic of gun violence. CNN reports that this is the 22nd school shooting with casualties of this year, just 20 weeks into 2018. We can do the math, America; we are averaging more than one school shooting a week for the year. Then we had an amazing royal wedding, and for Episcopalians especially, and all who claim Christ, an exciting moment when our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached the Gospel of God’s love to literally the world. He gave witness on the world’s stage to God’s powerful love to remake us and remake all the world. What a rollercoaster of a week and weekend!
Maybe then we can relate a little with the disciples and crowds who are with Jesus in Acts 2 who have seen him murdered, seen him raised to life, spent time with him, seen him ascend into the sky, and now on the day of Pentecost, at the end of the Passover season, they experience an awe-inspiring event of God’s Spirit being poured out in flames and languages! Our heads would be spinning as well! Could we fault the onlookers for asking, “What in the world does all this mean?”
So, let’s take up that question, “What does all this mean?” Jesus had promised the coming of the Spirit, whom he called The Advocate or Helper in John’s Gospel, but that’s really just mechanics, right? That’s what happened, but what is happening? The Spirit, as Jesus promised in John’s Gospel, sounded more like an inner voice, enhanced memory, confidence and power. But the reality of God’s Spirit poured out in tongues of flame and roaring wind is moving and spectacular! The crowds hear this noise and gather around, they are called in, and they are amazed because they hear their own languages; God’s message made so personal and accessible for the people looking on, and they ask, “What in the world does all this mean?”
Let’s read that text again and a little further to begin hearing Peter’s answer to the question: Acts 2:2-24…
2 On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. 2 Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. 3 Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. 4 The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.
5 Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6 And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. 7 They were excited and amazed, and said:
“Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee? 8 Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? 9 Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, 11 Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.”
12 Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?” 13 Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.”
14 Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:
“Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say! 15 You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,
17 “When the last days come, I will give my Spirit to everyone. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. 18 In those days I will give my Spirit to my servants, both men and women, and they will prophesy.
19 I will work miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke. 20 The sun will turn dark, and the moon will be as red as blood before the great and wonderful day of the Lord appears. 21 Then the Lord will save everyone who asks for his help.”
22 “Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this. 23 God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross. 24 But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.”
Peter quotes a moving passage from the prophet Joel to illustrate that what has been witnessed is God’s Spirit poured out on the world, given to all; it’s God’s presence and the power of life over death, the power of Christ! Peter goes on preaching about Jesus and we see at the end of this chapter the beginning of the church, the teaching and baptisms that began a movement of worship, prayer and community that has weathered the storms of every age and generation down to us, today. “What does all this mean?” It means that God is speaking, to all people from all places. It means that God does not want to be contained, selfishly claimed or limited to a single people, language, place or kind. This Pentecostal scene is God calling everyone to the Table of Love where grace triumphs over guilt, life over death and community over division. The Day of Pentecost was a miraculous moment, in great part, for it’s inclusion and diversity. God demonstrated an amazing accessibility at Pentecost. The gift of tongues in Acts 2 are known languages… God is calling all people!
The coming of the Spirit fits into a scriptural pattern we see in the Gospels, as Jesus receives the Spirit descending as a dove at his baptism and the same great voice from that event speaks again at his Transfiguration on the mountaintop. I’m coming to think of this scene at Pentecost as another incarnation event, only this time the whole world is caught up in the arrival, the advent of what God is doing! It combines the two events from the Gospels… the Spirit comes visibly, now settling on the disciples, and this time humans speak out for God. Those people themselves, and we today, are caught up in an ongoing incarnation of God in this realm of earth as God’s Spirit is unleased and forever loosed upon us. We cannot be awakened to God’s Spirit without being changed by that Spirit, Pentecost-ed, welcomed, called, included.
I didn’t grow up in an American Pentecostal church tradition. Maybe some of us here today did. They are known for spiritual gifts and excitement, especially speaking in tongues. The Pentecostal tradition is a restoration movement which was actually started to restore something they felt was lost to the church, a miraculous and powerful feeling and experience such as the Day of Pentecost there in Acts chapter 2. I don’t judge my Pentecostal brothers and sisters, even as I admit that haven’t experienced Christian life as they claim, and I admit to having honest theological and textual questions about some of their doctrines… but one thing I would do, I would challenge their monopoly on the words Pentecost and Pentecostal.
As I read Acts 2:
1. When we bridge gaps between people, when we speak so that God is heard, we are Pentecostal.
2. When no one is left excluded from the table by prejudice and neglect, or human barriers of language, culture or tradition, we are Pentecostal.
3. When we proclaim the power of love that defeats death and robs the grave of it’s victory, we are Pentecostal.
4. When we recognize that God’s Spirit is with us, all of us, the entirety of the world, and we allow that Spirit to lead us into life by God’s will and purpose, dreaming and visioning what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, ourselves forgiven and ourselves forgiving, and the daily needs of the body and soul justly and mercifully shared out in plenty for all, then we are a Pentecostal people.
It’s a difficult juxtaposition when tongues of flame announce God’s love and presence in one context, and they represent our mourning a societal addiction to gun violence and murder in another context. And yet, the question, “What does this all mean?” is just as poignant. The answer is hopeful and powerful in each context, “Look to God. Look to God’s powerful love to change us and help us dream and vision a better world and to give us the courage to act and help make it a reality.”
I hear this diversity, inclusion and welcome ringing clearly in a favorite passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians when he wrote these words: Colossians 3:10-15…
10 Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. 11 It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
12 God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13 Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. 14 Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.
15 Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.
I would leave you with a Pentecost message, today: Let all people hear the love of God and may we all be the voice of that love! Let there be no more barriers to our grace and openness to the varied and beautiful creation of this world whom God loves so very much. Let us not be blind to opportunities to speak of God’s love for the world around us, especially for those who would be most surprised by that love and by our sincere care for them.
As we move into a new week, having mourned so much among the joys of the last week, we will turn again in prayer, believing and hoping as a Pentecost people… praying from the Book of Common a Prayer, pg. 815…
4. For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.