The Sunday Sermon: Day of Pentecost – May 31, 2020
Scripture: Acts 2:1-13
All Together in One Place … In the Spirit
So how was your return this week? We traveled outward for 43 days this Eastertide and gave ourselves only seven days to get back. Did you make it? You must have – you’re here! Are you tired? I hope not too tired, because here we go again.
Pray with me …
We’re “back” in Jerusalem now, having departed this city fifty days ago, traveling into the neighboring countryside, provinces, regions, and finally last week leaving the continent and crossing the Aegean Sea into Europe. We walked and talked with the first century Apostles – Peter, James, Stephen, and more. We met new disciples – Dorcas and the widows of Joppa, among others. We witnessed conversions – prison guards, Lydia, and of course Paul, himself. We engaged angry councils, hostile crowds, and lethal kings. We experienced the coldness of empire prison cells and the warmth of new companion’s homes. And, through it all we have witnessed the gospel, the good news of God in Christ, spreading – like wildfire and like molasses, but always moving outward into the world and inward into the hearts of those who open them.
Today, we’re back. Back where it all began and back before it all began. We’re going to read the classic Pentecost scripture verses from Acts in a moment and hear once again what happened on that first Pentecost and how the journey we just returned from all started. But, we noted last week as we prepared our return to Jerusalem from Philippi in Southeast Europe, that in our lives the gospel has already spread “to all the nations,” that God in Christ is already at work in the world wherever men and women live in love and with a courage that challenges, and in some sense lives “at odds” with “the world.” And I suggested that if we believe God in Christ is already “out,” then our choice on Pentecost 2020, or in any year, is not whether we will take God “to the ends of the earth,” but whether or not we are willing to meet God there.
So, as we read our scripture passage for this morning, as we hear again about what happened 2000 years ago and how it all began, let us ponder whether or not we have been, and will be, faithful to our own call, and open to the Spirit of God leading us in our world today.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Acts 2:1-4, (14-16), 18-21 The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, there it is. The first Apostles were gathered “in one place” together with others from “every nation under heaven.” We read the names of the countries, regions, and cities that were present (verses 5-11), but you may not be familiar with the ancient lands. These countries extend from modern day Turkey, to Libya and Egypt, through Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, and back to Turkey! The “others” from these regions include both Jews and “proselytes,” or “those who have come over,” Gentiles who have converted to Judaism. Hearing all these place names and nationalities makes us feel the distances and disparities that existed among those who have gathered so that the connections and harmony of what is coming into being can be experienced even more powerfully.
As the sun rises on this first Pentecost day, the children of God have gathered … from different places on a map, but also with diverse political, ideological, and theological beliefs. The crisis facing Israel on this “feast day” for which they gathered is their divided house: Some have the promise of the Spirit and others do not; some are more holy under the law and others are not; some are worthy of forgiveness and others need to do a lot more work! It is into this division, this segregation, this separation, that a sound like the rush of a violent wind comes, Luke writes, filling the entire assembly and offering something new: unity, harmony, accord … oneness in the name and through the love of God in Jesus of Nazareth, God’s anointed, the Christ.
What could be more needed? What could be more beautiful than a Spirit of harmony and accord? But what is the response to this offering? “Bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, and perplexity.” No one is prepared for this, you see!
“These people are drunk! We must be drunk! (Have we been drinking?) How early in the morning is it …?” Worldly explanations for the inexplicable, the unexplainable … for the unifying Spirit of God.
Now … before we judge that first gathering too harshly, let’s acknowledge our own inability to understand what’s going on, or to grasp it, even now. How many of you are prepared for the Holy Spirit to show up, swoop in, swoop down this morning? Any morning? Because it happens. It’s happening … right now. If anything, my words are just getting in the way, keeping you focused on something other than the in-breaking of the Spirit that is always profoundly unsettling … whenever it happens. How many of us are truly ready to be guided, to be ruled, to be united by the Holy Spirit of God?
On this day when we in the Christian community commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, I remind us all that the Greek word for Spirit – Pnuema – has and is faithfully translated as “Breath.” The Breath of God. What must it mean to us, then, as people of Christian faith, to hear any human being cry out: I can’t breathe. Among the last words of George Floyd in Minneapolis as he was strangling to death under the knee of one sworn to protect and serve. Those very same words were uttered by Eric Garner in New York for the same reasons with the same fatal outcome.
How many of us are truly ready to be guided, to be ruled, to be united by this Holy Spirit of God. It’s deeply threatening to the way things are, this Spirit. It’s profoundly foreboding to the powers and principalities of the world. It was deeply disturbing to the crowd in the street in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago and to crowds that gather today – It calls us all to be One. And it comes as our scripture says to each of us. But we must clear our minds and open our hearts and let … that Spirit … in.
It starts with each one of us – individually and then as a community of faith – and works outward into our village, our city, our state, and our country. When we are open to it we must acknowledge, identify, and confront our own complicity and investment in white supremacy and dominance. Every single one of us. How do we participate in diminishing the life of people of color? What do we profit by the “status quo”? And when questions like those make us uncomfortable, argumentative, and angry, then how much more work needs to do be done to ensure that race is never a barrier to the God-given experience of being fully human? How much more needed is the Spirit of God?
The truth is, we don’t know what to do with the Spirit any more than that first gathering. I mean, we clap instead of shouting “Amen!” (Or on Sunday like this we may honk our horns!) We sing hymns we know by heart with our noses in the books! We keep our time together as close to sixty minutes as possible – and … and … just a side note: I know for a fact, you’ve rather enjoyed these 30 minute pre-recorded services, even! And those are the harmless rejections. As for the world at-large and our place in it, we all try to keep this ferocious “breath” in a box as much as we can. Otherwise, it’s chaos and confusion, pandemonium and anarchy – a world where we, as one particular race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or culture are not in total control.
What happened on that first day of Pentecost for the new community that will become the church, and what happens to this day on this day, is that our God once again says “no” to this world, and to our self-concerns and our claims of control … and says “yes” to the Way of Jesus, to the Way of all God’s truly anointed.
God’s Spirit is poured out on all and everyone who call upon the name of Love, itself, and who follows it into the world, offering it to others.
Our prayer on this day is that the “Breath” we receive is a Breath that we provide for all. We must be that prayer, or the words of our weekly benediction – that God will continue to bless, keep, shine, and lift us up – will make no difference at all. The way that Jesus saved us (back on Easter a millennia ago and in the years of his life that preceded it) is, he showed us how to love. Now, it’s our turn. We’re not drunk. We’re not filled with new wine. We’re filled with the Holy Spirit. We are Love incarnate. Speak its language and sing your song. And the world will turn.
I believe in you, Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church. I believe in us, because the Breath of God breathes through us all and the Spirit of God gives us, too, the ability to be the prayer we seek. May it be so.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / May 31, 2020