Sermon of the Week:
When God Throws a Party!
The Day of Pentecost
Keywords: Keywords: No words, Anti-Racism, God Shows Up, Power to Hear and Be Heard, George Floyd, Belonging, Pentecost.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
It usually isn’t very difficult for me to figure out what to say during this time,
to have a good word to share.
The pulpit, whether the real one in our sanctuary
or the metaphorical one I’ve stepped into here at my desk,
the pulpit is an incredible privilege to occupy
this space where WE talk about God and about the work God is doing in the world.
I think about that privilege a lot, actually,
though I’ve come to believe that it is the same sort of privilege that we all have
the honor to live our lives seeking to be God’s people,
God’s good people,
who stand for love,
who stand on truth,
who stand with others who are hurting and suffering,
the very people Jesus stands with.
Preaching is declaring THAT agenda, God’s agenda,
and the life of faith is making it our very own.
And so the privilege to preach, and the privilege to bear the love of God in the world,
aren’t all that different,
but both are pretty powerful,
mighty humbling, important stuff.
Once, when my daughters were younger,
they used to call my sermons “those long talks”
because of all the words I would utter.
They weren’t wrong. Not then, not now.
I don’t think they meant to imply that they were empty talks, just long,
just a lot of words.
I like to think that there’s a good purpose behind them at least.
Sometimes what I say is better and clearer and more faithful than other times.
But usually, almost every time, the words come with some clarity.
But some days the words don’t come,
and I don’t really know what to say.
and I don’t really know what should come next.
I mean, for a couple of weeks now
I have been thinking about the grand themes of Pentecost
and how profoundly moving they are, at least to me,
and how excited I might be to preach about any one of them.
For example, there’s the notion of the Dependability of God.
God shows up.
When things get tough. When it looks like the party’s over.
When your leader—that’s Jesus–isn’t there any more, for real this time,
not like Easter morning, when he scared us,
he was Dead, Jesus was, Dead dead. But then he wasn’t,
and we got to experience the incredible joy of the resurrected Lord,
for a while,
until he left again,
they saw him up and leave, up to the clouds, as it were,
so he’s gone.
But the very next chapter in that story is Pentecost,
when the followers of Jesus were all together,
and something happens.
God shows up.
The wind blows and blows
and something settles on everyone
something like fire
and they all feel it, the warmth, the glow, the heat
and they know God is there.
God shows up. The party continues!
I was excited to talk about that one, maybe,
how even though some scoffed and tried to deny it—they’re drunk on new wine!
how even though there’s always that one who can’t or won’t take a yes for an answer
No, says Peter, this is about the power of God
who told us: your sons, your daughters, your children,
they will see visions,
they shall dream dreams,
and God will be there.
God shows up.
That means so much to me,
the persistent love of God, the God who always shows up. That’ll preach.
Or, I thought, I might preach on something else:
what God accomplishes when God sends them the Holy Spirit, that rushing wind.
I tried to use my imagination to put me there,
in the town square or the hillside or wherever that place was that they gathered
and how I might have felt … well, if I’m honest, defensive.
Have you ever been a place where you don’t speak the language?
Like, at all?
Travel seems so foreign to me right now,
stuck at home during these strange pandemic days
but there have been times when I’ve been to other countries.
It is a privilege, to travel for recreation, I know,
just as it is a privilege to live comfortably in a place
where you know the language and can use it to make it through your day with relative ease.
Most of the time I know I can travel and it will be safe for me, and for those with me,
and part of that is knowing the language of the place where I’m going.
I can speak and understand some Spanish.
And Spanish opens the door, in part, to catching bits and pieces of other languages,
Italian, maybe French.
I took some German in graduate school, along with a good amount of Greek and Hebrew
though ancient Greek, and biblical Hebrew,
but even so, I can go to a lot of places
and not feel out of place, on my heels, lost in miscommunication.
But I have had those experiences, unable to understand or communicate.
They’re not fun experiences. They can be quite scary.
Once I found myself walking down some streets in Tangier, Morocco.
It was in high school, on a trip to Spain with my high school Spanish club
and I have no real recollection of how we ended up in Morocco.
I think we went to Gibraltar, and then our chaperones said,
hey, want to go over to Africa,
and we said “sure,” and we got on a ferry
and the next thing we knew we were walking around over there.
How could we not have understood what we were getting into?
The principle language in Morocco is Arabic,
and the Arabic script looks nothing like the words I know
and the signs were all in Arabic
and for a while we really didn’t know where to go or what was going on.
Fortunately for us, some of the signs here or there
would print the roman letter transliteration
next to the Arabic, so we could guess a bit,
and eventually we found our way back to the ferry
and then back to Spain.
So even then I wasn’t completely without a clue.
But being in a place where you don’t know the language can be such a scary thing.
You don’t know what people are saying to you,
whether they’re as friendly as can be
or upset that you’ve interrupted their tea.
It is unsettling, and troubling, and frightening.
And in that place, long ago,
where the followers of Jesus had assembled
along with many others, from many nations,
there in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot,
there were Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia…
and so on and so forth
all these people, the story goes, not understanding each other at all.
Which means that they must have felt a little lost, a little out of place,
and maybe a little scared because of all that. Probably more than a little.
And did you notice? When the Spirit comes, what happens?
What does God do?
God helps some speak in a way that they could be heard,
and God helps everyone hear in a way that they could understand.
So often, we talk about this from an intellectual standpoint right,
where people are able to speak and be spoken to and how great
it is that there is communication going on
but maybe more profound, for me, is the sense of RELIEF that all this must have given them
all of them, that this diverse, complicated, chaotic crowd they were part of
that they were given the gift of mutual comprehension.
They ALL got it.
Because of the Holy Spirit, they all could see what God was doing.
And it wasn’t that God dissolved their differences, the things that made them unique, no!
They heard, each of them, in their own native language.
Somehow, God is able to take all sorts of different people,
people who look different, sound different, talk different, believe differently
and unifies them, all without negating those differences.
The things that make you you, and me me.
How powerful is that?
And these days, I thought,
when we seem to be muddling through a global pandemic
and picking fights over whether we have to wear masks when we buy a sandwich at subway
and whether we ought to be able to party at the lake on a holiday weekend
and it is so hard to have a conversation with someone about it
where you think that they truly want to listen to you, to hear you,
and where you struggle yourself, maybe, to listen and to hear
what is driving them
their worries, their fears, their struggles, their hopes and values…
there’s something important here, right,
where God is able to create community,
because people can hear, and be heard,
in their uniqueness, with their different cultures and beliefs and ways of thinking….
and where God’s concerns enter every heart,
and everyone finds their values re-oriented
toward loving God, and loving neighbor.
There’s so much more happening, here at Pentecost,
than just the understanding of some foreign words in a crowded place.
When you are heard, you feel like you belong.
When you can hear, you make a space in your heart for someone else, someone different than you.
The power of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost,
is so much more than the notion that people could comprehend what was being said to them.
It is what that moment must have felt like for them,
that these things in our lives that keep us apart, that separate us,
that they are artificial,
because in Jesus Christ, we are all siblings, we are all children of God.
There is an ancient saying that the early church used
during baptism, when converts would join the church.
It went like this:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free,
no longer male and female
but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Those first Christians experienced a profound sense of community,
because God welcomed all of them, of many languages, races, creeds, countries.
Because everyone, everyone,
who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, said Peter.
Either one of those sermons was exciting for me to think about, this week—
the one where God Shows Up, when you think the story is done,
when you aren’t sure what is next…
or the one where the Spirit of God takes a confused, divided, chaotic group of people
and makes them family, makes them siblings,
through the gift of speaking and listening to one another,
and how powerfully, emotionally comforting that must have felt, to belong in that way.
everything just exploded this week
and our city has had protests, and tear gas, and helicopters,
and not just here, but in Minneapolis, and Chicago, and Atlanta, and New York
and all over, following George Floyd’s death
at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department on Monday.
It was the final straw that has capped a stressful few months,
particularly for my Black neighbors,
whether it was the death of Ahmaud Arbery,
the 25 year old who was jogging in Georgia,
or the confrontation in Central Park between Amy and Christian Cooper,
the dog without a leash walker and the bird watcher,
the controversial death of Breonna Taylor in her home in Louisville
when police served a no-knock warrant there,
and then this, this brutal and senseless death,
and how, if you’ve been watching, it builds upon
years and years and years
of grievances and concern and loved ones dead.
And I honestly do not have the words I need right now.
I mean, I have words, obviously.
Choice words. Angry words. Sad words. Convicting words.
Just not the right words, the words I need right now. Not helpful, healing words.
I do not know what to say.
And sometimes there isn’t anything you can say,
which is a challenging moment, for a preacher.
All you can do is observe it, and describe it,
and commit to doing your part to do good about it, the best you can,
and then say a prayer over it…come, lord Jesus. Come heal all this mess.
As the God who shows up,
as the God who has the power to help us hear and listen to one another
and to make us family,
particularly help us hear and listen to those voices who aren’t being listened to
who are afraid and grieving their sons and daughters and parents
and neighbors who are dead.
And I’m reminded
that there’s this passage, this beautiful passage
in Paul’s letter to the Romans,
that says that during moments such as these
when we don’t really know what to say
or what will come next,
or really even what to do, what will help, how to make it better,
that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us
steps in for us
with sighs too deep for words,
so that, even in our sighing, in our discomfort, in our befuddlement at it all,
in our longing for justice and our yearning for peace and our hope for reconciliation,
that the Holy Spirit is there,
and that the very same Spirit that was there at Pentecost
carries us and pushes us forward.
And that’s where I am, this morning
sitting with sighs too deep for words
not knowing quite what to say.
But I’m so grateful not to be alone
because the Holy Spirit is there with me.
And because of the Holy Spirit,
you are with me, my friends, my church family,
because God has drawn us together
with a powerful sense of belonging to each other.
And because we are together,
bearing the name of the one who told us to love our neighbor as our self,
I have profound hope that we can work together
to combat racism and to build a more just and more peaceful
and more humane world,
the sort of world that Jesus died to redeem, to save,
the kind of world that God calls on us to build.
So my friends, may we,
when we are moved by the powerful blowing of the Spirit,
the one who binds us together, through our differences, into a church together,
and when we are speechless, at this broken and fearful and hurting world,
may we continue to lift up our prayers, and may we roll up our sleeves
and join the effort to bring justice and reconciliation and peace to the people of God’s world.
May it be so.