The Message by:

Rev. Betsy Jay

Sunday, May 31, 2020

 
 

The Message:

 

Today is Pentecost. This is the day that the church went into the streets for the first time. How ironic when faith communities including churches are not able to gather for public worship because of the coronavirus. How ironic when we see on the news crowds who gather at beaches and bars and close down state capitols as happened in Michigan to protest pauses and sheltering to protect each other and the most vulnerable citizens from contracting this deadly virus. How ironic when we see the anger and despair spilling into the streets in violence because our nation still does not guarantee safety and well-being to all people. Fifty years ago Pope Paul VI said of Pentecost, this day, that it confronts us with the truth, and the ultimate destiny of humanity. It is this, he added, which has given us our belief in the dignity of the person, and our civil customs, and which above all leads us to resolutely rise above all divisions and conflicts between humans, and to form humanity into a single family of the children of God, “free and fraternal.”

 

The story by now should be familiar. When Jesus was arrested, his disciples scattered like dust bunnies before a broom. They had their doubts, their fears. And yet they had come to believe the good news of Easter that Jesus is risen. When they came together again, they had that much in common. They worshipped and prayed together. There was joy; there was hope, for the disciples had seen the promise of Scripture fulfilled. They were ready and organized. They were sort of a church, the sort of church many congregations still are. For, while, the disciples met and believed and worshipped, they did so behind closed doors. They remained the closed close-knit circle they had become over three years of traveling together, resenting children for their noise and newcomer as bothersome. Anyone who came to worship would have left with the impression that this crowd was as cold as a dead fish and about as welcoming.

 

Not that there were many visitors. The disciples were walled in in their sanctuary of an upper room, protected from the ways of the world. Ruled by a lack of confidence, ruled by fear, even in the face of the gospel, the disciples weren’t much of a threat to anyone. On a terror alert scale, they wouldn’t even rate a yellow. Certainly, they weren’t going to make any difference in the world.

 

It might be okay just to sit and believe. But there is nothing very great about it either. And in the end, to be in such a closed environment, airless and tight, is suffocating. The disciples are in desperate need of a breath of fresh air. And it comes, not as a gentle refreshing breeze. It comes like a tornado, a microburst, a rush of wind.

 

John Calvin was convinced that “the violence of the wind had the effect of making the disciples afraid.” They needed to be stirred up, if they were to understand that the gift they received was for the whole of a groaning creation. Salvation was not just for them. And it must have been frightful; it must have been wrenching, if Presbyterian elder and poet Ann Weems is correct about what they first heard. She writes,


    “And they hear the noise of a world screaming:/  The swelling, anguished cries of the outcasts, The piercing pleas of the battle-scarred, innocent or not – their lives disrupted and maimed and smashed; The devastating death rattle of those who hungered and were not fed; The outraged voice of the oppressed who don’t even see the face of the people walking on them; The unrelenting beating of fists against the walls of prejudice and apathy and greed; The fearful cry of the abandoned wafting out into a world that doesn’t even bother to turn and see who’s crying; The sobs of the lonely, the untouched; The tired moaning of those who have given up, And the litany of the chained:  Let me free!  Let me free!”

(Reaching for Rainbows)

 

The first thing disciples need to hear is that they are not alone. We are not alone in waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled in us. As Paul writes to the Romans, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God….We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

 

The first thing disciples need to know is that the promise of “power from on high,” the promise of the Holy Spirit, is not strictly for their personal benefit. Jesus called them from out of the world as disciples. He calls them back into the world as his witnesses, his body. From this time on, they will be apostles, literally, those sent out. That is what it means to be the church: to go into the world, making disciples, teaching, baptizing.

 

The first thing disciples need to do is move away from being so focused on themselves. If during the three years of Jesus’ ministry they had come to see themselves as some special order, their illusions were shattered. If they continued in their self-absorption, jockeying for position, if they continued in their self-pity and guilt, they would have to be blown away by the tornado of human need.

 

For, in order to be Christ’s body in the world, they and we must hear and see that world as Christ does. Christ weeps over Jerusalem because the people have failed to recognize the things that make for peace. God tells Moses among many others, “I have heard the cries of my people.” In the rush of wind, the church hears that same cry. Indeed, there are many who have heard the cries of God’s people as God has. They annually call for a Pentecost for the poor and give their time to social service and social justice. Having heard the cries and the pain, then perhaps disciples began to hear a different sound out of that rush of wind.

 

In the rush of the wind at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sighs the groans and unspoken prayers of all creation. In the rush of the wind at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit turns to fill us with hope and the strength of promise yet to be. In the rush of the wind at Pentecost, heaven and earth come together. The disciples hear the cries; they hear the song. And then they see. The fire falls as tongues of flame. Through that fire, their hearts are kindled. Through that fire, they are transformed, shaped into God’s instruments and tools.

 

The fire forges a new identity. It is significant that the fire comes as tongues of flame. It is significant that the disciples speak so that people of every nation hear their own language, their own tongue. As Calvin notes, if the apostles had spoken in one tongue only, everyone might have thought Christ was confined to one small corner of Judea. Christ was sent to the nations. And we, the church, the body of Christ, aren’t meant to be like a bowl of grits or cream of wheat – unutterably bland, mushy and white. We are the Spirit’s gift to creation. The very fact people of so many cultures and places understood the apostles that first Pentecost suggests that the Holy Spirit affirms the identities of all. God’s Spirit is a gift to all regardless of nationality, age and gender. (WCC, Spirit, Gospel, Culture) The prophecy of Joel is fulfilled:  The Holy Spirit is not for an elite circle, a sheltered few. It belongs on the streets. It belongs in the world.  It is the civilization of love and of peace which Pentecost has inaugurated, Pope Paul said and concluded, “we are all aware how much today the world still needs love and peace!" In fifty years we can hardly wonder if anything has changed. The world still needs love and peace.

 

The disciples at last understand. The Spirit comes like a tornado, a microburst. It breaks down the walls that separate believers from the world and from each other. It burns away fear like fire. The disciples, the new-found church, go into the streets and into the world. They are no longer pale, listless, invisible. They are flushed with excitement, burning with desire to share their vision, their dreams, their hope, their good news.

 

Today is Pentecost. The Spirit has given followers of Christ the power to hear and see the world as God hears and sees the world in all its pain and diversity. But it is not just a day. It is the beginning of a new season in the church year, a season that will last past summer and fall. May it be a new season not simply for the church but for all creation. May the sounds and images be seared upon our hearts as we open ourselves to proclaim God’s love and plan for a time when creation will sing instead of groan and bones shall dance and weeping be no more.

Then, may Christ’s peace be the only peace the world knows.

Amen.