May 20, 2018: "We Need A Pentecost"
“We Need A Pentecost”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
May 20, 2018
I believe we need a Pentecost. I believe that you and me, the people of God, and this world, the beautiful creation God lovingly pieced together from nothing, need a Pentecost. We need a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through this place. We need a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to blow into every place where God’s people gather to worship, learn, govern, and share community. We need little tongues of fire to rain down from heaven and dance on our heads. We need a moment that is so strange, so wild and wonderful, so unexpected and glorious that others will look at us and wonder if we are drunk. Yes, my friends, we need a Pentecost and, quite frankly, we need it right now.
The place was an upper room in Jerusalem. The people were the disciples. The time was about 50 days after Easter. The mood was uneasy, anxious at best. The disciples had huddled together in the room because the resurrected Jesus told them to wait there for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit? What is that? Acts 2 doesn’t tell us about it, but it was springtime in Jerusalem and it was time for the Jewish Festival of Weeks. The Festival of Weeks is one of three Jewish holidays where Jews make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate. Every Jew in the known world had descended on Jerusalem that week. The upper room may have been quiet, but the city was teeming: loud and busy, dusty and dirty.
Then it happened; the earth shakes, the wind blows, tongues of fire descend, and the disciples are emboldened to preach the Gospel. That seems like happy ending, right? Well, not quite. It turns out that the Holy Spirit came in such a large quantity that day that it spilled out of the upper room and into the streets of Jerusalem. There in those dirty, busy streets, and not in some beautiful temple or house of worship, the Holy Spirit began to do its work. That work brought people together from across wide swath of humanity. That work gave this wide swath of humanity the ability to understand one another. The work didn’t just stop at understanding, either. Acts says the people heard one another as if each person was speaking the native language of the other. That is wisdom, the ability to hear other people as if they are speaking your own language.
“What does this mean?” they ask one another. A better question might be, “Is this really how it is supposed to be?” Are people from all over the world supposed to understand one another and encounter one another with wisdom? Are all these different cultures supposed to mesh together? Are barriers of language and culture and difference supposed to be taken down, but not destroyed, in order to realize a shared humanity? That’s some strange stuff, the crowd mutters under its breath, they’re probably just drunk.
But of course the disciples and the crowds were not drunk—they were open to and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The unity and wisdom and understanding and joy those early followers experienced on Pentecost is the work of the Holy Spirit and exactly why we need a Pentecost right now. It may be uncomfortable to do, but we need to be honest with one another today and recognize the immense difficulty and pain that marks our existence at this very moment. Division, hatred, pain, and fear scar our nation and our world. Hearts are not tuned to the melody of divine love but to the drone of self-righteousness and self-promotion. Debates over immigration continue as we witness immigrant parents being torn from the arms of their children and grandchildren. People disagree over the presence of guns in this country as we grapple every week, every single week, with heartbreaking deaths from gun violence in our homes, schools, and churches. White and black communities disagree over our systems of policing and criminal justice. Tensions continue to rise over the presence of Islamic communities this in nation. We’ve totally lost the ideals of mutual understanding, civility, honesty, and truth. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that depression and hopelessness will be the largest health crisis facing Americans by 2030.
Even more painful is the hostility and bigotry that characterizes so many Christian churches in the world, even churches here in our Mayberry-like community. Christian churches have morphed into tribes where an ethos of uniformity leads us to be skeptical of anything that is different. If that sounds like exaggeration or hyperbole, I invite you to dig a little deeper into the rise of anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic, anti-diversity, and racist rhetoric in America in the past two decades and you will find that it all began in Christian churches. One of the loudest voices right now calling immigrants lazy, criminal, and dangerous is that of a Christian pastor from Texas, a pastor who was asked to pray this past week over the newly opened American embassy in Jerusalem. So much for the church staying out of politics. This isn’t new though—white ministers, led by Billy Graham, tried to silence Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights movement, urging him, while he was in prison in Birmingham, to back down a little and let things take their course. King said, “The negro’s great stumbling block is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klan, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
The joy of Pentecost is that it gives us a vision and hope for communities formed by the Holy Spirit of God. In these communities, we reach across differences in order to experience true peace, true justice, true unity, and true love. These communities are miracles! When we compare the communities in which we live to the community that the Spirit built in Jerusalem all those years ago, there is much to be desired. When we compare our discipleship with that of those early followers in the upper room, there is even more to be desired. The church of Jesus Christ right now, generally, is lukewarm, static, largely irrelevant, and I say that in the mirror before I say that to any of you. We’ve lost the energy and enthusiasm of those who serve a risen Savior. We’ve lost or given up on the idea that God is just as interested in what happens outside these walls and what happens inside these walls. We’ve settled back, comfortable with our understanding of the Bible, comfortable with our understanding of Christ’s mission, comfortable with keeping the Holy Spirit at an arm’s length. At an arms length, the Holy Spirit can’t challenge and push us, even if what lays just on the other side is a glory greater than we could ever imagine. We need a Pentecost. And we need it now.
There is good news for us today, though. In the economy of God’s kingdom, there is always good news. Pentecost was totally dependent on God way back in Biblical times and it is still entirely up to God today. There is nothing we can do to bring the Holy Spirit down and there is nothing we can do to really push it away. The Holy Spirit is like grace—we didn’t earn it and it won’t be taken away…we just have to accept it when it comes. God knows the depth of our pain and sorrow and anxiety right now, and God will send a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit into our lives. The God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of Pentecost does not act according to our faithfulness and love, but because God is loving and faithful. This God does not abandon us in our times of need—no, the Psalmist reminds us that God is like a mother comforting her child, like a father welcoming his wayward child home. God is near, God is bigger than our mess, God IS. God has promised to blow off the dust of our weary times with the wind of the Holy Spirit, and we know that God keeps promises.
The good news continues because I think the Pentecost we so desperately need is already underway—the Holy Spirit is already blowing around us. When people set their hearts on righteousness, Pentecost is happening. When people assemble to praise the God who comforts the poor and afflicted, who sets the captive free, the power of the Holy Spirit moves among us with a force no hurricane cane match. The rushing power of the Holy Spirit is let loose among those who teach their children, their neighbors, their sisters and brothers that our God is a God who loves fiercely and imparts dignity on all people—all people—that no power of principality can strip away. Tongues of fire dance on our heads when we honestly look at the world with eyes of faith wide open, then use the high ideals of faith to bring about positive and concrete change. There is no greater manifestation of the Spirit than when we put our trust in God to protect us, and resolutely face the dangers that await us because life is always stronger than death.
Pentecost is happening when the voice of a child is lifted in prayer.
Pentecost is happening when the faithful speak up on behalf of those who have no voice.
Pentecost is happening when prophets announce our sins in one breath and the ultimate grace and forgiveness of God in the next.
Pentecost is happening when we say things together like, “Our Father,” and “Alleluia,” and “Thanks be to God.”
Pentecost is happening when we have hope— the hope Abraham and Sarah had for children, the hope Moses and Miriam had for deliverance, the hope Ruth and Naomi had for companionship, the hope of Jesus’ mother Mary that the angel was right, the hope of the Wise Men that God had fulfilled promises, and the hope of the disciples that Christ had really walked out of the tomb alive—and stand confidently in the presence of evil and remind it that it can go no further.
Pentecost is happening when we turn to one another and say simple things like, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “God loves you,” “God forgives you."
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need a Pentecost and by the sheer magnificence of God’s grace, its happening. Will we be vulnerable and willing to experience holy disorientation this Pentecost Sunday? Will we allow our voices to speak a language of good news that will be heard by all people, especially those who are pressed down by the weight of evil and darkness? Will we be open to joy and the impossible gift of community made possible by through the work of the Holy Spirit? Will we welcome the Holy Spirit of God when it comes, transforming everything we know and see? Will we continue its work so that the entirety of creation will experience God’s transforming love? Folks might say we’re drunk, but for the sake of Jesus Christ, for my sake and yours, and for the sake of the world, I pray that we are—open, receptive, joyful, faithful, enthusiastic, generous, and filled with grace. May it be so. Amen.