a sermon for the feast of Pentecost
delivered May 31, 2020
My friends, beloved children of God, I want us all to take a deep breath; to create room for the Holy Spirit; to allow the Divine to bring us peace, and openness, and a willingness to stir our very souls. And let’s take one more deep breath before we dive into today’s text. Because y’all, let’s be honest, it has been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?
I’ll admit, I personally need a deep breath. I need room for the Spirit. I need space for silence, because I have found my own self speechless numerous times over the course of the last few days. I have found myself flabbergasted as I have witnessed such sad stories streaming across my feed. To a large degree I still do not know what to say; do not know how to make sense of everything this is going on around us.
On one side of our country’s chaos, we have this coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps we have frustration over not being able to physically gather again in our sacred space. Perhaps we have fear over reopening too soon and causing a second round of shut down. Perhaps we have confusion over not knowing what we should think or feel, or how we should act in this landscape we have never navigated before now.
And on the other side of this country’s chaos—but not separate from the COVID situation—, we have so much civil unrest that our cities are burning. Peaceful protests over the tragic treatment of our black brothers and sisters, turning into vandalism and violence.
Yeah, it has been a hell of a week. If you’re like me, you probably don’t know where to begin. You probably don’t know what to say. You’re probably reeling from all of this turmoil, all of this upheaval, all of this chaos.
In many ways our current situation is not that far off from the time of the disciples, from the Acts of the Apostles. There was turmoil. There was upheaval. There was constant chaos. Imagine the time period through the eyes of Jesus’ earliest followers. They were a minority religious and ethnic group, oppressed by the expansive Roman Empire. These Jewish people were not recognized as citizens, were not given the same rights as Romans, were treated as less than, as a people who could at a moments notice be cast aside if they threatened the corrupt system in place.
That is why the Romans killed their friend; killed their teacher; killed their Jesus—even though he preached peace. He preached love of God and love of neighbor. He was sent to lift up the lowly and to fill the hungry with good things. Even though he never drew a sword to fight the power, they killed him. The Empire murdered him. The powers that be hung him on that tree.
That Roman violence did not end there. It continued long past Jesus’ own life, as the authorities burned the Jewish temple and so much more of Jerusalem, right before the writing of our Gospel accounts.
So this is the context of first century Christian discipleship. This is the cultural milieu of those gathered in the upper room, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Turmoil, upheaval, and chaos were their daily reality. So in that time and place, they needed the Holy Spirit just as much as we do today. They needed God to stir them up; to rush into that room; to shake them out of silence and into action, into preaching the food news of God in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
This is exactly what happens upon this feast of Pentecost. As soon as the Holy Spirit descends upon these disciples—which was itself a tumultuous, chaotic event full of a rushing wind and tongues of fire—; as soon as the Holy Spirit showed up, everything changed. And they were far from silent. Instead sheer confusion ensued as they spoke in many languages to all of those gathered in that place.
And Peter was so emboldened, and brash, and brazen that he got up and preached. He begins his first sermon, his first witness, his first testimony, by drawing on Sacred Scripture. He expounds upon the story of his people from the book of the prophet Joel. He interprets words written on the people’s heart, in order to preach God’s good news.
Yet the sermon does not end there. It is cut off in today’s reading, but Peter goes on for another fifteen verses. During that time he preaches about Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection. He preached of Jesus’ deeds of power, his wonder and signs—how Jesus healed the sick, and fed the hungry, and restored those who had been ostracized by society. Peter preached of Jesus’ sacrifice—being handed over and killed for a crime he did not commit. Peter preached of Jesus’ resurrection—of his triumph over death; of the new life that we too experience in him. Peter preached of God’s love for us. God loved us so much that God sent God’s only son to walk among us, to heal us in our brokenness, to accompany us in our suffering, to remind us that death and destruction are never the final word.
Peter preached love. The disciples who went forth to all nations, preached love. And today, my friends, we too must preach love. No matter the cost.
It is not time for silence. It is time to find the words. It is time to allow the Holy Spirit to stir us up and create some tumult, upheaval, and chaos in our souls. It is time to preach the Gospel—to recognize that the language of politics only creates further misunderstanding, and conflict, and division in our midst; to recognize that the unifying language that will allow us to transcend human strife, is the language of love.
But how do we preach such love when we are finding it difficult to draw up the words? We rely upon Peter and the disciples’ example. We start with our sacred stories. We begin with the foundation of our faith. We commence with reminding ourselves and others that our God has freed the enslaved; that our God is on the side of the widowed and the orphaned; that our God watches over the hungry, and the sick, the imprisoned, and the disabled.
Then we remind ourselves and others that nothing is impossible with God. That although today we see death and destruction, tomorrow there will be resurrection glory. We remind ourselves that although there will be trials and tribulations, with God’s help we are called to strive for justice and peace. We remind ourselves that above all else we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt 22:37-29)—not to enact violence on our neighbor, or to threaten our neighbor, or to hate our neighbor because of the color of his skin, or his economic status, or his party politics. No. We as Christians, above all else, are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love our black neighbor, and our Latino neighbor, and our white neighbor, and our poor neighbor, and our wealthy neighbor, and our conservative neighbor, and our liberal neighbor.
Y’all, we’ve got to love our neighbor! Hear their cries of agony. Hear the suffering in the city streets. Hear the anguish at such injustice in our midst. Then let us rise from the silence find the words to speak truth with love.
Artist: Stella Steele