A sermon for Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104: 25-35, 37, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
This is one of those bible stories we all know. We know the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem, at Jesus’ instruction, waiting for power from heaven. They don’t know when, they don’t know what, nonetheless they are waiting in anxious expectation. Ten days later, 50 days after Passover, they are gathered when suddenly the Spirit arrives, in what sounds like wind, and looks like sparkling flames dancing about their heads. Everyone starts speaking in all sorts of foreign languages. Because it is Pentecost, the festival of the harvest, Jerusalem is full of devout Jews from all around the Roman Empire. We don’t know what the disciples are saying, just that it gets everyone’s attention. Some begin to mock them. That causes the still impetuous Peter to preach. He dispels the notion of drunkenness by quoting from Joel about the gift of prophecy.
It’s a grand story. The church has celebrated it in all sorts of ways. I’m sure you have heard of services where the scriptures are read in multiple languages. I’ve heard of one, where Acts was read in multiple languages at the same time. There is the tradition to wear red, the color associated with the Spirit. I was serving one church that had a red hat contest one Pentecost. We find all sorts of ways to celebrate the gift of the Spirit.
Frank Couch posits our celebrations tend to domesticate the story. He includes the NSRV translators noting that describing the crowd
as “bewildered” (v. 6), “amazed and astonished” (v. 7), and “amazed and perplexed” (v. 12).
could be, in fact, should be described as
“confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, completely uncomprehending.” (Crouch)
I’m sure you hear the difference in how disruptive the second descriptive list is. We also overlook that Pentecost is a Jewish Festival, and that Jerusalem is full of devout Jews, who could afford to travel long distances, and who could speak, if not Hebrew then, Greek, the language of the day. The diversity of languages the disciples speak is not so everyone can hear about Jesus, remember we don’t know what they say. The diversity of languages is an affirmation of diversity that undermines Rome’s interest in creating one people through subjection, and language is a tool of oppression. (Petersen and Beverly) We delight in Joel’s prophecy “…everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We never hear how inclusive, how disruptively inclusive it is. We never hear or consider how disruptive the coming of the Spirit is.
Have you ever read the Book of Joel? Ever wondered about the context of Peter’s quote? Scholars aren’t quite sure when it was written. It seems to be an artful compilation, drawing on many prophecies. It begins with locus, sound familiar, think Egypt, a cry of alarm, the day of the Lord is near, a lamentation, and call to repentance, a service of lasting, and then revelations of apocalyptic deliverance from foreign nations, and salvation. (Limburg), (Achtemeier) Joel’s prophecy speaks to his day, and ages to come. He speaks to his people, and to those in Jerusalem, and he speaks to us. But it is hard for us to hear the shattering truth he reveals. In his day, prophecy was limited to the select. Joel brushes away all human categories, all distinctions, and socially established roles. (Hoezee) Giving the spirit to “sons and daughters… old people… youths… male and female slaves” goes against Israel’s religious traditions. It disrupts established tradition by excluding priests, the powerful religious class of the day. The prophecy dispels social distinctions based on age, gender, and social class. (Petersen and Beverly) The Spirit, the gift of prophecy, once the domain of an exclusive few, is now freely offered to all. (Limburg) The arrival of the spirit and prophecy in Joel arises from tragedy, lament, repentance and completely remakes religious and social structures. The coming of the Spirit is a powerful transforming truth. It’s a disruptive presence the harbinger of transfiguring power the purveyor of shalom, to all God’s people everyone, especially those ~ we believe are excluded.
Please be clear, we should celebrate the presence of the Spirit. It’s just oh so important we clearly see the true nature of her presence. We are better prepared to be empowered when we realize the character of the Spirit. When we recognize her presence marks the way for the church’s missionary work (Achtemeier) we are better prepared to follow her trusting in her disruptive ways, her challenging the status quo, her radical inclusiveness, her stance against all types of official, or unofficial repression. We will see more clearly in knowing the arrival of the Spirit flows from the brutal hardships of life, bringing hope to the least of these by challenging us to bring justice, healing, and peace, to bring shalom to oppress. Often those we oppress by the nature of our privilege. And I include myself among the privileged. I am among the religious entitled Joel’s prophecy excludes, I am among those in need of the Spirit’s transforming empowering touch. As is everyone.
We all know Dewaun Miller was shot and killed, by a High School classmate, this past week. (Brasfield and Evans) I have been told he was a good student, a promising athlete, who lived on the street. As such he had affiliations with other street kids, who, as we all do, form groups of like interest and or needs. Apparently there was some conflict between two such groups that lead to the murder. I’ve also read and been told, the High School did an excellent job of settling the tensions down, involving lots of resources from counselors, to local ministers and Healing in the Hood, etc. Some are asking what we should do. Some are talking about the possibility of asking local churches what we can do. There is possibility in reaching out to churches, but we should acknowledge it will not be a quick fix. In last Friday’s column David Brooks cites Lisa Miller that most children are born with a sense of the spiritual, which surges in adolescence. At the same time teenagers commonly suffer a loss of meaning, confidence and identity. Their response can be drugs, alcohol, gangs, and pregnancy. Teens whose spiritual life is cultivated, by those with strong spiritual lives, have significantly less instances of destructive behaviors or depression, as they seek to discover themselves.
Ignoring spiritual development in the public square is like ignoring intellectual, physical or social development. It is to amputate people in a fundamental way, leading to more depression, drug abuse, alienation and misery. (Brooks)
He is right, cultivating spiritual lives is a path to a healthier society,
If we want to cultivate spiritual lives of teens, we should begin with ourselves; we should begin by looking in the mirror, as individuals and as a community. Every time community leaders, of any stripe, have an ugly interaction, teens see it, and they model their behavior after ours. Their lack of experience with subtlety can lead them to tragic actions. It’s not that we shouldn’t have disagreements; however, we should resolve them with respect for the other, not dehumanizing or excluding others because of any kind of ideology, social standing or cultural divide we’ve imposed. We should listen to Peter drawing on Joel. The Spirit is present. She brings radical inclusivity and disruptive transformation. We should learn from the sequence in Joel, threat, judgement, lament, repentance, and the promise of radically inclusive salvation. It’s a journey that goes beyond programs or schools or churches. It’s a rebuilding of our broken social construct. It begins with us of social privilege, going to, listening to, and building relationships with the very people we’d just as soon go away.
The locus are here, the alarm is sounding, and the day of Lord is now. Pentecost is now. The Spirt is here. We can quietly slip away whistling in dark against all our fears. Or, trusting in God’s great gift, we can follow the Spirt into the darkest corners of our community and cultivate nascent spiritual awareness; not because it will relieve us of all our fears, but because God loves everyone, and everyone should experience what sounds like rushing winds looks like sparkling flames and hear of God’s love in words they understand. Amen.
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Brasfield, Mark and K Evans. “Murder Suspoect Surrenders to Police.” Courier News 19 5 2015. web.
Brooks, David. “Building Spiritual Capital.” New York Times 24 5 2015. nytimes.com. <http://nyti.ms/1BxJy9I>.
Crouch, Frank L. Commentary on Acts 2:121. 24 5 2015.
Epperly, ‘Bruce. Pentecost Sunday – May 24, 2015. 24 5 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/>.
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Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Acts 10:44-48. 17 5 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 23 11 2014.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 24 5 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Limburg, James. Interpretation HOSEA—MICAH. Nashville: John Knox, 2003. cd.
Lose, David. Pentecost B: Come Alongside, Holy Spirit! 24 5 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net>.
Petersen, David and Roberts Gaventa Bevery. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Warren, Timothy G. “Pentecost (B) – 2015.” 24 5 2015. Sermons that Work.