On the day of Pentecost, 120 believers named in the first chapter of Acts, were all together in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit descended on them. They were celebrating the Jewish harvest festival Shavuot. Today, Christians celebrate Pentecost as the the birthday of the Church remembering the wild spirit that descended on the disciples, shaking everything up, breaking down barriers, uniting the separated, inviting everyone to be part of God’s community as the spirit set their hearts and lives on fire with the love of Jesus. The reading is animated, chaotic, multi-sensory, mystical & holy. Pentecost is dramatic, coming in with a rushing noise, a mighty wind, tongues of fire resting on each person, without burning them – reminiscent of the burning bush in Exodus 3. They begin speaking in the known languages of the whole Roman world, as the “Spirit gave them ability.” With bold new courage, those first Disciples started writing the book of Acts with their very lives – and we are asked to write the 2nd chapter of Acts with our own lives, as we too are emboldened by the Holy Spirit.
Peter preaches a fiery, prophetic sermon, quoting Hebrew Scripture from the prophet Joel, reminding the people that what has happened is the fulfillment of prophecy, when God pours God’s spirit upon all flesh.
A Baptist Minister in Brooklyn, NY, Candace Simpson, believes “Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth”. She writes for enfleshed – where all of our liturgy for today comes from. “Peter reminds the people that God disrupts limited, human, binary categories. He uses a recognizable scripture from Joe to blow apart the need for neat categories. When Peter quotes, “your sons & daughters shall prophesy,” he disrupts the idea that only one gender can be a recipient of the Holy Spirit’s power. When Peter God quotes, “Your young men shall see visions & your old men shall dream dreams,” he disrupts norms of ageism. When he quotes the prophet Joel, “even upon my slaves,” he disrupts economic exploitation and classism. From verses 9-11, at least 15 different communities are described – This text is about inclusion, diversity, equity, and liberation. It speaks to people who are witnessing blatant or implicit injustice and reminds us that the Holy Spirit does not respond to binary thinking or hierarchical understandings of God’s grace. For those who are incarcerated, those who are being surveilled, and still under State control through house arrest. The Holy Spirit is a force of divine chaos. What does it do for our faith when we consider that God & the Holy Spirit are not bound by human categories?” Candace Simpson…
One of the lessons the pandemic can teach us is that we are only as well as our community. Although we have sequestered ourselves in our homes, we cannot lock ourselves in an upper room away from the consequences of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, capitalism, or anything else. Our freedom & liberation is tied up in each other, and the Holy Spirit calls us to help build & design sustainable solutions to the harm we witness.
As we navigate the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pandemic of racism, the world needs the Church to produce courageous disciples. During this season of uncertainty and change, the mission of the Church remains constant: to bring healing and wholeness to all God’s people, to restore people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Despite natural fear & anxiety associated with the pandemic, we are called to be beacons of hope, justice & love in a broken world. Jesus promised the disciples that the Advocate would come to provide them with courage to speak the truth about the life and ministry of Jesus. We are living in a time in which truth-telling is as critical as ever. The Spirit of Truth is a gift that has been given to every Christian disciple. The Advocate continues to live and dwell among us.
As we think about the text in Acts in the 14th month of the pandemic in the year of our Lord, we might be struck by the phrase from this reading, “They were all together in one place.” As you can see from our zoom screens, we are not together in one place. We are in about 50 places. How is Pentecost possible if we are separated? When most of our interactions are mediated through screens? What we must realize is that we don’t have to be physically in one space to be “all together in heart and mind”. The Book of Acts follows a group of people trying to develop shared principles & ethics. They’re trying to return to the teachings of Christ. They were not strangers to each other. At the end of Acts 2 we hear these words:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Three centuries later, the Followers of the Way had made such an impression that 4th century Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate tried to abolish Christianity from the empire, complaining, “These Christians care, not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.” That is a powerful statement.
What will it take for us to build a spiritual community flexible enough to withstand physical separation and whatever else presents itself as an impediment to the spirit’s leading? How do we support one another when there is so much exhaustion, uncertainty, unrest, burnout? One way is to return to the radical community-building power of the Holy Spirit and our shared principles and values. The book of Acts tells us that there were 120 people present that day when they were transformed into a spiritual community. That’s only about twice as many people as our worshiping community. How can our actions speak in such a way that the forces of empire are amazed by the way we care for one another and our community? We do not only come together to struggle or work together; we come together to support each other spiritually. What brings you to this faith community? What keeps you here? Who keeps you here? Post-pandemic, Life will not return to whatever we thought normal was, and maybe that’s a good thing. We are in a new paradigm, and that’s what the coming of the Holy Spirit brought about, a new paradigm. While it can be a humbling reality, it also presents us with new opportunities for creativity, growth, transformation. And yet, our mission & vision remains constant. Pentecost is not just a once a year celebration, but an ongoing event. The church is called to be the church in all seasons just as God is God in all seasons. Pentecost is about hearts & lives on fire with the love of Jesus and celebrating life and abundance. Just as nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, a pandemic cannot separate us from our call to be a thriving community of vitality, hope, belonging, and healing through worship, congregational life, and service, rejoicing in the love of Jesus to transform the world.
Gracious God, we are grateful for the gifts you give us. We are grateful for the gift of the Advocate, the truth-teller. Give us courage to tell our truths, that will lead to a world filled with justice & love. Amen.
One of my newest favorite hymns is one I had never heard before. It is called Spirit I Have Heard You Calling written by Thew Elliott. Let us sing along with Jeff.