Pentecost - Years A, B, C
"The Holy Spirit spread through their ranks like a wildfire and they started speaking in a number of different languages."
What is your mother tongue (to keep the Mother's Day images of yesterday going)? Is it Lower Middle-Class? Native people? Arabic? GLBTQ? Enronese? Sports? American Express? KJV? ...?
Can you imagine the turmoil if all these folks who thought they had G*D's mighty acts cornered began to talk together and honor one another's experience of G*D? This would indeed be a movement of the Spirit to cross all these boundaries at once.
We can sometimes handle one boundary at a time in a "some of my best friends are ..." fashion. But to expand the conversation into the area of "some of my enemies used to be ..., but now we see G*D at work in each other" is what might be called miraculous. Pray for a miracle again today. It is worth any wait or prayer we need to invest in it.
The Pentecostalized waiters in a far-off room re-enter regular life with a new agenda ? living G*D's mighty works (vs11) including G*D's wonderful deed that whoever calls for help will be saved (vs21).
One might expect that those who were suddenly empowered would slant things to their advantage (this actually was the experience of the church after Constantine when it was joined at the hip with political and economic power). Here the astounding good news is the old news from the prophets that there is no hierarchy when it comes to salvation.
Rather, those who are empowered by the Spirit slant things to the advantage of the disadvantaged, those in need of help. This is stunning good news. May you continue to live it in your own life and in your relations with others.
I've been away for several days to an international conference of Intentional Interim Clergy. In doing this work it is important to have some self-differentiation from the situation in which one lives and moves and has their being. The same seems to have been true back when.
As always, there is a divided response to the good news of an open future and appreciation of G*D's presence.
In front of the poles of true and false are the states of being known as questioning and sneering. How often we respond positively to the questioners who want to know more and negatively to the sneerers who don't even want to know what is already known. Let's help one another keep an even keel in the midst of adoring questioners who desire ever more of our wisdom and dismissive sneerers who simply don't care for us, much less what we have to offer. In so doing we may yet help focus attention on a vision of active wholeness for all.
Comparison of Pentecost with Babel is pretty standard fare. In the first instance an attempt is made to bring all resources to a still-point -- many building blocks to one city, a many-parted city to one point towering above it. What seemed so linear ends in confusion. Communication dissolves; purpose devolves. A wayward wind yearns to wander.
Having wandered there is an equal but opposite yearning to-gather. Having experienced the danger of unity there is no overcoming life's babel. Communication differences are not dissolved into one tongue, purpose is not reinstated, but thanksgiving is.
Through all this the learning is a need for a different gift -- prophecy. Here it is described as a "wrath to come", perhaps in hope that folks would use that as a motivation to flee such as prophecy is intended to change current behavior.
Alternatively, we might focus on this model of distributed communication as a key to what G*D's will on earth, from heaven, might look like. Our yearning is not to avoid Babel, but to enact Pentecostal communication. The stronger this yearning the more diversity we can deal with, the stronger the bonds between multitudes in multiples of 3,000s.
Should the yearning be stronger for avoidance, the less diversity we can deal with and the weaker the bonds between peoples.
For the best action, enact Acts.
There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. There are varieties of languages but the same Spirit. With things equal to the same thing defined as being equal we can note that the variety of gifts is revealed as the variety of languages.
This is a helpful reminder as we sometimes get it into our heads that particular gifts require a particular language. This can be equated to judging that the gift of ordination can only come through nouns of masculine gender.
Gifts come in a variety of languages and languages provide us with a variety of gifts. When we lose this interplay we lose heart, Spirit.
A power-sharing process leads to prophesying and inclusiveness enough to welcome Eldad and Medad and folks of all languages.
It is of great importance to note that the power that was set loose in the desert and a locked room both came through a power-sharing mechanism. To focus on the process of power-sharing is prelude to making Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors more than a slogan, but an exciting reality.
If there were one thing I would covet for congregations it is a greater sense of needing everyone to be involved in decision-making. To have a vision of building a better decision for the present and future is a source of creative energy that is helpfully bounded -- innovative pictures and responsible reservation combine to bring fruitful growth both deep and wide.
Through a Spirit of Christ we are all baptized (acknowledged participation in and desire of creation) into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. This Spirit moves where it will and does not stop at our usual boundaries of believing this or that, classifying you or me.
Everyone who calls on this Spirit will be made whole with everyone else. (Now, they may not acknowledge this and try to subdivide our wholeness, but from our perspective it, we, and they are still whole.)
This is paradigm-shifting stuff that points to the presence of Paradise, a healing of Paradise Lost, right where we are. As we attempt to live out of this perspective we find ourselves calmed and gentled. Peace be not only to us, but to all.
Presuming that Jesus did give his friends a spirit holy (John 20:22) we know hear of another receiving of said spirit 50 days later (Acts) and years later (Romans). This raises a question about the presence of a spiritual reception decades and centuries and millennia later.
Too often we pass by the present (in all of its confusion) by perceiving the past as settled (not still repeating itself in differing guise). At other times we get so caught up in making meaning of the present that we lose track of the many threads that have brought us to this moment.
Whether it is creation or ourselves (go ahead and try to distinguish them) groaning for a new beginning -
Whether we are in a current state of hope or hopelessness -
Whether patience or anxiety seems to be our lot -
Whether we are sighingly weak or comfortably isolated -
Whether we are saints or non-saints -
Intercession is made on our behalf. Join it, test it, rejoice in it, share it, do not let it go for nothing.
Sounds, unlike sights, are encompassing. To look at something we have one field of view at a time. To hear something is to perceive it wherever it is, before us or behind.
Sounds can be one clear note or a cacophony. Sounds can be progressive in melody or punked all at once. Sounds can help clear our mind or confuse us.
Here we have violent rattlings bringing so many differences together at the same time. Whether of bones or languages we hear the primordial sound of creation echoing in birth, rebirth, and new birth. Here we hear the formation of community.
Consider all the different sounds of your community. Imagine them all at once. What joy! What possibilities! What integration of diversity!
In our own languages we hear "them" speaking about G*D's deeds of power, with sighs too deep for words, according to the will of G*D.
Sometimes the poor and oppressed only have sighs with which to communicate.
When we try to speak of G*D it often seems like trying to communicate in a foreign language. There is something miraculous about the translation process that parallels our experience with the otherness of G*D. We marvel as much with unexpectedly hearing our native tongue as with what we hear. The very medium is as mysterious as the message.
This otherness turns out to be as close as our breath. So close our breath is taken away. All that is left is a sigh brooding over the face of the deep, calling deep to deep. This sigh becomes our new language that gives us a prophetic perspective. Ahh, yes, the violence of chaos is not countered by the chaos of violence. Ahh, yes, insides touch outsides and around goes yin and yang. Ahh, yes, it is not our past that determines us, but our dreams. Ahh, yes, the language of hope transforms the determinism of anger.
To speak with kindness is an expression of G*D's presence. To pause, to rise on expectant toes, is to accord the presence of G*D a new reality heretofore unexpressed.
May you pause long enough to be able to hear the sighs of the world as key signs of the presence of G*D. May you pause long enough for kindness to rise within you. It may take longer than a count to ten.
A bowed head can indicate either prayer or fear. Either way, Lift up your head!
Hopefully our prayers can deal with our fears and we do not remain with bowed heads. We can talk about the dynamics needed to move beyond fear and to move forward in prayer in many different ways. Sometimes it is helpful to visualize this head-raising.
Here is an exercise from one of the listserves I monitor regarding the lectionary to see what can happen when we are honored to be connected with G*D and Neighbor: "A few years ago I made a "Pentecost Person"--a small salad-dressing bottle with a balloon over the opening, and vinegar in the bottle, and baking soda in the balloon, so that when I lifted up his head, the baking soda fell into the vinegar, there was a chemical reaction and it filled his head, so he was no longer despondent, but full of purpose (the Spirit) [honor]. I had drawn a face on the balloon before installing it; I put a 'robe' of white paper on her, even had a little red ribbon like a stole over her shoulders, and it was cute and effective. I can't remember how much baking soda in proportion to the vinegar--perhaps someone can help out here--but it sure made a good children's story."
- - -
a heritage back to creation
an anticipation forward to paradise
we find ourselves in good position
honored by both
honorably living both
when in a good position
we can afford good posture
lift up your head
arise fearful one
arise prayerful one
in grace we find connection
backward and forward
in common cause
deeper and wider
Trying to take control in order to be on top leads inevitably to confusion. Take a look at any political process, even dictatorial ones, and it becomes apparent that common interest soon loses out to partisanship. We can claim we are after the same goal and even use the same words to describe it, but when the day ends we are suspicious of the others for wanting to succeed so desperately. We know our suspicions are well-founded because, given half-a-chance, we would be glad to take the lead among equals.
We don't need to have G*D enter the picture to deliberately set folks at odds with themselves, they do plenty well all by themselves.
The real trick is to keep a focus on our differences that might be mobilized in the same direction. When our differences can be brought to bear on a subject we are able to make better decisions than when we are assuming we are all on the same page only to find we are not.
The value of Pentecostal language is its appreciation of the different languages and the perspectives they bring to the table. To try to tell someone else what is so very important to you when they obviously speak differently, is to better pare down to the most important what we have experienced.
What, then, is so important that you would be willing to learn a new language to be able to share it? Or is it only important enough for you to repeat it and repeat it in your own personal language with no concern whether or not it is heard?
- - -
god and adam and eve
talked each evening
there was agreement
was able to confuse
them about one another
farsi english and swahili
yuwaalaraay hindi and aymaran
blue white-collared and monied
child teen and adult
enlightens our differences
with a gift of a new brainwave
[Never mind that Douglas Adams claims, "Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers between communications, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in existence."]
- - -
Dan (Reader) said...
There are many things yet to be learned but they are beyond our current bearing of them. Until we can come to grips with this basic understanding of more to be learned - bones remain dry, labor pains continue, and we remain trapped in our current-sized room repeating ourselves in a single language to one another.
A needed breath of new creation, a new spirit, is needed as catalyst to transform what we don't know into an important category of life and renewal for us. Without this we are dusty dust, groaning groaners, sorrowing sorrowers.
Continuing the oneness image of I in you and you in them, the new comes to the old, unbidden. Consider this as a definition of Glory as well as an expression of Grace.
- - -
step out in faith with fear and trembling
a new vision comes beyond what we know
cast a new vision beyond what is yet known
fear and trembling become solid enough to stand on
How manifold are G*D's works! So many languages, so many gifts, so many prophesies, so many locked doors walked through, so many "Peace"s, so many breaths, so many rivers of living water.
This is a time to remember how these have been loosed in the past, to talk about how they are currently ebbing and flowing all around us, and to anticipate more blessings than can be counted.
While we can get caught up in the mechanisms of all this we are basically dealing with a song of hope and faith and love all mixed up in its themes and meters and keys.
A part of our task is to stand and proclaim, "What you are experiencing is real - don't deny it by blaming it on excess of one kind or another." More is going on than this world knows.
- - -
languages speak what they know
today is a day to focus on what we are saying
how we are saying what we are saying
going beyond whom we usually say what we say
there is a drive to communicate
we will even learn another language if need be
we will talk with our hands and our eyes
until our tongue connects with an ear
in camp or out of room
we will join gift to gift
forgiving past separations
calling Peace where there is none
until there is
My ability to speak another language seems to be limited. In bygone Peace Corps days I did know some Filipino. A part of my learning that lovely language was rather cacophonous. If enough of us learners of poor ability were together it may well have sounded windy.
If this learning another's language process was instantaneous, it may have been a quieter Pentecost and fewer people would have been drawn to see what was happening. Thank goodness for the noise of a learning process.
As it was, care for another's difference (language, at least) emboldened folks to move outside their room to engage others with what they had just experienced – an open heart to others that opened their minds and doors. A joy contained in that movement does become noticed.
The membership vows of the United Methodist church have long been four-fold and inward focused. We are called to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, and service. Note that this is support for the institutional church. At our General Conference just completed, a fifth vow was added that functions like the fire in that small wind and fire room of long ago – witness – tell deeds of loving-kindness (not doctrinal belief, but deeds). We'll see what this small change makes – hopefully as much as the small room and small number of people made in earlier days.
Given the scope of time, ten days from Ascension to Pentecost is pretty good for a slow-mill G*D.
One key is that they were "all together". Apparently Thomas wasn't taking any chances about a second visit and stuck pretty closely to the others. Or, the spirit waited for that one moment in ten days when folks were all together "in one place."
From this distance we tend to get caught up with wind and fire, and miss the "all" set-up.
The word "all" shows up four times and is implied in the passage from Joel that gives the kinds of parentheses that indicate all – sons and daughters, young and old. It is this "all" that might well be thought of as G*D's presence or deeds that are touted (glimpsed and affirmed).
Pentecostal tests that leave someone out, break the "all"ness of Pentecost. As wonderful as folks speaking is that of folks listening. Likewise, the distance between amazement and perplexion (why isn't this a word?) is less than ten days and we need to be careful about making too much of this maturational or experiential difference.
In keeping with St. Augustine's appreciation of Ascension, Pentecost is one logical result of what it means to stop looking toward "heaven" or away from one another. When we are gathered and begin to really see one another, it is a Pentecost and a result of such seeing of an all-ness in this small gathering is energy to find all-ness in a larger setting, one beyond our usual boundaries.
Imagine again, where two or three are gathered and agree – what power there is (yes for good or ill)!
In Jewish tradition, Pentecost is Shavuot – a time of remembrance of the Mosaic Commandments, the Torah. An appreciation of "all" is helpful for both Pentecost and Shavuot.
United Methodists will soon be voting on a change in their constitution that changes a negative approach to its ministry ("without regard to . . .") to a positive one simply saying, "we are in ministry to all persons". Time (more than ten days) will tell if two-thirds of those voting will see this as a Pentecostal moment or if they will hang on to an incremental ministry of including one specially identified group after another as "we" become comfortable with "them" by continuing to note or protest too much that "our ministry" is without regard to "them".
Think you were scared for your life? Think again, for now you are scared to life.
Before you were fearful of another taking your life. Now you are only afraid that you will not be giving your life across what used to be perceived as razor-wired boundaries.
Before your coat of arms consisted of representations of hiding:
affright, awed, chill, daunt, dismay, freeze, given a fright, given a turn, intimidated, paniced, paralyzed, petrified, scared silly, scared the pants off, shaken up, struck terror in, terrified, terrorized, afraid, aghast, anxious, fearful, having cold feet, panic-stricken, panicked, panicky, petrified, shaken, startled, terrified, terror-stricken, abashed, aghast, alarmed, anxious, apprehensive, aroused, blanched, cowardly, cowed, daunted, discouraged, disheartened, dismayed, distressed, disturbed, faint-hearted, frightened, frozen, have cold feet, horrified, in awe, intimidated, nervous, perplexed, perturbed, rattled, run scared, scared, scared stiff, scared to death, shocked, spooked, startled, stunned, suspicious, terrified, terror-stricken, timid, timorous, trembling, upset, worried, amazed, astonished, chilled, daunted, dismayed, distressed, frightened, given a turn, made jump, scared stiff, scared to death, spooked, surprised, unnerved . . . .
Now you exemplify :
calm, comfort, reassurance, soothing, confidence, encouragement, boldness, braveness, composition, cool, courage, fearlessness, heroism, intrepidness, undauntedness, valiance, assurance, gladdening, repose . . . .
That which stimulates a shift from some aspect of the first list to an extension of the second can be termed a Pentecost Experience.
May you be blessed with another Pentecost at this late date. Whether in time or out of time, vision and dream strongly enough that you will gladly follow where it leads.
Amazing how surprised we can get as we gather for one purpose and a Python comes out of the sea to collapsingly announce, “It’s” time for something completely different. Why were the disciples gathered? Not just to huddle together, but to honor the tradition of Pentecost, otherwise known as Shavu’ot (rejoicing not just in Passover/Exodus from Egypt, but the giving of Torah - not simply the narrow Books of Moses, but the entire body of Jewish teaching - that organizes a new community). Judaism 101 says: “It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.”
Gathered for honoring the giving of Torah (translating G*D-speak to human community organizing) there is a surprise that the theory of constantly receiving a given Torah involves such as ourselves. On this day of translation another giving begins to be received. A gift of languages (translating human experience to human experience) sets folks on growing another branch of a beautiful tree meant for the healing of the nations.
To hear Torah and more than Torah in one’s own language is a soul-stirring moment. It brings out the best in us to hear G*D’s mighty works of power - forgiveness, mercy, steadfast love. These contine to break new territory, to not be bound by the usual limits that separate us.
To hear Torah and more than Torah in one’s own language, can also scare the bejezus out of us and set up resistance to such weak elements when we have staked our lives on our own power, privilege, entitlement.
Between growing Torah and limiting it, we find the responses to this roomful of yeasty people who throw open closed doors to turn strangers into friends by giving themselves away - not insisting others learn their language, but starting with the language of the other.
Question: Is the given gift of Pentecost received into your life everyday? Which strange Neighbor or literal Enemy have you spoken with in their language that they may hear the power of forgiveness, mercy, steadfast love? It may draw you closer together or it may cause a greater rift. These outcomes, however, are not at issue. Our only question is whether we will receive and act on a waiting new gift or be satisfied with the old ones.
Pentecost/Shavu’ot, calls us to receive something already given - a latent translation, experience to experience, of a larger vision than simply repeating today, that everyone, everyone, will be whole and whole, again.
Can you imagine Pentecost without everyone being together? That seems to be what we have turned it into. Instead of being able to speak in the native tongue of others, there is an insistence that my formulation of G*D’s deeds of power is the only creditable one - so you learn my language.
Note that the first part of this extended sermon has not yet mentioned Jesus. Pentecost is a universalized experience and without that expansiveness would not have had the effect it did.
The communal nature of Pentecosts has deep roots. Remember Tobit 2:1-2 where enjoying and sharing a feast completes the rejoicing. If you go on to verse 3 ff. there is a presaging that here also it won’t be long before the joy of this moment seems very fragile and sorrow arrives.
The practice of counting seven times seven weeks (or years) and then having a Jubilee time is time-honored. For a moment, step back from Easter as an individual event and see Pentecost as a time of consolidating our individual responses to crucifixion/resurrection or dashed-hopes/hope-aglimmering and moving toward economic justice, a meeting with foreigners and the poor. If it is just motivation for a party, we’ll take it, but hope that that party has redemptive qualities beyond feeling good (not to discount feeling good).
What is a vision? - What is a prophesy? - Where is a community? - that will transform us again to pilgrims covenanted together across our divides and moving together toward creating a paradise among us?