Sunday, May 19, 2013,
Rev. Leah Grundset-Davis
Happy Pentecost Sunday to you!
We’ve come a long way together since Easter, haven’t we? During our series called Eyes Wide Open we paid attention, looked around for resurrection. We know that we have Easter Sunday, but there are so many Easter moments, moments of resurrection that happen all around us. We just need to pay attention to see them. So, the season of Easter, we were tasked with the challenge of keeping our eyes open and watching for Jesus and one another.
And we heard stories of resurrection each week in worship from all of you in a weekly series called “The Gospel According to…” You all stood before us and shared personal stories about God showing up in the midst of illness, pain, broken relationships and everyday life. They weren’t all pretty stories, but they all pointed us toward the light, toward the truth that God’s story resonates within each of us when we are paying attention and looking around.
And today is Pentecost Sunday. Besides the fact that you all look very lovely in red, it happens to be one of my favorite holidays in the church year. For many years, it was a holiday that Baptists mostly overlooked and didn’t really celebrate, but as we know we are a different kind of Baptist, so I’m glad to see us here today, ready and listening for Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is the Sunday when we remember and celebrate Holy Spirit and when it swept into the lives of the disciples and created utter chaos. Doesn’t that sound fun? Isn’t that exactly what you want to hear- we are celebrating chaos and confusion. Sounds like a normal Sunday to me, actually.
It’s the Sunday when we remember 50 days Jesus’ resurrection and all of those antics and his ascension into heaven when the disciples were waiting to be clothed with power from on high. According to Jesus, that was going to happen and the disciples were ready and waiting for it. It’s often called the birthday of the church and we have created so many ways to celebrate and remember the Sunday that often involves, languages, fire, birthday cakes and the color red
Churches have great stories about how they celebrate Pentecost- like when the sound system went out before the cacophony of voices could start, or when the birthday cake purchased for the children’s sermon to celebrate the Birthday of the Church was smashed into the carpet right before they started to sing Happy Birthday, but one of my favorite stories comes from MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a Presbyterian Pastor just down the road in Vienna. She writes on her blog:
“Pentecost in this particular congregation is always beautiful. The church has a huge round communion table that the flower guild fills with red, orange and yellow candles—twenty-five or thirty of them, at various heights, on a lovely red tablecloth. The effect is quite dramatic. They also turn all the chairs to face the exterior windows, to represent our call as the church, to be focused outward.
I had set up a way to dramatize the reading of Acts 2. During the verse when the tongues of fire rest on the disciples, the reader paused and several people (mainly children and youth) lightly tossed about half a dozen streamers of red, orange and yellow crepe paper across the heads of the congregation, while the bells did some free-ringing. People figured out quickly that they were supposed to receive the streamers and toss them in a different direction, forming a web of sorts. Happy chaos ensued. Lots of smiles.
Then at the end of the service, my colleague was praying after the offering right before the closing hymn when a woman close to the front of the meeting house yelled “Fire! Fire!”
I thought, “Oh my goodness, is this is a skit? Or is she testifying?”
I opened my eyes and saw. The communion table was on fire.
One of the tapers had burned down and, aided by an unfortunately-aimed air conditioning vent, had ignited the red tablecloth—a sheer billowy thing that, in retrospect, was basically festive kindling.
Several of us sprang up and stood stupidly around the table for several seconds. I think we were all trying to figure out how to smother the fire, but the only thing available was the Amazing Flammable Cloth of Doom.
Finally my colleague yelled, “The baptismal font!” Which someone promptly brought forward. So in an absurd clash of symbols, the waters of baptism actually extinguished the fires of the Spirit.”
And that is Pentecost. Although, I know that she did not set out to create a scene of utter and complete chaos, it pretty much accurately describes the scene that we encounter in the church and as the historic account we read in Acts. It was crazy.
In our reading from Acts, the disciples and others are gathered together in one place, in Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus has left. He’s resurrected and he’s ascended into heaven and he told them to hold tight until power came upon them to go into the world. So, they’re holding tight in Jerusalem. They are sitting in a room together, probably eating, catching up on life, telling stories, you know the things people do when they get together.
All of a sudden, a violent wind comes rushing through. The windows whip open and the lunch plates fly off the table. They stand up in total confusion as to what is happening. And then, it says the power of God, Holy Spirit came into them and they started to speak in other languages as they each suddenly had the ability to do so.
The text says that there were many devout Jews from every nation, meaning they spoke lots of different languages in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a hub for trade, commerce—people were always coming and going bringing ideas and languages and cultures with them. As the crowd gathered because the sound and the wind had pushed the disciples out into the street, each person started to hear a disciples speaking in their own language.
The Galilean disciples were speaking in the language of the Medes and Parthians. Maybe Mary Magdalene was speaking in the language of those from Mesopotamia. No doubt, some of the people gathered around could only look in bewilderment and think, “Her?”
The chaotic scene was breaking forth in the middle of a busy Jerusalem street and the languages were flowing, all of them talking about God’s power and the good news of God’s love wondering, “what does all of this mean?”
Right then, one of the more cynical onlookers said, “They are filled with new wine.”
What follows is Peter’s response, which is known as his first sermon. It’s like Peter said, “I don’t understand the question and I’m not going to respond to it.”
Peter’s reply to this one questioning the legitimacy of what was happening is hilarious to me. He said, “these people are not drunk as you think, because it’s only 9am.” I love that the time of day is the reason for thinking that no one is drunk.
But after his less than convincing argument against disciple drunkness, he does give the real reason for the disciples’ seemingly erratic behavior. He quotes the prophet Joel. Joel had told the people that “when the Spirit of God is poured out on the people, that sons and daughters wil prophesy. Young men will see visions and olf men shall dream dreams.”
Joel didn’t know what that day or those days would look like because surely, the Spirit of God had been poured out on the people before, but this time- they were waiting and they were paying attention and when it happened, they were ready to receive the power that came with it.
The disciples started speaking in different languages because they were in a cosmopolitan center. There were people at every turn who spoke a different langauge and desperately needed to hear this good news about God’s love. The gospel had been opened up to everyone.
The good news had always been open to everyone, but we all need a reminder of that now and then don’t we? There was no reason to be locked up in a room anymore, terrified and afraid and worried that the resurrected Jesus was a ghost. They were set loose on the world, going out to make disciples, to remind everyone that God was love and that Jesus had been the one to demonstrate what love looked like with flesh on.
It’s great that the disciples received the power to speak in other languages, but the meaning behind that is much greater. The disciples could now connect with everyone—God’s radical inclusiveness was growing and the love of God was spreading. No longer, were people separated by language, by culture, by nationality. Everyone had the power of God within them to share and express this love of God.
“On Pentecost day, God spoke outside the walls of temple religiosity and outside the halls of political power. God spoke in the streets. The divine voice manifested in all languages and in all peoples, not just in the imperial Latin of the Roman occupiers who conquered the promised land and not just in the language of the religious elite who restricted access to God with oppressive temple taxes. Rather, God spoke in the vernacular of the everyday and the everywhere.”
But when this happens, things get chaotic because differences make us uncomfortable and can throw us into a tailspin. Sounds like that’s exactly what God was up to on that Pentecost. God was up to getting rid of order and the “way we’ve always done things” and instead, throwing open windows and doors to the possibility of what might be.
I started thinking this week about what languages would be radical for us to speak in Washington, DC in 2013. Certainly many people in this city, even many people in this room speak multiple languages. This morning alone, we’ve worshiped in Spanish and in English. But what are the languages that would actually share the love of God in our city and in our world. What languages would reach out to our neighborhood, to people who long for connection with others and with God?
Perhaps the language of empathy. People long to know someone can sit with them in their pain.
We could all do some work on the language of welcome. Instead of saying who we aren’t, we should say who we are because of the power of Holy Spirit sweeping in and turning everything upsidedown.
Maybe you long for the language of kindness. Think about when you see that moment on the metro when someone stands up to let someone else sit down and the way the goodness of kindness rushes over you.
Others might need the language of hope. If you hear someone else speaking hope, usually we are more likely to believe it.
I wonder too about the language of justice. Around here, we’ve been talking a lot about immigration reform. No one in this country should ever be called “an illegal.” The language of Justice calls us to recognize that language matters and the dignity of life is at stake.
I think most people in this city need the language of community. The way we speak this to one another is allowing life on life to happen. We eat together, we celebrate together, we cry together. We even share our doubts together. We are a better Jesus-following crew when we do it together.
And there’s always the language of love. Maybe that’s the one we all need a little more work on because the others seems to flow naturally from it.
There are consequences to speaking in these languages though—the doors of the church get thrown open. People different from us start showing up with different ideas and thoughts about how to do things. Certainly, the disciples dealt with this on that birth day of the church.
The power came sweeping in, welcoming everyone, but then that meant…they had to welcome everyone. Our stories of encounters with God are radical and life-altering. They point us toward the light, toward God and toward one another. But so do our languages.
Our resurrection stories find completion in the day of Pentecost. The power has come rushing in, setting us free and flinging wide the doors of love and welcome to the church. It’s our job to keep listening for those languages, practicing them and figuring out what new languages we need to learn to speak to make sure the doors of the church are flung open every day, not just on pentecost. It’s hard work and I know that together, we can do it, bringing more love, more peace and more justice to this world.
The disciples and those gathered that day sat around a table and probably broke bread together. It sounds familiar to the story I shared about the church in Vienna. Fire came in and caused utter and complete chaos and disorder.
We’re going to make a little chaos of our own this morning and remember that feeling of power being created when people came together to create something bigger than themselves. I assure you that fire is not involved though. I’m sure you’ve been wondering what these t-shaped bars are up here. Each of you has a strip of fabric, if you need one, raise your hand and an usher will bring you one.
Together, we will create a visual representation of what all of us coming together on Pentecost looks like in art. In a few moments, you’ll be invited forward to loop your ribbon around the bars. We’ll end up with a beautiful display of flowing fabric, catching the wind of God’s spirit as we carry it out into the world this week.
As you come forward and loop on your fabric, consider what language you represent and which language of God you need to work on. We bring ourselves and our stories to this place to share the power of God’s love.
 MaryAnn McKibben Dana, The Blue Room, “A Pentecost from the Archives” http://theblueroomblog.org/a-pentecost-from-the-archives/
 David Henson, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2013/05/the-divine-protest-of-pentecost/