Wednesday, 29 May 2013 00:00

"Pentecost", May 26, 2013

Acts 2:1-17
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
May 26, 2013
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

The feast of Pentecost.  The birthday of the church.  The day when we celebrate the Spirit’s visit to those early believers.  Pentecost is the 50th day since the Passover.  Each year it’s on a different day, just like Easter. Pentecost is a Greek word for 50. The Jewish people called it the feast of weeks, to celebrate the 10 commandments. In the UK it’s also called Whitsun.   Most of the world celebrated this last week, but we don’t do things like everyone else.

The Hebrew people gathered like they did every year in Jerusalem to remember the coming of the law upon the land.  The 10 commandments.  That was 1500 years or so before and the Jewish people had scattered, seeking refuge in countries that would take them in.  But on Pentecost they came back to remember what united them.  They came back to where it all started.  They came back to Jerusalem, that city on a hill.  They came back, remembering their heritage, but not recognizing each other. They used to know Hebrew, way back in the day, but that language was a relic of a time long gone. They fumbled around, trying to find people they knew who could speak their language. It was supposed to be a joyous time of reunion, but it was chaotic and confusing—kinda like your first time to the State Fair, when you go on sensory overload, a sugar high and wonder where all of the strange-talking people came from.

That’s when it happened. Some said it was a lightening bolt.  Others said it was a mighty wind, still others thought they had been drinking too much and too early.  But whatever happened, suddenly the languages didn’t seem to matter for they could understand each other.  Something happened that was above language.  Better than language.  That’s what we celebrate on Pentecost.  That something happened that makes us see each other with new eyes. The prophet Joel even says our women see visions, our men clear their eyes, and our sons and daughters prophesy—we heard that last part last week (maybe that was Pentecost after all).


This is my first opportunity to preach since the marriage votes in the House and Senate paved the way for the new marriage equality law in Minnesota.  I was able to be there when the Senate voted.  I joined other clergy in helping lead singing in the Rotunda as we awaited the votes to come in.  “We are praying in the light of God…We are singing in the light of God…O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…Going to the Chapel/Temple/Capital/Courthouse and we’re gonna get married…”

It was pretty well assured that it would pass and when it did, the place was electric.  But it was electric with energy and excitement and inspiration the whole time.  People weren’t really worried, they wanted to be there when history was made.  I saw tears of joy, hugs and kisses through all of the cheers. My friend Kelli Clement told me a story about being there when the House voted.  That was the first vote and it was much more precarious.  There was a similar crowd watching the television sets in the corridors, singing and chanting in the rotunda, busily checking their smart phones, biding time until the vote was to be taken.  As the speakers were finishing and the vote as being taken, one of the clergy said “let’s pray”. So there in the rotunda 25 or so clergy and other religiously minded folks joined hands in a circle of prayer, reflection, hope and even fear. While they stood there with their eyes closed, the roar started signaling the passage of the bill.  Kelli said she felt lifted off the ground and bathed in that joyful spirit. For a person that’s not used to winning, it was a great day. That’s what Pentecost must have been like. No wonder there were 3000 conversions that day.

Pentecost is like seeing the lilacs and apple trees in bloom, smelling the fragrance, like pheromones in the air, wondering what will emerge next.  For once, we can understand all things.  We wonder, and it suddenly makes sense, maybe for the first time.  It seldom lasts, but we long for that first breath of spring air, that inspiration—there’s a word for you.  The spirit in you.  We wait and we long for it, we even try to predict it, but it seldom works out that easily.  Thank God.  For we might well be too tightly wound that we won’t let the spirit in.  We might be so formal and task oriented that an inspiration will seem like an annoyance.  How can we leave ourselves open to the spirit?

When have you been so enthused, so sure that you are on God’s side?  So sure that you and God were so in sync?  If you can remember such a time, then you have been touched by the Spirit of God. The Spirit inspires us, but also draws us beyond our old comfortable boundaries.  We hug complete strangers and we dare to imagine a better world.

And what did the early church do with that inspiration?  They immediately sold their goods so that no one would be hungry.  That didn’t last either, but we celebrate the inspiration that made us imagine something so radical—and we try to recapture that.

The Pope even said that all people should do good and that God loves everyone without exception.  Meaning, love everyone without making them pass a religious litmus test.  Love everyone without passing a political litmus test. Love everyone in spite of themselves.  There’s a saying at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.  They say “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Let’s try that.

The Pope got a little Pentecostal spirit on.  Here’s a bit of what he said.  It doesn’t sound very Pope-y

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God…And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

The Pope also added that nonbelievers could be redeemed through good works despite their lack of faith.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” he said. “If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

In March, Pope Francis said atheists and nonbelievers could be “precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of (humanity), in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

Jesuit Father James Martin, said that such teachings had long been a part of the church. “But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy,” he added. “And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”

That sounds like Pentecost to me.

The lead singer of U2, Bono, said at a 2006 National Prayer Breakfast, "Stop asking God to bless what you're doing. Get involved in what God is doing--because it's already blessed."

On Pentecost we celebrate Spirit, wind and fire. But not all fire and winds are good.

We remember the fire that engulfed West Texas last month.

There was a mighty wind that hit Oklahoma this past week.  It was so strong that it knocked down most of the town of Moore.  I don’t believe that God is in the wind or fire as a destructive force.  I might fear that God, but I don’t think I would praise that God.  I think that God is there in the aftermath, picking up the pieces.  God is there as people drop what they are doing and race toward Moore so they can do more.

The Spirit of God is evident when people do what they don’t think they can do.  What do you think is impossible, that is also incredibly good news?  I bet the Holy Spirit is lurking there, too.

When I see these balloons, I think of the Zach Sobiech song which is now #1 on iTunes.  “You go up, up, up but I’ll fly a little higher.  We’ll go up in the clouds because the view’s a little nicer.”  Zach died on Monday of osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  He was 18.  He spent the past few years writing songs to help out those struggling with loss.

So much of Pentecost is about understanding someone different from us.  Few of us know what it’s like to suffer cancer as a teenager, but young Zach taught us by setting his reflections to music.  And we felt his spirit this past week as he soared to the clouds.

He said, “you don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living”.  That’s what he wanted to leave behind.

So how do we live in the Spirit this Pentecost season?  How do we recognize our visitation from God?  How do we celebrate the change in our hearts, in our lives?  Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes, our children prophesy.

Might we seek to understand someone different from us?  
Might we seek to make friends out of our enemies?

Might we seek to build bridges, strong bridges that will last?

Might we look at the possibilities of hope instead of the probabilities of failure?

Might we unleash the passion of the spirit instead of passing up an opportunity to be better than we have been.

Might that Pentecost spirit live in us and grant us the vision to see peace on earth.

That would be a mighty wind worth all of our weary years, worthy of our silent tears. Remembering that God hast brought us thus far on the way.

Thou who hast by thy might led us into the light:
Keep us forever on thy path we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places our God where we met thee.
Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand
True to our God, true to our native land.