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Pentecost Sunday A Sermon
Acts 2:1-21
May
31, 2020

 

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Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Spirit … Wind … Breath … in the Biblical languages, these are all the same word: Ruah in Hebrew, Pneuma in Greek. Spirit … wind … breath They all bring things to life! The Holy Spirit brought those gathered in one place to life, speaking languages that they shouldn’t know and witnessing to the mighty acts of God. A tube of plastic with a face painted on the top is lifeless laying on the ground; but turn on the fan and the wind brings it to life, dancing for all who drive by used car lots everywhere. And these shells that we call bodies are alive when we have breath that fills our lungs, brings oxygen to our blood and is delivered to all of our organs and every part of our body. Spirit … wind … breath. This word is an important one for us as we commemorate Pentecost once again this year.

And yet, these are words that have taken on new connotations for us now. When a virus rides the microscopic particles that we pass to each other through our breath, it is not a life-giving spirit. And when we see an African-American man held down on the ground for 9 minutes, a knee to his neck while he tries to tell the police officer on top of him that he can’t breathe, it is certainly not life-giving. I don’t know about you, but I take a step back to see just what systems in our society are life-giving to all people, and which ones only give life to a privileged class, race, gender or other classification of people.

As we consider the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the world today, we are called as the church – the people gathered by that very spirit – to examine our lives and the world and how the presence of a spirit, wind and breath of destruction exists right alongside the live giving one. These first Christians were about to face a great deal of persecution in their lives as they witnessed to the presence of the breath that gives life to all people, including (as Paul put it) Jew and Greek, slave and free … and the ones whose languages were heard spoken by these Galileans: the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Judeans, Cappadocians, Mesopotamians, and the rest. The life-giving spirit of God knows no classifications that we human beings have always placed on each other, and that now seem to divide us even more: essential, vulnerable, mask-wearer, Trumpster, liberal, conservative, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Cop, protester … the life-giving spirit of God does not care about those labels. As a matter of fact, the wind of the spirit is in the process of blowing those things away, because they only serve to identify who is our friend and worthy of our time and attention, and who is our enemy, that we should use all of our power to destroy, personally, financially, reputation or however we can. The breath that it takes to spew hatred toward those who we consider different and dangerous runs contrary to the Holy Spirit, and that makes it the target of the church’s witness to the love of Jesus Christ still present and active in the world.
It grieves me that there are still such winds of destruction blowing. That the air is not only filled with a dangerous virus that we are trying to protect ourselves against, but it is also full of hatred, shouts, tear gas, smoke and threats. While I am deeply grieved by the destruction that is happening in our own city today, I know that when a person or group of people feel afraid, threatened, and that their voices are not being heard, conditions are ripe for the growth of those winds of destruction to blow. When people like this destroy property out of desperation and attention, it is like throwing gasoline on the fire. And yet, even Martin Luther King Jr., champion of non-violent protests and movements, said that riots are the language of the unheard.

Spirit … wind … breath. Can you hear the cries of those who only want to be part of the family? Can you hear the voices of those who we say we love and yet they live in fear? People of God, can you feel the life-giving spirit moving you to speak in tongues that you may never have known is in your vocabulary and act in ways that you might not have thought you could so that the love of Jesus can spread like the wildfire that burst into that room on the first Pentecost day and rested over the heads of those gathered there? This is a day to pray to that same spirit, wind and breath to bring life and boldness into the church so that the winds of destruction may be blocked,
and the love of the life-giving Holy Spirit will reign.

When someone asks the question of these disciples in Acts 2, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” it infers that they are country bumpkins; simple backwater people, not world travelers. They would have never had the opportunity to travel to Rome, let alone Parthia, Libya or Pamphylia. And Medes would be right out! The Medeans lived in the north and west parts of what is now Iran, and they had been pretty much erased from existence in 549 BC when Cyrus the Persian wiped them out! Why would Luke, the author of this account, say that there were Medes alongside people of cultures that were still around at that time? Why mention people who had not been alive for centuries in the languages spoken and understood? One of my favorite Pentecost images comes at the end of the movie, “Places in the Heart” with Sallie Field. It is about a widow woman and her two small children in the depression who struggle to keep their cotton farm in the face of overwhelming obstacles. The closing scene is in a church where the congregation is made up of all sorts of people, living and dead – Edna’s husband, shot early in the film, and the lynched African American boy who killed him, the blind boarder she took in and the KKK who tried to intimidate her. There are others from the film, singing and taking communion together as one church family, living and dead. Just like the presence of people from Medes on that original Pentecost Day, this scene reminds me that the church transcends all boundaries, including distance, culture and even death.

I invited you folks to send me a picture this week of you wearing your best Pentecost red. I received about a dozen pictures and printed them out. But there is more to my little exercise than seeing you here in this virtual gathering. I went to old church picture directories and found some photos of people who were wearing red in some of them. Some are people who are probably worshiping along with us at home right now. Others are people that I know do not have internet access and would love to be with us right now. Some are people who have completed their servanthood in this life and, like the Medes, are no more. There are some other unique pictures in our pews as well. George Floyd’s picture is there. Ahmaud Arbery, the man shot in Georgia in February. And Breonna Taylor, the woman that was shot by police in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky. These are people who have never stepped foot in this sanctuary during their earthly lives, and yet, we share the same spirit … wind … breath. I have also put pictures of two local officers killed in the line of duty, Officer Morelli and Officer Joering of the Westerville Police Department. I don’t discount the difficulty of the job of law enforcement, and when they are killed in the line of duty, we grieve the presence of the winds of destruction just as much as we are now.

We could put the pictures of many others here – Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, of all colors, genders, ages and creeds. Like it or not, as a Pentecost church, we share solidarity with all, especially with those who experience the winds of destruction in their lives more often than the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. And as such, we are called to use the breath in our lungs to promote life and love through Jesus Christ. Spirit … wind … breath. Ruah. Pneuma. Even as we are separated by space we still breath the same air – lifegiving air!! May the power of the Holy Spirit blow through our world as we witness to the life and love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.