NOTE: the following are my word-for-word notes from Pentecost Sunday’s sermon.
Here we are… Sunday, May 28. Memorial Day weekend…
the unofficial start of Summer!
I’ve been counting down something else… my daughter’s wedding. She’s getting married in 35 days.
Yo, people, Ima need lots of love. Big hugs. And gift cards. Joking. Not really.
Staying with the countdown theme…
It’s been 50 days of Easter, 50 days of celebrating our Savior’s resurrection. Over the course of these weeks, we’ve been looking at the conversations, interactions, and encounters Jesus had with his friends and followers over these post-resurrection days before his ascension.
Last Sunday was Ascension Sunday.
Today, a week later, it’s Pentecost.
Penta- means 50.
Christ has been risen for 50 days. Christ ascended into the heavenly realm – the Kingdom of God, to the heavenly throne where he rules and reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Before his ascension, Jesus had instructed his friends and followers to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit.
Here’s what happened next:
1 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.
2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.
3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
5 At that time there were those from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages!
9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia,
10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome
11a (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs.
11b And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. 13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, friends and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this.
15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The Word of God, for the People of God, Thanks Be to God.
First, I want to mention something rather obvious, but important nonetheless… maps and borders and the names of places and nations change over time. Many of the places people were from that are mentioned in Acts chapter 2 are no longer called those same names. So, here’s the same list updated to reflect the maps we use today:
Iran / Iraq / Syria / Italy / Palestine / Turkey / Egypt / Libya / Saudi Arabia
These modern-day countries are in the following regions:
Western Asia / The Middle East / Europe / Africa
I guess what I’m saying here is that the crowds in Jerusalem when God’s promise was delivered were incredibly diverse. Many different languages, cultures, experiences, and backgrounds are represented… all gathered together.
All hearing in their own languages and dialects.
Listen: God speaks and understands ALL THE LANGUAGES. God enjoys all the spices. And all the beats. All of the sounds and all of the flavors!
The One who created this diverse and beautiful world also loves and understands all its complexity, nuance, and variation.
God is not color blind. God is color brave. And we’re God’s kids, so we can be the same. Amen.
John Bell, the Scottish minister, hymn writer, and Iona community member has said:
“You must realize that your life is not the only significant life in the world. By calling a community together like this, you begin to understand that God—who made us all in God’s image—has this amazing ability to create great diversity in humanity. One of our supreme joys should be just talking with other folk—unlikely folk. If we only mix with people of our own sort, then we miss so much about life’s great beauty.”
Um-hum. That’s right. Not blind, but brave. Amen.
So, here’s what Pentecost reveals to us…
#1. Our faith is in Jesus—who always delivers on his promises.
Jesus told his friends to wait in Jerusalem for the promise. Pentecost reveals we can always depend on the promises of God.
Jesus promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Jesus promised the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to come, be with us, empower us, dwell within us, abide…
You see, the promises of God are Yes and Amen. What God promises—is good, what God promises—is good for us. What God promises—God is good to deliver. Always. And forever.
Let me remind you of just a few of God’s promises…
You are loved with an everlasting love. You are exactly what God had in mind when God created you. Nothing shall ever be able to separate you from the love of God. Your sins are forgiven, it is done, it is finished. God remembers your sins no more—and casts them as far as the east is from the west. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He will never leave you nor forsake you. You are a child of God. The beloved of God. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! Joy unspeakable and full of glory. And surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!
Do God’s promises always come about? Yes.
Do God’s promises always come about at the exact moment we expected them to? No.
Does God sometimes call us to pray, wait, and trust? Yes.
Our faith is a faith that trusts in the promises of God.
Yes! And Amen.
Let’s keep going… here’s what Pentecost reveals to us:
2. Our faith is an evolving faith.
Do you ever find yourself surprised by the date? It’s 2023!
Maybe I’m just super old… I was born in the 1970’s. Sometimes, when I hear about some initiative, like to be carbon neutral by 2035, it sounds like some future portrayed in an imaginative science fiction film… 2001: A Space Odyssey
The agrarian cultures of Palestine and the middle East within the first century, their social and political challenges, their rudimentary scientific and medical concepts, the threats of leprosy and other untreatable diseases, the patriarchy and slavery and physical violence.
It’s a challenge to find commonalities between our world and theirs. Like, would Jesus have attracted any followers at all if everyone in first century Palestine had iPhones in their hands and soccer games on Sundays?
If we are to have an authentic faith, are we expected to go back in time? Should we grow our beards and wear tunics and sandals and only eat Kosher foods?
No. God is not interested in our cosplay.
Afterall, Jesus is the Alpha and Omega… the beginning and the end. The one who created everything and holds all things together and knows all things and is bringing about his good and perfect plan for his cherished creation.
God does not need us to speak King James English in order for us to be heard.
God never needs us to pretend we are someone else, or from some other era, in order for us to be seen, heard, received, understood, and loved.
You see, the Ancient of Days is also the God of New Mercies every morning.
Just because God is eternal, this does not mean God is dusty, musty, or rusty. This God of ours is very much alive, dynamic, real, present, fresh, in the here and the now.
Things in our world and in our lives change. And that’s all part of God’s plan. Expect to be surprised. Develop a sense of awe, curiosity, and wonder. Refuse to box God in. Think of faith as an ongoing discovery, rather than something fixed and finished.
Our faith is an expanding faith. It’s always broadening, reaching further, going beyond, taking us to new places and to new people. The goal of faith isn’t to become more and more narrow, but to walk with God in all the fullness of life.
The way things are now does not determine the scope of our future.
With God, all things are possible!
I’m not God. And neither are you. But God is with us and we are with God and that means I have possibilities and so do you.
Yeah. We got possibilities.
The end isn’t the end. It’s not over. It’s not pre-determined. It’s not fate.
There are limitless possibilities and God is inviting us to open our eyes once again to see what could be…
In our lives. In our relationships. In our church. In our families. In our community. In our world.
A new morning, a new day, a new beginning, a new year…
Over and over again, we are invited to step across the threshold into the NEW.
And the new is not yet fully discovered, nor realized. It is the wide-open, spacious place where possibility abounds.
We got possibilities.
With every breath. As each second pulls us forward. Anticipation builds in our hearts. Curiosity. Awe. Wonder. Openness. Taking joyful delight in discovery. Being drawn toward the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Yes, there is that existential dread that creeps up with its darkness all around us and stifles our progress…
And yes, there is the fear of the unknown that chills our bones and diminishes our resolve…
And yes, there is this constant noise and chatter and continual rage of the talking heads over the airwaves that overwhelms and brings us to complete inactivity…
And yet, the newness of each breath, each second, each sunrise, each day, every new step, each beat of the heart, every new year…
They light up the darkness and give us hope.
They whisper, “We got possibilities!”
As Howard Thurman said,
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied…
God is at work.
Yeah, that’s right. We got possibilities!
There is a line in the Psalms that is particularly meaningful to me, because it reflects my own journey… my escape from the fundamentalism of my upbringing to the place where I am now in my relationship with God and people.
Psalm 18.19 says: He brought me out into a wide-open, spacious place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
Over the course of many years, I have wrestled with the faith I was taught. I searched and I read and I listened and I sat with the tension and with God. I moved unnecessary road blocks to the side and focused on what really matters. Some call it deconstruction. I like to think of it as an ambitious remodeling project.
My faith has been updated, strengthened, been brought up to code. It’s a faith for today with a bright hope for tomorrow.
There’s a spaciousness to this faith. It’s not a relic to be preserved and observed from behind protective glass. It’s not merely a longing for and appreciation of some romanticized golden age of the past.
In the Old Testament, there’s a story of Abraham’s relative named Lot and his wife who were called by God to leave some things behind and move forward… they were told not to look back as they went. Lot’s wife couldn’t help herself. She longed for what was. She looked back and instantly turned into a statue—a pillar of salt.
Now I don’t know if this is literal or mythological… a story told to give the truth of a concept, rather than a historical record. To me, it doesn’t matter either way. Because the truth is there.
There is no life to be had in the past. God is here with us now. And God is always calling us forward, never back.
He brought me out into a wide-open, spacious place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
I realize my wild -n- free take on the Christian faith may strike fear in the hearts of those still living within various versions of Christian fundamentalism, Christianity co-opted by nationalism and/or a political party.
I don’t expect everyone to understand my hunger for reading / studying/ learning / growing… or why I would love Catholics and Episcopalians and rap music… and believe that black lives do in fact matter… but I sure do love walking with Jesus in this wild and free place.
Continuing on… Here’s what Pentecost reveals to us:
3. Our faith is an inclusive faith
Why did God want everyone to hear and understand in their own language, their own specific dialect? Because God does not want anyone excluded.
For God so loved the… (pause) WORLD!
Who is God excluding from God’s love?
Our faith is an inclusive faith because we serve the God who included us!
Father Gregory Boyle, in his book Barking to the Choir, wrote:
Like most utterances of Jesus in the Gospel, “I will not leave you as orphans” is not just supposed to fill us with consolation but to be received as an invitation. It seems to say, “As I won’t leave you an orphan, don’t you leave anyone behind.” We are meant to hear in these words a call to seek out the isolated, the rejected, the abandoned. Then we are meant to walk toward them, with open arms, and bring them in to the place of belonging. This is the essential task of the church.
There are two hundred references in Scripture that ask us to take special care of the poor. I’m guessing, then, it’s important.
It is this preferential care and love for the poor that sets the stage for the original program. It doesn’t draw lines—it erases them. It rises above the polarizing temperature of our times. It doesn’t shake its finger at anybody but instead helps us all put our finger on it. We could ask ourselves, I suppose, if God is a conservative or liberal, but I think that’s the wrong question. Instead we should ask: is God expansive or tiny? Is God spacious or shallow? Is God inclusive or exclusive? What are the chances that God holds the same tiny point of view as I do? Well, zero.
Dang, Father G. That’s soooooo good.
And so, we expand our view. We take note of who God is including and we get in on the agenda.
We decide not to turn our backs on those whom God has embraced.
For God so loved the WORLD.
This means our faith is an inclusive faith, not because we’re so wonderful and understanding, not because we’re so gracious and loving, not because we’re so merciful and forgiving, not because we see the whole scope of eternity and understand the mind of God…
Our faith is an inclusive faith because our God is an inclusive God.
1 John 2.2
Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven, and not our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world.
Who is God excluding from God’s love? (pause)
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen as his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.
Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, advocating for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, angels nor demons, our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even all the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Another word for separate is exclude.
What shall exclude anyone from God’s love? Anything in the earth or in the heavens above? Who shall exclude anyone from God’s love?
Nothing. And nobody.
Nothing shall separate. No one shall exclude.
Our faith is an inclusive faith because our God is an inclusive God. This is the Good News, the very Good News. Amen!
Moving forward… Here’s what Pentecost reveals to us:
4. Our faith is broad and diverse ON PURPOSE
Maya Angelou said:
In diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their color.
In diversity there is beauty and strength. Yes. And that’s how God made us. On purpose.
In both my upbringing and in my university and seminary theological education, I was only given books to read that were written by white western men. Nothing from women. Nothing from people of color.
The unspoken message was clear: only white western men have anything authoritative to say about God.
Which, when I think about it today, just cracks me up. The audacity of it.
The oldest Christian churches and paintings and records in the world are in Ethiopia.
Do you remember the places people in Acts chapter 2 were from… those people who had gathered in Jerusalem, those who heard the words of God in their own languages and specific dialects?
They were from…
Iran / Iraq / Syria / Italy / Palestine / Turkey / Egypt / Libya / Saudi Arabia
This is why, when I read, when I study, when I reference a work, when I quote someone, when I share a story or insight in a sermon that is not my own, I make sure it includes women and people of color and those who are outside my tribe and denomination. Otherwise, we’d only be drawing from a plugged up, stagnant, narrow source.
Biblical Scholar Bart Ehrman, said:
“There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty.”
And just how exactly does inbred religious certainty come about? By only ever listening to, reading, and believing the same small group of influences.
Yuck. I can’t do that. I need some air.
Sometimes, people assume their particular church or denomination has the corner on the market for truth. That everyone else is misguided and prolly going to hell for it.
I must say: this perspective is both lazy and incredibly intellectually dishonest.
The church has been around for some 2,000 years.
Our protestant version has only been on the scene for about 500 years.
And most of our tribes today, like ours, are only about 200 years old.
We come from that 2,000 year history – we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to the life of faith.
Our way has not ever been the only way. Our songs have not ever been the only songs. Our traditions have not ever been the only traditions. Our insights have not ever been the only insights.
Therefore, we will not be narrow minded. We will acknowledge the gift we have received… the stories, the examples, the heritage of faith, the songs and books that have been written. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.
Because our faith is not a brand that we own. It is a bloodline we inherited. It is gift and it is grace.
We have discovered that we are part of a larger story, God’s great plan…
We are threads in a tapestry, woven into something much greater than ourselves.
God’s family is large, broad, rich, diverse, and beautiful.
Our faith is broad and diverse ON PURPOSE.
Yeah. We’re getting there…. Here’s what Pentecost reveals to us:
5. Our faith is a bridge-building faith
Our status as the beloved of God makes us brothers and sisters with those who are from different tribes, different cultures, different backgrounds, different nations.
The Spirit of God is building bridges between us – the bridge of curiosity, the bridge of welcome, the bridge of hospitality, the bridge of compassion, the bridge of empathy, the bridge of understanding.
Our faith does not require fences. It depends on bridges.
I was in a meeting recently and felt like the odd man out. Like I didn’t belong.
When I complained to a trusted older friend about it, he listened for a moment, then said… “Maybe we’re supposed to be focused on what’s common between us, rather than our differences. Brian, just get over it.”
How do you argue with truth? I didn’t try.
Maybe we’re supposed to focus on what’s common between us, rather than our differences.
And whatever’s bugging you about someone else? Just get over it. That’ll preach!
Our faith does not require fences. It depends on bridges. Our faith is a bridge-building faith. AMEN.
Alright. Finally. Here’s what Pentecost reveals to us:
6. Our faith is an empowering, liberating, justice-delivering faith
Immediately, as this new and diverse collection of people begin gathering as the Christian Church, they are faced with how to care for one another…
How to meet the needs.
How to bring freedom.
How to ensure justice for all.
How to empower, especially those who had been given no power before.
This final point reminds me of our theme as a church this year:
—Grace, for Everyone
—Love, the Eternal One
—Liberation for all, Every Injustice Undone
Grace is our orientation
Love is our motivation
And Liberation is our job description
Like the prophecy about Pentecost…
‘In these days of the final age,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Amen!
No more being held down because of status. Hierarchy be damned!
God is speaking through women and men, through the young and the old, through the rich and poor.
And the promise of salvation is for everyone…
Remember? We’re supposed to focus on what’s common between us, rather than our differences.
And whatever’s bugging you about someone else? Just get over it.
Because our faith is an empowering, liberating, justice-delivering faith!
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Every person. Every voice. Known and loved by God.
What does Pentecost reveal to us?
Our faith is in Jesus—who always delivers on his promises
Our faith is an evolving faith
Our faith is an inclusive faith
Our faith is broad and diverse ON PURPOSE
Our faith is a bridge-building faith
Our faith is an empowering, liberating, justice-delivering faith
Amen and amen.