Celebration of Pentecost Acts 2
Many years ago now, my husband's parents lived in South Korea. Todd and I decided to go visit them for a summer and one of my goals was to go to the United Methodist Church in Seoul-- a church of more than ten thousand people. About halfway through the summer we figured out how to get there and showed up on the doorstep of this enormous auditorium. I had expected to go and not understand much, but instead we were whisked away to the foreigner section, where they had headphones at the ready. We sat down, put on our headphones, and had our choice of listening to the service in Spanish, German, French, English, Chinese, Japanese, and several more. As I sat that day, participating in worship and watching as thousands of people spoke all different languages in prayer and song and responsive readings, it just felt right to have all kinds of people from all over the world, each hearing God's Word in our own native language.
So often on Pentecost we focus on the imagery of the Holy Spirit-- how it was like flames of fire; how it sounded like a rushing wind-- and we forget what the actions of the Holy Spirit looked like. The disciples have been waiting for this Spirit; waiting to see what it would be like and what would happen next. Waiting, as we heard last week, because they are expecting God to restore the Kingdom to Israel. But instead of focusing on Israel-- instead of bringing God's chosen people to the forefront of what is happening-- the Spirit widens the circle. This circle of who are God's chosen people, that started with Abraham and Sarah and then later expanded to all Israelites as Moses led them out of slavery, and then in Jesus' ministry began to include all kinds of people-- non-Judeans; Roman soldiers; the blind; the lame; those imprisoned; women; children-- the circle keeps getting wider and wider but on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit does something that will change life forever-- the Spirit moves on those followers of Jesus, enabling them to speak in all the languages of the people who are in Jerusalem that day-- pilgrims, we are told, from all over the world-- and they are so astonished at hearing God's Word in their own native tongues, that they rush over to see what is happening with these people. They have heard God's Word for themselves, needing no translation, and everyone who is present is in awe.
James McIntyre writes that the Holy Spirit is the unlimited imagination of God. The unlimited imagination of God-- and it is so creative in its approach that everyone who witnesses this Spirit is amazed because they are all able to hear God's love for themselves. If God had wanted to create a wonderful club, the Spirit would've given those followers of Jesus confidence, resources, and the knowledge that they are right. But God wanted to create the church-- so those early followers of Jesus, though they are afraid, have very little, and know they can't rely on themselves, are given the Holy Spirit so that these diverse people from all over the world will hear God's Word for themselves. Where we see only problems-- cultural barriers, language barriers, racial divides-- the Spirit sees God's world as it was intended-- where all people are able to communicate; to hear one another; and to speak God's Word to each other.
In a recent article in the United Methodist Interpreter, Bishop Will Willimon said that while the United Methodist Church is a big tent; and while we are having a difficult time right now with having to deal with all the different opinions and ideas that are out there about how to restructure ourselves and what to do with people who are doing this or that, the truth is, as Pentecost so aptly shows us, that we are not nearly diverse enough. We fall FAR short of the Holy Spirit's actions on that day of Pentecost.
While we are so focused on separating ourselves into our comfort circles based on language or skin color or culture or town you grew up in or religion or being straight or gay or cigender or transgender or educated or poor or middle class or on social media or not-- while we spend millions of dollars a year separating out who is who and who's not me, the Holy Spirit is always at work joining people together; giving people the tools needed to truly hear each other; building up community. You see the Holy Spirit is not ours. It may be a gift from God, but it is not a privilege of the church. The Holy Spirit creates church-- creates true community-- wherever it goes, and when the community that we call the church focuses inward on ourselves and what we can do for us, the Holy Spirit blows into another community, into another people, until the time when we get frustrated with our own limits, our own short sightedness, our own lack of imagination, and pray once again for the Spirit to come.
The Holy Spirit isn't interested in our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit calls us out of ourselves-- out of the safety of the upper room-- out of our own abilities-- and unites us with people we may never otherwise interact with, so that God's love can be made known to all of us.
I want you to find a pen or pencil in this moment. We are living in a time and place in which we are encouraged day in and day out to only interact with people who think like us or people with whom we agree. That may be what the world is encouraging us to do, but if we truly want to experience the Holy Spirit and be a part of the Spirit splitting this world open for new and wondrous things to happen, then we as followers of Christ, are called to something different. I want you to write down on a piece of paper-- you can write on your bulletin or an offering envelope or your hand if you need to-- write down two people you know who are completely different from you-- could be a coworker, someone you see at the bus stop when you're driving around, a neighbor, the cashier at the grocery store... It may even be your sister or your uncle. Two people who are not like you at all. And I want you to pray for those two people and look for an opportunity in the next month to build your relationship with them.
This is the work the Holy Spirit calls us to-- to continue widening the circle of God's grace; to be able to admit where our comfort zone is, and then to pray for the Spirit to give us what we need to step outside of it so that we can experience God's love fully and so can the rest of the world. It's what this communion table is all about-- all of us coming to the same place-- to God's table-- to receive the grace we need for today, to recognize God's Spirit in our neighbor, and to be reconciled to one another.
Perhaps our cheer earlier in the worship service should’ve been: We want Spirit, yes we do. We want Spirit— how about you?!?
May we be chosen by the Holy Spirit as people who are open and willing to step out of our comfort zones and be the body of Christ in this world.