Day of Pentecost
Year C, RCL
June 9, 2019
North Fork Ministries
John 14:8-17 (25-27)
Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."
["I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."]
Pentecost is an essential part of God’s project for the world. The project began, or at least humankind’s role in that project, with the dawn of consciousness – when man awakened to his own existence and the existence of those around him. The mechanism of biological evolution played a decisive role in the creation of human society. Humans care for their offspring for a long time. It takes many years of nurturing by parents, before our children are able to take care of themselves. And so the need for strong family ties developed – for parents who care for their children and for each other. Families whose offspring were cared for, and survived to have children of their own, were naturally selected for through the process of evolution. Extended families and clans evolved in the same way. Humans who gathered into kinship groups were able to care and protect their members from outsiders and to thrive. Clans evolved into tribes and the larger, more inclusive nature of these groups gave them an evolutionary advantage over non-aligned peoples. Eventually, kingdoms formed, within which, ever-widening circles of people who chose not to fight among themselves, prospered. Eventually, the nation state developed and thrived for the same reasons – providing a line of defense from those outside the nation’s boundaries.
In the Old Testament, a similar process can be seen – where the Yahweh of a primitive tribal people, evolved into the more expansive and inclusive Jehovah, who guided the people of Israel, so that all the world might prosper.
As Christians, we recognize the teachings and ministry of Jesus as a major turning point in this process. It was Jesus who gave us a new way of thinking about the presence of the Divine within the human. Jesus, who repeatedly expanded our conception of who is our neighbor by reaching out to the Gentiles and those at the margins of society. But it was St. Paul, who really got the ball rolling and brought God’s project to our attention, by proclaiming that there was no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. Paul proclaimed that that we are all one in Christ and that the divine spark exists within us all.
In the United States, this path toward recognition that we are all connected and that God’s spirit inhabits us all has been moving forward - albeit with fits and starts. We began as a nation with largely Protestant origins, with deep divisions among the Puritans, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, and the Church of England, but we were a people who put their varying theologies aside for the sake of national unity. Immigrants from southern Europe, largely Roman Catholic, initially faced harsh discrimination. Later, each successive wave of immigrants, whether from Germany, Ireland, Italy or Poland were initially treated as outsiders. Our first response, whenever we as a society feel threatened, is to react with the primitive impulses that first led us to seek safety in the clan.
But overall the progression toward inclusiveness has been moving forward. Slavery was abolished. Women gained the right to vote. The civil rights movement and integration made racial discrimination more difficult. And we now live in a day, to the surprise of many, when couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, can be fully accepted and their marriages recognized by the church and the state.
The question facing us now, is do we move forward along that path, or do we allow the impulsive, primitive fear of the outsider to prevent us from fully embracing the path of liberation, the spirit of Pentecost, that God has prepared for us?
A couple of weeks ago on the radio program, “This American Life”, Ira Glass interviewed a young man, Brett, who recounted his experience on a crowded subway platform during rush hour. As he waited for his train, he noticed a guy, fairly well dressed, not homeless, walking up to every person standing at the platform, saying something to them, and then continuing on to the next person. As he grew closer he could hear that the guy was telling each person he encountered that they could stay or they had to go. They were in, or they were out. The guy would look each person over and say, “You can stay” or “You’re out” or “You’re gone.” or “You’re okay, you can stay.”
People wouldn’t leave. Nobody argued with him. They just watched as he moved on to the next person. And as Brett tells the story, “These are the last few people before he reaches me. The 50-ish woman in the business suit and thick glasses is summarily dismissed. The homey in the baggy shorts and Chicago Bulls jersey makes the cut. The young immigrant mother who seems not to grasp the import of this moment is given the OK…. The bookish man in the maroon cardigan sweater with balding head and red face is cut loose with particular relish.”
And as he watches the guy move closer to him, Brett becomes a little nervous and aware of the fact that he is about to be included or excluded. And he finds himself hoping that he will be given the thumbs up – even though the guy has no particular authority, and he has no idea what he might be included in or excluded from.
“So the guy walks up to Brett, stands actually a little too close to him, looks in his eyes and says, ‘you can stay’. And Brett felt euphoria, a small euphoria sure. In his mind, he knew there's no reason to feel so good about this, but in his heart, it made him feel really, really happy.”
And then, Brett writes in his blog, “I find myself against my own better judgment, now looking with some disdain and perhaps a tinge of pity upon those who didn't make the cut.”
Brett’s experience is not unique. All of us desire to be included. And, truth be known, we don’t want to be excluded even from groups that we never wanted to join in the first place. We just want to be accepted. And that desire to be included applies to everyone, regardless of the language spoken, the color of your skin, or your sexual orientation.
We, the people of Holy Trinity and Redeemer, are on the frontier, the exciting edges of that evolution – uniquely called to embrace the very spirit of Pentecost. We can hang on to a fear of diversity still present in the larger community, or we can stand with the original witnesses to Pentecost, “amazed and astonished.” It takes courage to practice the hope of Pentecost in a world dominated by fear. On that day, the Holy Spirit moved among diverse cultures and religions weaving them together.
On today’s Pentecost we stand together in witness of the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit, working to bring together all humanity, celebrating our differences, and uniting us in God’s holy purpose.