Sermon for Day of Pentecost, June 7, 2020
(First Lutheran In Longmont)
It’s been a full few days: Watching the news, talking to my daughter who lives three blocks from Cup Foods in Minneapolis, reading and listening anew to what it’s like—and has been like—to be black in America, confounded by the justification of excessive force and what that has to do with Christianity! ? (Except this confusion about Jesus and Power isn’t anything new since about 300 A.D. when Christianity became one with the Empire of Rome.) But how ironic, given the nature of Jesus’ death: A presumed political agitator who—as God’s expression of love for the whole world—simply did this: Lifted up the lowly and held out healing for everyone.
Dear friends: How I value you and your kindness and your goodness as I think on you. You fill me with hope. Even at this distance, you are Christ to me.
It’s so appropriate that we celebrate Pentecost today: The wind/ Spirit/ breath of God that agitates, gifts, empowers us (get us off our butts) with the energy and tools/ language for being even more-so the people of God in the world. And as much as protests and demonstrations are uncomfortable and—partly thanks to opportunists and also to violence against the demonstrators—even destructive; as the people of God, we get to BE Christ for the world: Be the Church we are called to be: Lift up the lowly and hold out healing for everyone.
And the hard part: This requires personal and social growth and change. I went back to Brian McLaren (whom I heard speak at a Lutheran church and is an author) to frame these days: A former Evangelical Pastor, he says it became very clear to him that the story he was hearing and perpetuating was not the fullness of gospel—or good news. He first noted his culture and came to recognize a society that frames our life together with “stories of superiority that explain why one group should be advantaged to dominate over others. Driven by [fear, vengeance and domination] and bolstered by a feeling of… invulnerable certainty, nations or civilizations can easily become vicious, genocidal, and perhaps even suicidal (p.39).” His data and graphs of things like sky-rocketing income-disparity were a warning some 10 years ago: We need to change—or we will be changed. (One of his books is called “Everything Must Change.”) On the church, he adds, “…the religion, even the religion we are committed to and in which we have found God and purpose and meaning and truth, can become captive to a colossal distortion. It can become a benign and passive chaplaincy to a failing and dysfunctional culture, the religious public relations department for an inadequate and destructive ideology. It can forgo being a force of liberation and transformation and instead become a source of domestication, resignation, pacification and distraction (p.29).” These are the words of a modern prophet, I believe. And now we find ourselves at this crossroads with racism exposed by George Floyd’s death; inequity exposed by a pandemic. (Racism exists, right?)
In English, our word “Conflict” comes from confligere which is literally the spark that starts the fire. In Chinese, however, the written characters for “conflict” are twofold: Danger and Opportunity. The fire on the heads of those gathered in Jerusalem, waiting for the promise that Jesus would send in terms of the Spirit (Acts) and a loving and binding presence (John 16), is both startling and also energizing. It is Danger—as God’s pure presence alway is in the Old Testament—and it is Opportunity to be the conduit of something new in the world: Something that isn’t the same old power-moves of the Empires, but a groundswell of goodness and kindness that changes the Framework and the Stories we tell into something new and much more beautiful. We are given unique tools and gifts for this work.
I see the Spirit at work: In the man in New York who let 80 strangers into his row-house for several hours to shelter as people were running, frightened; in the Minneapolis police who knelt in the street as names were read of black people recently killed unjustly; who shook hands and hugged. I see the Spirit in those—many like my daughter—are both bringing attention to the systemic injustice and also cleaning up after the rioting. As at Pentecost, there are fear and doubt and attempts to cast doubt on the disciples; "they must be drunk." To protest when there is violation and injustice in this incident even as there are attempts to bully and demean and dismiss- is holy work. The Spirit is in the Truth to be spoken and we are the Words. And the Actions.
I hope you remember that a big theme in the talks of Jesus is about kingdom of God—demonstrated in his healings, his acts of abundance, his time spent on the margins of society and his country; and his redirection and compassion for those who wanted to change him or tried to silence him. The kingdom of God is really not anything like a kingdom, I must say. It is something that gives us a glimpse of God’s future, but is also for the here and now. Why else bother with all these languages to speak so that others can understand the good news? That is, we have been set free from our need to acquire and dominate and fear and hate so that we, too, can fully live with our eyes wide open and live together into this new vision. This, will finally be the safest way forward, though it will also change us. Last I checked, this was called “repentance.”
Pentecost brought Jesus to the world. All the world: To those who welcome the news and also to those who don’t or think they already have it. And the news is God’s kind of love. Which does have the power to change the world. This kind of love is certainly not a military maneuver—neither is it a pat on the back—a patronizing type that ignores the pain of the sufferer. It is the kind of love that suffers with/ on behalf of/ on account of. Until rivers of living water flow out of our hearts—for the life of the world Love that rages until we are One and there is God’s righteousness and righteousness for all. Thanks be to God. Amen.