A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise Idaho
May 31 2020
If you recall, last week we left our disciples standing there, jaws agape, staring into Heaven as Jesus ascended up to God. But before Jesus ascended, he told them to go and wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
You know me well enough to know that patience is not my favorite virtue. I realize, though, that it is hard to wait for things I’m excited about, and easier to wait for things I want to put off. I wonder what that waiting was like for the followers of Jesus.
Because for some of them, perhaps they were wondering if they really wanted God’s Spirit to come upon them. It sounds great to have God’s Spirit with us, but the Spirit can’t really be contained or controlled. So perhaps there was some trepidation about the unknown and the uncontrollable. Maybe the Spirit will be a great thing. But maybe it will take us where we’ve been not wanting to go.
We’ve been in a time of waiting the past 3 months, to put it mildly and understate it by a lot. And judging from the photos of crowded beaches, malls, and nascar races over Memorial Day Weekend, many people appear to be done. Done with waiting for us to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus. Done with staying home and away from the things we enjoy in our lives.
The text tells us the disciples are celebrating Pentecost. While Pentecost for the church is about this passage in Acts, Pentecost for the Jewish community was a different celebration. It marked the day Moses received the 10 Commandments on Mt Sinai, 50 days after the Passover flight from Egypt. The word “Pentecost” translates as “fifty”.
Talk about another time when the waiting didn’t go so well….
Remember what the Hebrew people did while they waited for Moses when he was on Mt Sinai, receiving those commandments? They melted down their jewelry and made a golden calf to worship. That’s the biblical equivalent to the crowds on Memorial Day Weekend. They’d been instructed to wait. They got bored. They got into trouble.
I recognize we can’t stay in our homes forever, and recognize that some people have not ever had the privilege of staying safe in their homes during this virus because their jobs were the ones that allowed us to do so.
But as we do return to more societal interactions, we can’t be done with caring for each other. We can’t be done wearing masks. We can’t pretend we can return to the way things used to be. We still have some waiting to do, where Coronavirus is concerned.
I’m thrilled to be back with you today in person, but it is not the same worship experience we last shared together in person the first of March. We aren’t done with waiting when it comes to this virus and worship restrictions. And we don’t know how long we will need to wait. It is looking like it is going to be longer than any of us wanted or expected. But we will wait. And we won’t melt our jewelry and build gold calves.
Like the disciples waiting for the Holy Spirit, we will wait for things that are good and faithful and will bring life.
There are some things I would suggest we have been waiting too long to address, however.
I don’t know about you, but for me, for much of my life, I had the privilege to not have to face the racism in our country. I wasn’t waiting. I was ignoring.
Over the years, however, I’ve learned about how systemic racism permeates our society and culture. Black people, often men, are routinely harassed, arrested, incarcerated, and too often killed for doing things that you or I can do without threat of danger. Walking or jogging while black. Being a CNN reporter while black. Birding in Central Park while black. Holding a gun you have a permit for while black. Protesting while black.
In recent days, black men have been arrested or killed for all of those illustrations.
And if you think that if we all just “followed the rules” everything would be fine, consider that armed white protesters were able to shut down the Michigan legislature without any of them being arrested or harmed this month. Can you honestly say the same would have happened if the group of people with the guns had been black?
We can’t fix the problem overnight. But that doesn’t excuse us from attending to the work.
We need to educate ourselves.
We need to commit to being anti-racist.
We need to better respond to and support peaceful protests of injustice.
We need to build a different society.
If we are more upset by how people react to injustice than we are to the injustice, we have work to do. If we are quicker to eulogize a looted building than to eulogize the lives lost to racism, we have work to do. We’ve been looting black bodies since our ancestors brought them to this country four hundred years ago as slaves.
There are protests happening across our country right now, reminding us that justice delayed is justice denied. And I pray the Holy Spirit will blow through our country even now, setting holy fire to the things we have for too long ignored, so we may build a more just society. We’ve waited too long. Black people have been dying for too long.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
I recognize that inviting the Holy Spirit to move through our world is a risky venture. She’s not something we control. She doesn’t share our agendas. But something’s gotta give.
Is that what the disciples were thinking as they waited? Their teacher dead, their dreams deferred, their path forward uncertain?
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.
Jews from all over the world, every nation under heaven, were gathered together, and suddenly, they were able to understand what was being said. The Spirit came and brought communication and understanding.
Today we might think, “there’s an app for that”, a way to use technology to translate all of those languages. At the UN, they have those headsets that everyone wears so they can hear what is being said in their own languages. Maybe we aren’t as impressed at this story today because our world seems smaller.
Maybe we should be even more impressed with it than the first disciples were, as we look at the political divide in our country. We technically speak the same language, but our understanding is miles apart.
Are we willing to pray for the Holy Spirit to return as she did that day?
There are plenty of conversations in our world that need Divine clarity. What if we could truly hear what the other person is trying to say? How different would our political landscape be if that were the case?
This story marks the beginning of the church. Peter delivers a sermon that connects the work of the Spirit with the prophecies of Joel.
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
And the church, empowered by the Spirit, goes out and witnesses—to the ends of the earth, even to Boise. From a gathering of people from all over the world on Pentecost, they are sent out to take that glimpse of God’s kingdom to everyone else. A glimpse of a world where we understand each other. A glimpse of a world where we come together despite our differences and worship together.
The prayer of the church is “come, Holy Spirit, come.”
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up as a rush of violent wind. She didn’t follow our script. We can’t harness the Holy Spirit on a holy wind farm. When we pray for the Holy Spirit to come, we need to expect the rush of a violent wind that may knock us onto our fannies.
And even with our reservations, and our control issues, we still pray for the Holy Spirit to show up, to blow through our lives and our work here together, even as we wait.
Even if we are a little leery about things we can’t control, we can’t do it by ourselves. Without the Holy Spirit, we are just a group of people gathered on a lawn. Waiting.
And so we pray, come Holy Spirit. Because we’re tired of waiting. We want a rush of violent wind to blow through us, because we need a glimpse of God’s kingdom in our own lives. And we know that we have work to do so that people outside of these walls will also know how much God loves them. There are people who need to know their lives matter to us.
So, come Holy Spirit. Help us to become the dreamers mentioned in Joel’s prophecy—people able to dream that God’s kingdom might happen here. Now. People who are able to dream that understanding is possible. People who are able to dream that God’s radical message of Love is exactly what the world needs to hear today. People who are willing to work for justice. Let’s put on our seatbelts, because it might be a bumpy ride. But come, Holy Spirit, with all of your violent wind, and with all of the life you bring to the church.