Due to length, today’s sermon is split in 2 parts.
If I am honest with myself, Pentecost is difficult this year.
We see this day on our Christian calendar as a time of celebration. This is the day we mark as the birthday of the Church.
And yet, this year we gather on line. We can’t come together and share the passing of the peace with handshakes and hugs. We are still required to keep our physical distance for fear of transmitting a virus that can in some cases be deadly.
On top of that for the past week we have awoken to continuing news of clashes between police and protesters in the United States. All of that the bi-product of the killing of an unarmed black man by a Minneapolis police officer following news of the killing of a black woman in another city as police raided the wrong house; and before that the killing of a young black man in Georgia that initially went unpunished.
The conflict we are witnessing is horrible. It is painful to watch, but we must also acknowledge its roots and admit that racism, and more specifically the sin of white supremacy has led us to this place. But, what does that have to-do with Pentecost?
One of the sermons I listened to during my week of continuing education was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, the professor of preaching at the Columbia School of Theology. I won’t go into details on that message except to note one of her statements quite presciently was that if one of us can’t breathe, none of us can breathe.
We are connected. I have said it many times before, but it bears repeating; we are drawn together as the body of Christ and connected one to another through the spirit.
Today’s scripture tells the story of Jesus followers, being driven to the streets each speaking a different language to transmit the good news of Jesus to the many people gathered in Jerusalem.
Want to focus on that part of the story. Each of the followers is speaking a different language so they may be heard by distinct groups of people in that city.
Consider that for a moment. The spirit doesn’t affect the ears of the people so that they may understand the words of the disciples. They speak in a host of languages that God’s message may be heard. God speaks to people in the languages they know. God comes to people where they are; in their own tongue and their own culture and their own context.
They aren’t required to learn a new language or change their entire way of life. God comes to them. God values them where they are and who they are. God is not the God of one language and one culture. One way of being in the world. Yes there are values that God promotes and God desires for creation. Love god and love one another. Seek justice and love kindness.
In his book God the Spirit, Michael Welker talks about God overcoming the mono culture of Rome and Greece in Jerusalem. That God breaks through that by the work of the spirit. God values this world of diversity and God works to create something wonderful through that diversity.
When we insist on uniformity. When we insist that ours way of talking; our way of living in the world is the only way; or the favoured or preferred way; we are defying what God has already told us. When we put ourselves at the center of the story, or the people who look and sound like us we are denying the voices of so many other people.
We need to listen very carefully and with real compassion to what is being said in the United States right now. And not just to the voices of power. We need to hear the voices of the people on the streets; to listen to what they say they have experienced. Listen to their fears and their hurts and their anger.
And then we need to look at what is happening here in Canada. We are not innocent in this country. We have our own struggles with racism and white supremacy. It doesn’t look like what we see to our south. But it is still real. Remember; we tried to eradicate the voices of our indigenous siblings. We tried to erase a host of native cultures. Today I sit on treaty land. The land of the Haudonosaunee and the Anishnabiwaki. Part of the Haldimand tract.
This is not a message to ask people of colour to tell us what we should do. We need to listen when they tell their stories. We need to make room in our lives to listen and hear more than our own experience.
There are ongoing struggles and stories that need to be actively listened to. We do not control God’s spirit. It moves in mysterious and often troubling ways. Michael Welker also notes that part of that work is to show us what is wounded and how we are equipped to help heal those wounds. It can be a frightening vision.
We can be left feeling uncomfortable. But sometimes, we are meant to unsettled. And we are required to ask ourselves why we are unsettled. Being unsettled is part of how God makes things new.
As our eyes are opened to what is and what can be may remember that God walks with us; strengthening us and offering us peace and comfort as we take our steps into what is being created.
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streaming license number 20369698, Size A.