It is THEN, That We Speak in Tongues: A Reflection for Pentecost Sunday
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104, Acts 2:1-12, John 20:19-23
Sunday, May 20, 2018 – Pentecost Sunday
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
If you happened to be among those who woke up in the early hours of yesterday morning to watch the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex, you would have heard in the midst of the service (just before a gorgeous Gospel rendition of Stand By Me) a sermon by the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, currently the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalian Church of the United States of America – the 27th presiding Bishop in the history of that church (the Anglican or Church of England in America), and Curry, elected to the office in 2015, is the first black person to hold this office.
His sermon, which can be found online (including linked off the Knox-Met Facebook Page) is absolutely worth watching/listening or reading, and after listening to it myself (not at 5am however) it inspired me to come back to this morning’s reflections and make some adjustments to what I’d perviously prepared.
After reading from the Song of Solomon in the Bible, Curry then quoted from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way.”
…we will make of this whole world a new world…
Our story today from the New Testament is a story about a new world emerging in within an old one for the followers of Jesus.
They find themselves in the city of Jerusalem on the day of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost (greek for Shavout – the Festival of Weeks in which farmers would bring the first of their crops to the Temple in gratitude and seeking blessing). Jesus’ followers have been here in the city since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection 50 days earlier, pondering what comes next for them, and the movement that their rabbi began, that their rabbi has commissioned them to continue.
And on the day of this great feast, while they are together suddenly a sound like wind fills the room, and that which appears to be fire comes upon each one of them, and suddenly they find within the power to speak in many languages.
They rush out into the street where they begin to speak these new languages and the crowd is amazed for they hear from Galileans (peasants who hail from the North Country of Israel) speaking languages from all across the Mediterranean, for by this moment, Judaism has spread throughout what was then the bounds of the known world, and there would be people from all these places.
Two things of note – they leave the place they have found themselves to be comfortable and stuck, and they speak in ways that others understand!
I think this is a powerful symbol of a call to be church, a call to be lead by the Spirit!
A call to move from places of comfort, and a call to speak (and act) in ways those who are not us, will understand.
At the core of our stories, our traditions, our rituals, like those we celebrate today around font and table—is the declaration of the fundamental goodness, blessedness, and belatedness of each human person—known and marked by God, not for religious affiliation, but for human flourishing, for manifesting in their unique ways, the divine life of world, to know peace (Shalom/wholeness) and to carry that with them, to know safety in their bodies, acceptance of their whole self, and invitation to be part of a beloved community that crosses lines of language, religion, colour, and all that divides.
The Pentecost image of many languages reminds us that this is not about reduction down to a lowest common denominator, or about an adoption of a dominant way or assimilation, but a beloved community that affirms difference not just as valid but vital!
While the Pentecost symbol may centre on spoken language, I think today we are called to name and address that which excludes in different ways, internal and external others from experiencing fellowship, welcome, not just in membership within a church, a feeling of welcome, inclusion, and importance in all our communities.
When we find ways to communicate beloved communion across differences of ethnicity and economics, not just in lip service, but when we address barriers of need and hurt, and speak word and action heart to heart—it is then that we speak in tongues today.
Quoting again, later in his sermon that line from Martin Luther King, that when we discover the redemptive power of love we will make a new world out of this one, Michael Curry then said:
When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way. Then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way. We will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever flowing brook. Wen love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary. When love is the way we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way there’s plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children.
Now, I think that there is danger in sentimentalizing or spiritualizing these words (as with King’s). I don’t believe that Curry is suggesting that once we love—all will be well. I think that he is suggesting that if we hold within what we believe to be love for our fellow humans, then from that, we will intentionally make sure that no child goes to bed hungry, we will intentionally work to eliminate poverty, we will make sure that no human being is without, and that until we find it within to do this, whatever we feel for our fellow human, is not yet love!
At the font of baptism we affirm the fundamental beloved-ness of one child, and in so doing we affirm of it all children, and all people!
At this table of communion, we break bread, and pour into cups, so there is enough for all—a symbol of our call to live this sacrament every day into each context we are sent forth into from here, from a table where we each come with our unique hunger and thirst for ourselves and our world! We break and share as a commitment that no one will be without, without food, shelter, adequate income, without health care, safety, representation, or anything else needed for human flourishing!
In the Pentecost Story, Spirit like wind and fire rushed into the room, and pushed people out of their comfortable inaction, and into face-to-face, heart-to-heart, human-to-human contact with those they moments earlier called other, called different, called incomprehensible.
Where and to whom will that same spirit lead us today?
Michael Curry ended by quoting Jesuit scholar Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.
Humanity will have once again discovered fire.
We’ll make a new world out of this one.
And in life, in death, in life beyond death. God is with us.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God.