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Let’s take a moment to congratulate ourselves, OK? When we walked through the downtown streets last night for the Pride parade with our signs held high and cheering and waving we were having fun, sure, but we were also doing something else. We were prophesying. We were revealing, perhaps for the first time, the true nature of God to lots of people who had only heard one story, or were still hearing only one version from the guys with the bullhorns and nasty signs. It was prophetic. Now, maybe you don’t think of it that way. After all, isn’t prophecy what happens in a dark, smoky room somewhere or with a bunch of people surrounding a crystal ball? If I claim that we were prophesying, it sounds like we ought to be mailing out embroidered prayer handkerchiefs or setting up a 1-800 line so people can donate now before God takes us.
But the tradition of prophecy is not foretelling future events, as if we were one of the endless Nostradamus specials on the History Channel. It is a claim on the nature and will and intention of God. Think of the text this morning – the disciples are still reeling from Easter, still wondering what in the world all of this means, because they saw Jesus hung on a cross and buried in a tomb and yet he’s still around. So there they are, all in one place. They rally the troops, drawing straws to see who fills the spot in the lineup that Judas so blatantly vacated and then I see them sitting around and looking at each other. The memory of the cross is very vivid and no one is anxious to step outside and take on the mantle of Jesus. Now, outside there is a party going on. Pentecost is part of Shavout, a Jewish festival, and it celebrates both 50 days (pente) since the Passover and commemorates the time that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai…a mark of revelation. A big party is going on outside, friends are catching up who haven’t seen each other since last year. Extended families gather at grandma’s house. Aunts and uncles and cousins and those people who aren’t family biologically, but are in every other way. And the food. Oh man, the food. The harvest is gathered in and the fruits and vegetables are stacked high, the fatted calves slaughtered, the baskets of fish pulled in and the smells of meals simmering fill the air. And it’s not just the locals, no this is a festival so the pilgrims from out of town have come to set up their booths of Ethiopian, Greek, Turkish, Italian food. The baklava stand is already cutting and selling pieces of deliciousness, the stewed figs, the kebabs, the hummus, the deep-fried twinkies…wait, that’s not right.
Anyway, all this goodness and revelry going on and the followers of Jesus are…upstairs in a room praying. Killjoys. And then this wind. Then the Spirit comes and, something just taken as an understood in the story, the disciples respond to it. I imagine that wind blowing open the shutters to the windows, letting the smells and sights and sounds of the great diversity below into the room and, to their great surprise, all of that diversity in which they are afraid to show their faces suddenly gets opened to them…accessible…maybe not quite as daunting.
On our birthday, we need a reminder as church that we cannot stay in an upper room in prayer, but must move outside, into the world, and engage the systems in which we live with the Good News that is given to us, is awakened in us, is inspired for us, by the Holy Spirit. As Melissa Bane Sevier says in her commentary on this passage, “The church isn’t the church if it stays indoors. Set down your donut and go find the baklava.” In other words, when you go out to spread the Good News, the conversion process might be more for you than for anyone else. That’s what the Spirit brings in a holy wind.
Marching in the pride parade, or serving at the Day Center, or attending an iftar dinner as our Muslim siblings break their daily fast during Ramadan…these aren’t actions we take because we’re liberals or nice people or because we’re trying to market ourselves. These are acts of faith, driven by the Spirit blowing in, lighting a little fire under us and sending us out into the world. These are acts of resistance, standing against the warped values of the system in which we live – “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, “Hate those who aren’t like you” and “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Acts of resistance against a culture that says we have to be vigilant and tough instead of kind and merciful…that I can, as an individual, or we can as a country, think of ourselves as unconnected to the rest of the world.
Pentecost does not make us all speak one language…please read carefully. Each person hears the other speaking in their own language – the Egyptian hears the Libyan speaking in Egyptian, though the Libyan is still speaking Libyan. I think of it like a visit I once took to a Korean church, where the style and the liturgy were strange to me, the cadence and rhythm of the speech was foreign and the hymns were all “first-timers” for me…nothing was familiar. And yet I could hear the emotion in the words, I still could not understand what they were saying but I knew what they meant. And then I was no longer just a visitor…I had to draw my circle wider because “I”, whatever it is that “I” is, had gotten bigger.
The response from the Holy in our story today is not to solve the disciples’ problems. Their fears, their worries, their anxieties and outrages about the world around them are not met with platitudes or analgesic balms. Instead, the Spirit comes to give them a new problem. No longer imprisoned by perceived barriers, they can’t just gather together in an isolated room and curse the darkness, or worship once a week, but instead must go outside, smell the kebabs and preach, and love, and care, and hope, and teach and risk and witness and serve…AND to hear the voice of the Spirit on people and in places they had not before…yes, church even upon women, and people of color, and gay or lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, gender non-specific…for the Spirit moves where the Spirit will move.
So, on this morning after the parade, we know that there is still much to be done. We have not won any race nor crossed any finish line. This morning, I want to share some bad news and good news.
The bad news is that no one is coming to fix our problems.
The Good News is that the answers we seek are all around us…
we have strength, we have courage and compassion
a story to tell
and a companion, an advocate, a Spirit who comes alongside us,
sometimes to comfort,
sometimes to kick our rear-ends, like good friends do…
The Good News is that you are called…and you are enough. You. Where you are, with what you have. God may not have called you to this kind of ministry, with robe and stole, but ministry comes just like the people involved – in all shapes and sizes and colors. And when you get tired or weak, hungry for spiritual food or thirsty for water that doesn’t come out of any tap, the Spirit is there for you, too. There to enliven you, to enrich and inspire you…there to make sure that when you encounter someone who is totally foreign to you, that you can trust in your story, so we can see ourselves in one another, and be prophetic– bearing witness to the light of God in each one of us, and knowing that light places a claim on us to serve all people, to love even our enemies and to bear witness to love and justice, sometimes with the work of our own hearts and minds, and to know that God is still speaking. Now – what is God saying? As a side note – if you ask that question, be prepared to be unprepared for the answer.