Sermon for Pentecost 2023

Link to Service Bulletin

Our Common Language of Love and of Hope

That Pentecost day, with the Spirit in the air, the disciples were suddenly clear about their stories and their intention to share their stories with the world. Maybe it was the rushing wind that had jolted them out of complacency.  Maybe it was the dancing tongues of fire that landed on each one that ignited them to action. Maybe it was the hope that comes with having the Companion, the Advocate, nearby. Whichever it was, the disciples found their authentic voices

and soon after discovered they had a story to share with the world.

          We have been in the Season of Easter for these past weeks and as we know, these weeks are not simply a period of time in the litiurgical calendar, but they are meant for us to truly live in and with the joy and hope of Easter. And today, we celebrate the Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, when the disciples moved from struggling with their own grief and loss to finding their own voices, discovering within themselves the strength and hope to go out and share those stories with others.  We all have stories to tell about how God has touched our lives; stories which we may be reluctant to share with others.  We may remember times when we have felt too afraid, too anxious to tell others the truth about our own lives, and yet, when our voices break through, what a gift that can be.  Let us pray, O Loving Spirit, breathe upon us afresh this day.  Enliven our hearts, give us the inspiration to speak boldly and lovingly as we share the hope of our faith with our communities and in our world.  Amen.

 I invite you this morning to reflect upon what  it has meant for you to be part of a community of faith in your life?  What memories do you carry, what joys and scars?  So many have given up on church and likely for many good reasons and yet, there is something about a community that draws us back, a place where we can actually tell the truth about our lives, talk about hard and inspiring things and be authentically who we are in front of God and one another.  There is something about a community of faith that lifts us up when we have doubts or provides a place to ritualize the precious, sacred moments of our lives and to witness to those moments in others’ lives.  It should be a place where we can feel safe to find our voices and to grow in healthy ways.

Most of you perhaps know that the word Pentecost, which comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth”, is the fiftieth and last day of the Easter season.  Pentecost has its roots in the ancient Jewish pilgrimage festival, the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot (pronounced “sha-voo-OAT”), celebrated 50 days after Passover.  For the ancient Israelites, this festival was an  inclusive harvest celebration which brought together people from all over (see Deut 16:11; Lev 23:16), and over time, it also came to mark the reception of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  For Christians, Pentecost celebrates the reception of the Holy Spirit and the birth of what we would come to know as the church, the community of believers who would embrace the teachings of Jesus and support one another in trying to live these out in their lives.

This morning, as we listened to our passage from Acts, the Spirit brings appears with lightning and a mighty wind.  The people were waiting for the coming of the Spirit after the loss of their beloved; Jesus had promised that the Spirit would come not long after his departure and so they were , hoping to see their teacher, to feel the hope of his presence and message, to once again experience the deep peace and joy of Christ. 

 One of the ways in which they feel the power of the Spirit that day is in the gift they discover when many are empowered “to speak in other languages,” and at the same time, each person hears the testimony in his or her native language.  What begins to unfold on this special holiday is that a sense of togetherness and unity emerges;  diverse as they are, everyone understands and can communicate.  And of course, they are amazed, asking, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12).

Of course, since they had been waiting, not sure when or if they would feel the presence of Christ, they were ready to receive what the Spirit brings.  They had been on a roller coaster, I imagine, the highs of their time with Jesus and all he had meant to them and then the weeks of mourning and grief after his death, so they were vulnerable, yes.  And often when we have suffered, we are more vulnerable, but we perhaps are more ready too for hope, for new life, for a better day.  What does the Spirit mean in your own life?  Can it be a sign that God’s Presence is with us when we too experience the deepest sense of peace and joy?  In such a fragmented time, we might consider the common language that we share with all of our brothers and sisters.  I think about times when communities come together to mourn the loss of someone held dear, when we gather to support a family in need, or gather for a Memorial.  The common language of grief, of seeking consolation from that sorrow; the need for peace in a sorrowful time; we experience that together, don’t we?  And when we have something to celebrate, whether a wedding, an anniversary, a new job, or when the birth of a new child arrives, the joy we share collectively is very powerful. 

We discover our common humanity through the language of love and the language of grief, through the language of suffering and the language of celebration.  There are important moments when there truly are no words, but when we join together, when we show up for one another, the Presence of the Holy is there; the Spirit is there offering peace and joy.  “What is clear in Acts 2 is that here too a party is taking place – that dreams and visions are not meant to be dreamt alone but in a diverse community united in the Spirit.  This task of dreaming involves all of us.  We have each received a portion of the Spirit of God and are blessed with the gifts of our destiny, intended to help spread the Good News of God’s love for all people.” (Rev. Candace Thomas)

 The Spirit brings us together, bridging divides so we can understand and connect.  The birthday of the church is a perfect time to reflect on what “the church” is in the first place.  This week’s passage points toward a portrait of the church as a dynamic community of people following Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to share the burden and responsibility of carrying out God’s plan for healing, liberation, and joy for the sake of the world.  This community is diverse, inclusive, and egalitarian.  And as we celebrate this birthday of our Christian church this morning, we know that people are gathering this day across the world to share the Gospel across languages, cultures, in communities small and large, some living in fear, others with joy in their hearts.  Together, We as the community of believers are the church, part of something so much bigger than ourselves.  And we hope that at its heart, the church is a movement, working to co-create the vision of our God for a beloved Kin’dom, loving and protecting our neighbors as we would love and protect ourselves – and the call, the challenge, the adventure continues.  And as a community, we are invited to open our arms wide to speak the common language of humanity…of love, of peace, of joy.

(SALT Project)