God Emboldens Us
June 5, 2022 Paul Purdue
The second chapter of Acts reads like a creed or is it a poem?
When Pentecost arrived, the church was together.
and they saw something like tongues of fire.
A tongue of fire alighted and rested over each one of them.
(Did the fire glow around them like Moses’ burning bush?)
All of the people, All, were filled with the Holy Spirit,
and God’s Spirit enabled all them to speak.
A crowd gathered from every nation under heaven.
Everyone heard the Good News in their own native tongue.
There were Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
people from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia; Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and Libya; Cretans and Arabs—
we were surprised, amazed, mystified
because we heard God’s story translated into the language of our hearts.
And we all asked, “What does this mean?”
God answers, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
sons and daughters, youth and elders, rich and poor, men and women.
You will dream new dreams, envision new things, and prophesy new insights
because, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”
Pentecost celebrates a kind of spiritual democratization. God’s Spirit is not just poured out on Pope Peter, Bishop James, and John. God speaks through Magdalene, Mother Mary, and Pastor Phoebe. God’s Spirit filled all 120 folks in that upper room. (Acts 1:15) Years later, God’s shimmering light shines on Paul along the Damascus Road, through Teresa of Avila’s tears, and inside John Wesley’s strangely warmed heart. God’s Spirit is still speaking.
Pentecost celebrates the depths of God’s incarnation. In the beginning, God’s Spirit breathed life into humanity; God’s love sent Christ into the world, and on Pentecost God pours God’s very Spirit into every open heart. (Genesis 2, John 3, Acts 2). Paul prays for this incarnational awakening in Ephesians 3, “I pray that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge….” Pentecost celebrates God’s deep, personal, incarnational, and radical Love for us all.
God does not love us in a one-size-fits-all ideal; God loves our diverse cultures, languages, and nuances. One of my children studied engineering and the other theater. It is unlikely my engineer would come alive singing and dancing in the center of the main stage. I do not love either of them more or less for their uniqueness, preferences or giftedness. I love them for who they are- who God created them to be. God’s boundless Love surely surpasses my meager love for them. Love sees beyond binary categories- embracing the Creator’s beloved touch in each of us. Love does not sing one song, with one style, at one tempo. God says, “I will pour out my spirit on all people.” Parthians and Medes, kosher babka and cheeseburgers, women and men, youth and elders, Hellenized and observant, straight and queer, progressive and conservative: we are all part of God’s all. Rifting off Pentecost’s message, the Apostle Paul speaks into a now-settled theological divide, “Some believe in eating anything, while those with weaker faith feel some foods are sinful. Stop passing judgment! God has welcomed us all! Make up your own mind but remember that folks on the other side are trying to observe their faith- just like you! Why do you pass judgment on your siblings? We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. Did God make you the judge? So, let’s all pursue what makes for peace and builds others up.” (adapted Romans 14) Now, at times we must speak up and out against religious bullying and exclusion. In Galatians 2, Paul dresses down Pope Peter “opposing Peter to his face… as self-condemned”. It is not loving to pat people on the head who close the doors of the church to others. (Matthew 23) Nevertheless, Pentecost invites us to envision a halo of mysterious presence shining in others, and then to look up and see if a real halo floats over us. Wednesday, I saw flashes of the Holy in the tears of a still grieving mother as we tried to ask our governor to do something about America’s gun violence epidemic. I have seen God’s light in the laughter and joy of our young people’s Instagram feed as it shares their tales of their California choir tour. Last night, I saw little holy moments as I held a newly baptized baby, felt welcoming smiles, heard warm laughter and ate a perfectly executed grandmother’s chocolate pie at a Sunday school class picnic. Look for the holy moments- the halos.
“All people” is the defining message of Acts. The 28 chapters of Acts tell a story of “all”, and honestly the church struggles to keep pace with the pull, push, and illuminating light of God’s widening circle of love. God is always opening our minds to the scriptures, creating new things in us, and calling us to dream new dreams. (Luke 24, 2 Corinthians 5, Acts 2)
By the end of the Pentecost chapter, the Spirit shakes up the church’s economic sensibilities. Luke reports, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2)
In Acts 3 and 5, the church follows Jesus by offering free healthcare.
In Acts 6, the church opens a free cafeteria for all who are hungry.
In Acts 5, 7, 12 and 16, the Spirit emboldens believers to demand justice in court. “Inspired by the Holy Spirit”, the Apostles model civil disobedience in court testifying, “We must obey God rather than humans!” The word prison or jail shows up 31 times in Acts. The bishops would be jailed multiple times. God Almighty orchestrates at least 2 unlawful jailbreaks.
In Acts 8, God’s deep embrace of all people widens as Phillip baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch, who the church at one time named as unclean.
In Acts 10, Peter dreams that God’s love embraces people Peter once believed to be so religiously unfit that he would not even enter their homes. Inspired by the Spirit, Peter preaches, “God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean.”
And yet throughout Acts and even today, the church lagged behind the Spirit. Indeed, in some later New Testament books like Timothy, the church backslides away from the message of Acts 2 that God’s Spirit is poured out on daughters and women! Our beloved Methodist church will not catch up with God’s spirit until 1956 when we finally ordained women to every clergy office! (Is our lagging behind God’s prophetic call because we think we are the only ones who God really loves? Or do we resist the Spirit’s embrace of all because we do not really believe God loves us, and so we live looking over our spiritual shoulders more focused on avoiding hell than building God’s kin-dom on earth?)
Hear the Good News. God says, “I will pour out my spirit on all people” and we can all find our voice and have something holy to say.
However, this universal sensibility that God loves and pours the Holy Spirit out onto all people creates two problems for the church! If God’s Spirit is poured out on all folks, does that mean anything goes and we can throw the Bible, theology, and science out the window, declaring, “God told me so?” And the second, and maybe deeper problem is how can we abide together in peace when we do not share the same understanding and theology? I think the answer to both questions is the same: stop judging. Get over yourself. Add the caveat, “I might be wrong,” to every sermon and all of your theological sentences. Trust that God’s Spirit is knocking on the door of even the most closed off heart and mind. Imagine a tongue of fire, a little shimmering burning bush floating over your opponents’ head, and then look up to see if an actual halo is floating over your own head. Jesus described this community building ethic like this: “the least among you will be the greatest”. (Luke 9)
On Pentecost, celebrate Parthians and Medes, Kosher pickles and pork barbeque, and the 700 languages the Bible has been translated into. But if that is not enough to help us get over ourselves and get along, remember that Jesus teaches us that the truest test of our theology is the fruit of our living. “You will know them by their fruit” is in the same chapter as “Do not judge.” (Matthew 7) You can know phonies by the way they preach and live. In Galatians, Paul makes a list. The selfish motives are obvious: sex without morality, corruption, hedonism, idolatry, drug abuse, magical thinking, hatefulness, fighting, lust, rage, being a jerk, loving conflict, selfishness, (racism, sexism, classism or) group rivalry, jealousy, escapist partying, and stuff like that. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If you want to test your theology, examine the glow of your life asking, am I loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, generous, gentle, and under control? Be merciful and check your halo.
So today, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us keep striving to be a place where all people find their voice- “all people, every nation under heaven”. Let us open our hearts and minds and celebrate each person’s unique calling and giftedness. Let us look forward to being surprised, mystified, and sometimes amazed: rejoicing that God’s Spirit is being poured into our children, our siblings, our babies, and our elders: all of us! And when we disagree, let’s all try to imagine a little shimmering tongue of fire floating over our opponents’ head, and then let us look up to see if an actual halo is floating over our own head. And let us not lag too far behind God’s Spirit, but catch up with the ever widening circle of the Spirit: as we dream new dreams, speak new languages, and join together to bring about Christ’s kin-dom on earth as in Heaven. Amen.