Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Pentecost, May 20, 2018
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
According to Genesis, Chapter 11, when people began spread across the earth, they spoke one language. But they decided to settle in “the land of Shinar”—in Mesopotamia—and to build a tower that reached up to God. The tower came to be called the Tower of Babel, because it was built on the site of Babylon.
God was not pleased that the people were trying to build the tower and control their destiny thusly, the story says, so God decided to “confuse their language” in order that they wouldn’t understand one another and wouldn’t be able to work together.
Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
When the day of Pentecost came, Jerusalem was filled with people…people from all over the known world. They spoke all of those different languages that God had laid on them back in Babylon. There were also these twelve guys—eleven of the original disciples, plus Mathias, who had just been chosen by the casting of lots to replace Judas Iscariot. They spoke Aramaic, knew Hebrew. Matthew the tax collector surely had some fluency with Greek. As far as we know, none of them spoke the language of Phrygia or Pamphylia. But those folks were there in Jerusalem that day.
In London yesterday, a biracial American married a prince. Maybe you heard about it.
It was a lot like that Pentecost day. The people inside the room were mostly what you would expect—lots of British aristocracy, with enough British and American celebrities to keep things interesting. They spoke mostly English. But outside the doors of the cathedral is a community in which 250 languages are spoken. London is the most linguistically diverse city in the world.
The presider for the ceremony was, of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He speaks lovely British English.
The preacher was an English-speaking Anglican too…but a different sort. Michael Curry is the first African-American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA. And he can preach. Before he was presiding bishop, I saw him at the Festival of Homiletics and was enthralled.
Yesterday, the world was enthralled, by a sermon gifted by the Holy Spirit to a royal couple and the rest of the world. Curry set the tone by quoting from Martin Luther King:
"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."
It was a wedding sermon.
But more than that, it was a Pentecost sermon.
When the day of Pentecost had come, there were some apostles, still all together in one place.
They were there because the last words they heard from Jesus were a command to “remain in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
They were probably also afraid. Jesus told them to stay in the city. He didn’t tell them to lock the doors. But we get this wrong all the time. We stay where it is safe because we’ve been told to stay together. But together in the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean safe. It should not mean safe.
They were locked up together, awaiting the promised power, and fearful of the power of the Roman authorities and the power of the Jewish authorities…
…and, I suspect, of the redemptive and transforming power of love…the redemptive and transforming power of love which Jesus had shown to them, and which Jesus had charged them to share with the whole world.
They were locked up there in that room because they knew that when they shared the gospel of God’s profound love for the whole world, it would change their lives. It would change the world.
The gospel does that, right?
I think those apostles were holed up in that room because they weren’t quite sure they wanted to change the world. Changing the world is difficult and even dangerous. Dr. King preached about transformative love and nonviolence and it got him killed.
The apostles were rightly concerned about what might happen to them if they went out there and did what Bishop Curry did yesterday. Called the world into the redemptive power of love.
When that power came down, as Jesus promised it would, there was no mistaking it. There was no looking away from it. There was no pretending that you didn’t hear it, or you heard something else. Because it spoke directly to the heart of every person there.
And then it spoke through the mouth of The Rock.
“People of God,” he said, “this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17’In the last days it will be,’ God declares, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’”
People of God—God has called us to be prophets of love. Prophets of a love that redeems and transforms the world. We can ignore that calling. We can turn away, we can hide away, we can throw away the calling which God has placed on our hearts, but sooner or later, the Holy Spirit is going to get us.
Sooner or later, we are must throw off whatever keeps us from prophesying in God’s name and speak out for love.
Because only the power of love—the redemptive, transformative power of love—is going to carry us through this time of division and chaos, into the new day we all want.
And we do want it, right?
We do want to change the world, right?
Then we must open our minds and our bodies to receive the Spirit, and to speak the words of love God has given us.
We must find a way to hear what others are saying, even when it sounds like a different language.
And we must find a way to speak so that we may be heard. Words of love, through the power of the Holy Spirit.