By: Rev. Ron Robinson
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
This is the celebration Sunday for the "birthday of the church." It is ripe with core values and images of progressive liberal faith. It is a calling into community story. It is a celebration of diversity. It is a story of healing and hope.
Looking at the story from a textual lens, Acts is part of the narrative arc that begins with the Gospel of Luke, a continuation and expansion of the themes engendered in Luke. The focus is on the Spirit of God as a power, the power, in the world, a topsy-turvy power that comes to the least of those in their most vulnerable times. The story of God's spirit moves from John the Baptist to Jesus in Luke, and then God's Spirit comes back into the world in Acts at the Day of Pentecost and moves from Peter and Jerusalem on to Paul and eventually headed toward Rome. This is the day, the time, when The Story moves from Christ into the world and through it, through us.
Looking at the story from a historical-critical lens, it taps into the experiences and memories of the early followers of Jesus. They were adrift and caught in limbo. So recently they had been in his presence, once being in the hope of the stories and gossip and gospel of his being an anointed Resurrected One, and yet now it was fading. They were breaking up but holding on. The past was still with them but the future hadn't pulled them into mission. They were together; they were a community; but they were not what the liberation theologians call a “communitas,” a people with a purpose. And then the world broke open again and the Spirit that had been mainly in the One was now in The Many too.
Looking at it from a progressive liberal lens, it is all about the truth of ongoing revelation and the power of covenant rather than creed, of presence rather than principle. First of all, they are together, simply together. They have, in all their despair and loneliness and fear, continued to come together...because when people come together in the spirit of Jesus, you never know what will happen, but you can trust, based on what had gone before, that something good would happen, healing would take place, abundance would be overflowing. Gather together just to be together in groups of two (with just one other person) or two or more, and the Spirit of God will break out. And it does. In a particular, peculiar way in keeping with the ministry and example set by Jesus. The power of God comes not just to one only but to all, and it doesn't come through just one culture and one language but through many as they begin speaking in different languages (remembering that language meant culture meant religion back then especially), and yet the power of God, of love and justice, allowed them each to understand the other. What a foreshadowing of the non-creedal church where what we believe together doesn't have to unite us as a people but how we share alike our different truths and visions in the free spirit that helped to bring them forth in the first place. This unity in diversity comes to all regardless of station in life or condition of being.
That the scriptures are quoted in this letter which was not yet scripture itself shows that even in the midst of the new spirit, there is a place, a necessity, for that which has gone before. Being connected to the prophets, to that Great Story, was a ground for what new would emerge in the church that was forming. This is something liberals and progressives need to reclaim today: the ancient ways, all of the warts and bad history of the church, can and should be incorporated into who we are today, for it is a part of who we are today, and we neglect it at our peril. Traditionalism, as it is said, kills the Spirit, but Tradition gives it birth.
One of the joys of being a Christian in Unitarian Universalism, amidst all the challenges it brings (and we do know fully the experience of how others see us, think we must be drunk or crazy to be in community as we are, like they saw the Pentecost community, so much room for difference and yet so much common understanding among us), is that we have such an ancient tradition that is ours as Christians and followers of Jesus; we don't just go back to the founding of the American Unitarian Association in 1825 or the Universalist gatherings in 1790 and 1793 or, for that matter, to the Plymouth founders of 1620, or even to the Radical or Magesterial Reformation movement of a hundred years before that, but we are the recipients of the Spirit of it all, community bequeathing to community, even through all the changes, back to those events and experiences that came to be chronicled and called Pentecost.
And what is true of the community can be true for us in our community today, and in our personal lives. First, it tells us to be in community with one another. Just show up. That first principle of covenant living. Find some community to be a part of, to start. That the Spirit of God showed up where they were and not in the Temple, not in a sacred in itself gathering such as at a synagogue, and not coming, at least at first, through the wisdom of a chosen and set aside pastor and teacher and prophet but came all at once and to all of them, means that the community you can be a part of and experience God doesn't have to go by the name church, or even small group, even ours in the UUCF; it means it can come at any time through any kind of people, so you have to live lives of openness so that, like the strangers on the road to Emmaues, you will know it when it happens.
This Sunday tells us that Easter is over but Easter will never be over. And knowing that we can be a part of it. And that we have a mission now that calls us into being in the first place, a mission that creates the church rather than the church struggling to find its mission. Pentecost lays out our mission, one that soon we will take into the world through the longest season of the church year, the season of Ordinary Time also known as Pentecost Season. Our mission that makes us a church is that we are to be an Easter people even after Easter, and we are to share Easter with others, sharing it in a diversity of ways too, that hope and purpose and community will never be over, will be forever renewed, in those that come together faithfully.
Spirit of God, renew us again, come into our midst again, create us once again as a people of God whose mission is the make visible in our world the presence of Jesus which was not killed by the powers of the world, but is here with us today, here with all of us, young and old, male and female, regardless of status or condition, here bringing us alive, as if on fire, with the truth of everlasting love and justice for all. Spirit of God, which is not always felt, which can seem as if absent in our lives, just a shadow of what once was or a glimmer of what might yet be in the far off future, may we experience you today in all your fullness and wholeness, mending our fragmented lives and world. Spirit of God, we know not to look for you in the designated places and recognized and expected spaces, or people, but to look for you in the ruins and remnants and forgotten and neglected places, the dangerous spaces, and people. May this day given over to this truth be a day when we dedicate ourselves to being a part of your church's renaissance, rebirth, as a people and not a place, and may the people we seek to become be sharers of your Spirit with others, so in need of a healing community with a purpose, and even more than that, may we be seekers of your Spirit from others.
Going Deeper. Take a sentence from the scripture and use it as both a text for sacred reading, lectio divina, as well as a breath prayer. Isolate one word from the scripture and meditate on that word. Journal or share with another your responses, what comes to you. Pray your own prayer inspired by a sentence or word in the prayer above. Attend a church worship service in a community different from yours where you have never been. Form a new community where you are, a UUCF inspired small group of two or more people. Study the Hebrew origins of Pentecost in the celebration of Shauvot, the Festival of Weeks, the giving of the Torah to Moses forming them together as a people. Read the Book of Ruth in keeping with Shauvot and about how the story of that people is to welcome the stranger, the foreigner, as the very way itself the people show they are a people of such a God of Love, who keeps providing harvest and welcome tables for that harvest.