I'm not in the habit of posting sermons here, but since this one failed to get recorded on Sunday (my fault), and my husband claims it was one of my best. sermons.ever. -- I'll put it here.
May your Easter be complete: Christ is risen!
Pentecost Sunday, 2010
Here we are again, the feast of Pentecost, the day that is supposed to be one of the three great feasts of the church year, but is usually crowded out in our attention by graduations, benefit athletic events, sometimes Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend, or at least some really nice weather.
You don’t hear of people buying new Pentecost frocks, or singing Pentecost carols in the streets. Children don’t look forward with great anticipation to Pentecost baskets of treats.
But at least the repetition gets this story into our heads, this odd, odd story about the disciples bursting upon the public square after days of hiding, so filled with the Spirit people believe they’ve been drinking next year’s Passover wine.
I admit that I find the reading of many languages a bit embarrassing many years. We Lutherans can come up with half a dozen European languages, but we fall pretty short with anything beyond that. The day ends up feeling like a judgment on our failure to truly be a Pentecost church, a reminder of how segregated we still are.
And then there’s the historical reminder about what some versions of mission work in the West meant. For the truth is too often the church did not take this story as its commission to go and learn the tongues of others, to assume that peoples of all nations ought to hear the good news in their native tongues. All too often the cultural effect was the opposite. What about all the languages people had to give up to be “one of us”? What about the languages the West has destroyed? What about all the native tongues in this country that are now dead because the white man arrived with guns germs and steel?
And then there’s the dread I feel on behalf of the lector, who gets to read this long list of nationalities they’ve never heard of: 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 — It’s the kind of reading lectors dread. Where is Pamphylia anyway?
There are plenty of scientific reasons to believe that this was not possible, that a bunch of illiterate Hebrews couldn’t have suddenly gained second languages.
This Spirit wasn’t just making them bold, getting them beyond their fear of the authorities, it was breaking down the barriers both of their abilities and of their own understanding of what Jesus had come to accomplish. It is the first of many cultural barriers to come down in the book of Acts, as the church spreads beyond the imagination of those disciples.
But the story is even stranger than that, because some of these groups, like Medes or Elamites, for example, could not have been there in the first place. Not because of highway construction, but because they did not belong in the first century either.
The Medes were a people of
The Elamites were also Iranian of a sort. We don’t have any record of their language for hundreds of years before that day of Pentecost. And Pamphylia—an ancient Greek dialect, unattested to for 300 years before that day.
People losing their language, losing their identity, happened often in the ancient world and still happens today. Scholars tell us that globalization means somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of the world’s languages will be lost in the next 40 years. The Elamites and the Medes are the brothers to the Chinook and the Iroquois – a people conquered, a people passed into history.
What is going on here? Did the author of Acts, who is usually very careful about exactly when and where things happen, just get careless?
The Spirit is not just reaching across the borders of nationality – it’s reaching across time. Reaching back to peoples who have been dead and gone for hundreds of years. All of them, even the dead, hear the good news of Jesus – and they hear it in their own tongue.
What God is up to here is, once again, greater than we can imagine
It’s one thing to imagine
God’s Spirit transcending our all too real borders – the walls in
It’s another thing to imagine that God’s Spirit can get beyond language – not just our native tongues but the way we speak, the way our words betray our background and our education and our class, the way our words too often bind up our ideas so tightly that our imaginations are stifled.
It’s another thing to imagine God’s Spirit breaking through our borders of the heart – the way our minds automatically categorize people and send up warning signals to us even when we’re trying NOT to – brown skin, white skin; male, female; liberal, conservative; fit, fat; old, young; one of us, NOT one of us.
But here God’s Spirit is reaching back, back, not just beyond those deadening borders of the here and now but even to the borders of time. Reaching back to the dead, to those whose hope seems utterly shut out.
This is what the church means when it says Jesus descended to the dead. This is what we mean when we talk about a communion of saints. That even those people who history has passed by, whose identity was destroyed, whose language is, quite literally, dead – these people too are offered the good news that Christ is risen from the dead. This is also, by the way, what ECLC means when we say we give witness to God’s yes for the world.
The fiftieth day of Easter, the last and final day of resurrection, we celebrate that God’s YES for all the world extends even this far.
It extends to Iraqis and Iranians in 2010, dead or alive.
It extends to people who do not understand each other, even when they speak the same language.
It extends to children and children’s children, to parents and grandparents and all our misunderstandings of one another.
And it extends to the dead among us too:
Even to us who fear that the fire has gone out of our faith, that the living waters have become a little still and stagnant.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead is still reaching out beyond the graves to us as well. Calling us to live, even though we are dead. Calling us to speak, even though history and doubt and all our questions make us feel mute. Calling us to trust that God’s Spirit can work in any place, among any people.
Thanks, Robert Frost by David Ray
Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought...
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace . . . .
This Holy Spirit offers hope for the future, even for our children’s children,
Hope for the past, even the long dead,
Hope even for us, who are given life eternal even now.
Because that Spirit has been given to us.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!