Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21

So much has been spoken, heard, felt, and experienced over these past few weeks. For many of us, this extraordinary time has taken our breath away.   

This week alone has been one for the record books. It was determined that 102,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19. When we hear that number, we might be tempted to brush it aside, especially if it does not include anyone we know and love – although it seems nearly impossible to not know anyone – mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Grief upon grief with no real way to adequately mourn.  

And just when we thought perhaps that things might not get any worse, death came knocking in a most dramatic way. America’s sin of racial injustice has reared its ugly head – not in a new way – but so profoundly and so blatantly that this time it just cannot be ignored by the masses: health and wealth disparities, the weaponization of police power right here in our own backyard and the murder of George Floyd calling out for breath and his own dear mother. It’s been a difficult week as I have tried to hold together my own two sons and their worries about their sons, listening to their stories and thanking God that they dare not tell me everything, while the streets of our cities cry out for more spilled blood because it seems the only way to get any attention at all.   

I keep saying and I believe that it is true, a crisis of this sort is the perfect time for the “Church” to arise, to awake from our sleep and flex our spiritual muscles. It is a time to activate in a clear and declarative way what we claim to believe all along.  

A mess provides a kind of container for which good people, believers of Jesus Christ, can listen more carefully and say, “Ah yes, I get it now. I did not understand before, I was not willing to dive into deep water but now, I see and understand in a new way. “ 

What a great tragedy to emerge from COVID-19 and our deepest longing is simply to return to sunny beaches, hair salons, even to jobs that demand so much of us that we barely have time for our children and the people we love.   

What if God had this time in mind for us at Park Avenue United Methodist and that is why we have been connected from all over the country and world? What if we didn’t just arrive here on our own, but God has been pulling on us for a long time? Bringing us from small towns and saving us from childhood experiences, and delivering us from the whims and prejudices of others – some of whom we love – so that we could see with new eyes and hear more clearly the cries of the wounded? Black people and white people, gay people and straight, Democrat and Republican, church members, visitors and friends, ushers, choirs, Sunday school teachers, lay leaders, board of trustees, finance committee – oh my goodness! And it seemed like it was good or good enough; mostly, kinda, sorta, but what if all of it has been prepping us to this hour?  

Because we cannot love without being a burden bearer. We cannot love without taking the time to know and understand. We cannot love without an empathic heart, without standing in someone else’s shoes sometimes.

And here we are stripped of our inconveniences, tired, and worn out. But maybe we just need a push from the Holy Spirit to translate for us this bizarre time that we are in and how we might go forth.  

What if this hour will clarify the role of the “Church” for all to see? What does it mean to say, “I love Jesus?” “I love my neighbor as myself?” “I love Cathy and Isaiah?” What does it mean to say, “I’m not a racist?” “I love everybody.” “It is not ok.” Maybe we have to dig a little deeper this time.

Jesus said to the disciples, I am going to send you some help. I am going to breathe on you. I am going to infuse your lungs with my very own breath. When you are battered and bruised, I will be your comfort. When you are sick and tired, I will give you strength. When you are listless and don’t know which way to go, I will be your compass and your guide. Oh, could it be possible! 

Pentecost, my friends, is about God stepping into the mess and doing a new thing. It is a defining moment in which God gives life to the Church and maybe the Church has been relying too much on ourselves and not enough on God.  

It was the day of Pentecost. A day like today. And the disciples were held up in Jerusalem. A lot of people had gathered in the city for the festival. A new era was about to break – no more normal – something new was on the horizon. No turning back, no turning back. 

We might be asking ourselves: what does Pentecost look like right now in the midst of death, sickness, suffering and pain with our cities on fire, and chaos everywhere?  

Luke provides this strange and unimaginable telling: Tongues of fire. Utterances of languages, something undeniable and unexplainable. Something to remind us that while the world looks like it has gone mad, it has not done so completely. That strength of character and doing the right thing are values to still hold high.  

That terror and hatred and injustice do not necessarily have to be normative. That we must keep striving and working for something better for ourselves and for our world simply because we must – and I dare let anyone else do my part. I will own my part.

Pentecost reminds us that the things that bind us together are far greater and far more important than the differences that might otherwise tear us apart. That we can dismantle the vestiges of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia once and for all. And that rare truth that we can work together, be civil toward one another and respectful. That peace is possible.   

Come Holy Spirit, come and translate these things for us so that we can be doing what we ought to be doing.  

Pentecost happens all the time and if we look for it, we will see anytime and anywhere.  Right here, this morning in your living room, den, or bedroom – walking in the park, sitting at the dinner table. It happens every time a decision is made toward the greater good, for truth, and forgiveness and compassion. It happens right there in those moments when you want to be angry but instead grace abounds. When you don’t want to be bothered but you take a first step.  

In his book, Prayers from a Privileged People, Walter Bruggemann says that Pentecost is about:  

Holy wind that dismantles what was,

Holy wind that evokes what is to be,

Holy wind that overrides barriers and causes communion,

Holy wind that signals [God’s] rule even among us.  [1]

My friends, God is speaking, I am sure of it. Perhaps we do not want to hear, but it does not mean that the message is not available.   

In the latter days, says the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, all flesh – all flesh – 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… (they shall tell the story, they shall let truth arise). And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [2] Everyone – you see. Everyone means everyone. None will be excluded for all are one.  

Can you imagine such a thing?  

For some of us, this may be a radical departure from what we have known. Radical and different from what we were taught or learned in Sunday School or from family we love. It might be a different place from church doctrines, disciplines, and the like. But it’s Pentecost. Anything is possible.  

In the context of Pentecost, we find ourselves doing all kinds of things.   

Breathe on (us), Breath of God. Fill (us) with life anew.

That (we) may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on (us), Breathe on us, Breath of God. Until (our) hearts are pure

Until with Thee, (we) will one will to do and to endure.[3]

[2] Acts 2:17-18; 21
[3] United Methodist Hymnal: plural used to show solidarity and shared life