Pentecost 2015 “God Is Still Speaking”
Scripture Acts 2: 1-21
Mathematician Paul Erdos communicated in one language. It was math. Numbers. Yes, he spoke other languages, but he was only interested in speaking other languages so that he could communicate with other people about math. He was not interested in communicating about anything else. Math. Math. And only math.
Biographer Paul Hoffman tells us, “Erdos structured his life to maximize the amount of time he had for mathematics. He had no wife or children, no job, no hobbies, not even a home, to tie him down. He lived out of a shabby suitcase and a drab orange plastic bag from Centrum Aruhad. . . a large department store in Budapest. In a never-ending search for good mathematical problems and fresh mathematical talent, Erdos crisscrossed four continents at a frenzied pace, moving from one university or research center to the next. His modus operandi was to show up on the doorstep of a fellow mathematician, declare, ‘My brain is open,’ work with his host for a day or two, until he was bored or his host was run down, and then move on to another home.” [The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth, Paul Hoffman, p. 6]
Most of us are not as restricted in our areas of knowledge and interest as Paul Erdos. In fact, we are under a constant barrage of information about every topic under the sun! Print media, TV, radio, personal interactions, the check out line at the grocery store, and, of course, the internet, bombard us with information constantly whether we want to know it or not. Information is being constantly spat at us – even in line at the post office, and at the gate in the airport.
Yet for all of this information, what are we really hearing or finding out? What to buy? Where to shop? Who is having sex with whom? What the government is not doing? What an old friend from elementary school had for lunch? So, we have all of this information, but so what? People are feeling more alienated than ever. People are isolated. They feel disconnected and are more self centered. We wonder what all of this information is doing for us.
This morning we listened, as we do each year 50 days after Easter, to the story of Pentecost. People from all over the ancient middle east had come to Jerusalem for the annual harvest festival. Jesus’ friends were there, still reeling after his crucifixion; trying to make sense of what happened and trying to figure out how to go on. The Pentecost story tells us that Jesus’ friends, who were from the area of Galilee, and who spoke Aramaic, suddenly began speaking in other languages, languages they did not know, no Rosetta Stone provided, thank you very much. They simply started expounding in languages new to them. The crowds gathered for the festival heard these Galileans speaking their languages.
We aren’t told exactly what was said or heard. We are basically told that Jesus’ followers were there. They were foundering and afraid; lacking a sense of direction and still wracked by the grief and disorientation of Jesus’ death. There were people from all over the known world there to give thanks to God for the bounty of the land. And at the end of the day, the Jesus people had been preaching boldly to everyone, from all nations and tribes, and 3000 people were baptized becoming part of the Jesus community. This is a story of transformation. Fear is driven out. There is a sense of hope and purpose. The message is universal – old, young, different cultures, different classes – all have this experience together. We are given this amazing, astonishing, surprising, mysterious story of divine love breaking in and transforming the people.
We are not going to analyze the story and its many facets because that would defeat the purpose. What happens is inexplicable and it is supposed to be because when we engage the holy, it is beyond our full understanding and comprehension. I think what we are meant to hear is a story of God touching people in ways that lead to full and abundant life. Somehow, we become aware of something beyond us, or more than us. There is some kind of enlightenment. And people are moved toward reconciliation, peace, and wholeness. It is mysterious and amazing. And – it is happening all the time. We are being given experiences and information that have the power to transform our experience of living life as a human being.
Yes, we are surrounded, bombarded, infused with information, but this morning we explore how we commune with God, the holy, the sacred, the mystery in ways that are life giving and connect us to the source of universal, inalienable love.
To have an experience, to hear, to take something in, we need to listen, to be aware, to pay attention. That’s not always easy in our full and busy lives. And then there is the sorting out of the trash and the treasure. This morning, I would like to suggest a variety of ways that we may experience the divine. Interspersed with these ideas, we will be given time to reflect. During the times for reflection, a recording of the sounds of wind will be played. So, we will aim for a balance of speaking and listening.
One of the ways that we experience the sacred, meet the Divine, hear God, is through nature. This has been the witness throughout human history. In every age, in every culture, in every religion, nature plays an important role. Even for people in today’s world, perhaps living in a towering apartment complex surrounded by concrete, nature still speaks. In images. In sounds. In insects. And in our own bodies with their innate urges, processes, growth, and deterioration. In the Christian tradition, nature is seen as the self disclosure of God.
Day in and day out, we experience nature. The rhythm of day and night. Weather, temperature, seasons. The beauty of nature confronts us – colors, textures, interconnectedness, diversity, vistas of grandeur, a sunset, the multihued blues of the water around us in our coastal state. We should not be surprised when we stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and our eyes well with tears. We are experiencing the holy, the divine. God is speaking.
In these few quiet moments, perhaps you would like to think about how you have experienced God in nature.
ONE MINUTE OF WIND
In the book of Genesis, we are told that humanity is created in God’s image. Indeed, we do experience the divine in people; in other human beings and in ourselves. Anyone who has seen a baby being born has had some kind of experience of transcendence. There is also the sense of the holy at a time of death. In our relationships, as we navigate the shoals of family, friendship, social bonds, and our place in the human family, there can be the sense of the divine. When there is reconciliation in a personal relationship, there can be a sense of grace, something beyond and more at work. When a rift is healed. When a sense of acceptance comes after great turmoil. When someone helps us, in ways unexpected and unsolicited. In all these things and more that are part of our relationships and interactions as human beings, we may sense the divine, a love, a power at work. When there is change and transformation in social contexts, we may feel a sacred power at work. People in the Civil Rights movement in this country had the sense that they were part of a bigger picture, a greater plan, a sacred movement. They could hear God speaking. And how about that vote in Ireland this week? I know that brought tears to my eyes.
In these next few quiet moments, perhaps you would like to reflect on how you have experienced God in your relationships and in the social context of the human family.
ONE MINUTE OF WIND
Another way that we may experience the Divine, sense the holy, may be through science. It seems like the more we learn about the world and life and the universe, the more amazing and miraculous it all seems. And the more we learn, the more we find out how tied together and interconnected everything is which is even more amazing. We are inextricably linked to each other and creation with thousands upon thousands of bonds holding it all together.
Science has helped us to understand the microscopic forces at work, in energy and light, for instance. It has helped us know about DNA, genes, and heredity as well as the workings of the cells of our bodies. Advances in medicine based on all of this information are amazing.
Science is showing us the universe. We are discovering that we are part of a far larger reality than we ever imagined. This influences our understanding of our identity as a species. Yes, we are amazing, wondrous creatures with tremendous power, of sacred worth, each and every one. But we are also specks traveling on a tiny blue marble through the vast expanse of immeasurable time and space. Not more than dust, really.
My husband calls his mother in Cleveland every night. She waits for his call. It is often the highlight of her day. Betty has macular degeneration and her vision is severely impaired. One night recently, Jeff called his mother and she answered, but then told him she wanted to get off the phone right away because she was watching something on TV showing pictures taken from the Hubble telescope and she wanted to get back to seeing them. She was captivated – this 90 something year old woman who can barely see.
In this quiet time, you may want to reflect on how you have experienced God speaking through science, how divine love is being revealed through scientific discovery.
ONE MINUTE OF WIND
Yes, we hear God speaking in science which may seem like an oxymoron to some, but it is easy to think about how divine love, the holy, God, is expressed in the arts. Music, visual arts, painting, dance, literature, poetry, these things reveal the depth of the human spirit taking us beyond our ourselves to something more fundamental. In images and words and movement and sound, in the arts, we endeavor to convey our deepest human sensibilities. These experiences captivate us, move us, speak to us, transform us. The arts also draw out our appreciation of beauty, creativity, and imagination. These are traits that define our human species in contrast to other species. Through the arts, we discover and share who we are as individuals as well as social creatures. Our son-in-law has no background or training in music. He has not studied the arts. And yet, Friday night, he was moved to tears at an orchestra concert. The arts have great power, a vast language, that can speak of divine love and universal human experience in ways that cross culture and and age.
In these quiet moments, you may reflect on how you have experienced the holy, the sacred, a glimpse of the eternal, through the arts.
ONE MINUTE OF WIND
While to some of us technology feels cold, remote, inscrutable, and unpredictable, it is still possible to see how even technology is a language for the expression of universal love that deepens our human experience and has the potential to bring people together and to strengthen our bonds as a human community in relationship to our environment. For good and for ill, it is technology that gives us access to boundless information. It is technology that has given us the tools and abilities to live in varying environments. It is technology that keeps us alive through advances in healthcare. Technology enhances our ability to communicate. When we think of Pentecost and how astounding the story is, today you can walk into a meeting of the United Nations and put on a head set and hear in your native tongue regardless of the language the person is speaking. Because of technology we can come to know one another, understand one another, and work together.
We must also note that in addition to being a tool for building community and supporting the health of the world, technology also has the power to destroy humanity. And we see this side of technology on a daily basis as well as the good that it can do.
Last week we had a memorial service at church for Ruth Ann Dudley. Her sister could not make the trip from Ohio to attend the service. But thanks to a computer and Skype, Marian Ball could watch the memorial service in real time. Yes, divine love can speak through technology.
In these quiet moments, you are invited to consider how you experience the divine love of God through technology.
ONE MINUTE OF WIND
We have considered many ways that God may speak to us. We have considered different modalities that enable us to experience the holy, the divine. We are thinking about the variety of ways that we feel something more, something deeper, in our daily lives that connects us to a more profound reality.
Another way that this happens, that we experience universal love and reconciliation, is through religion. Throughout human history, people have had some kind of spiritual expression; some kinds of beliefs and rites that integrate their understanding of life in a way that supports and promotes universal love and peace. In stories, in scripture, in sanctuaries, humans have sought to convey these deeper experiences of God, of the soul, of reality.
As humanity has progressed there have been differing understandings of religion. Given the diversity of humanity, it only makes sense that there are varieties of religions. Even within our one religion, Christianity, there are a multiplicity of expressions, beliefs, and practices, because religion, whatever the form, is always incomplete. There is always a dimension of mystery. That is part of the nature of religion: To remind us that we don’t know everything, that we are not completely in control, that we don’t have all the answers. Religion helps us to comprehend our finitude and limitations as well as our glorious potential. The reality conveyed by religion is more than the sum of its parts. And divine love, God, the sacred, speaks through religion.
Some of us were here in this very sanctuary on Mother’s Day. Each year, we have a ritual in which those who would like to may name those who have been a mother to them. It is always moving. This year, this ritual seemed to take on a new dimension. The sharing was more poignant somehow. I can’t really explain it. But that is the point. Religion reminds us that we can’t always explain and control things. There is more going on than we can know. And sometimes we are simply captivated by something that is sacred. And it can happen even in church.
In these moments for reflection, you may want to think about how God’s universal love has touched you through religion.
ONE MINUTE OF WIND
This service has given us a brief time to consider how God is speaking to us today. We are not an international group gathered and hearing foreigners speak in our language. But that ancient story invites us to consider the many ways that we access and experience the divine in our lives. It invites us to think about how we are able to listen and hear the message of divine universal love. It compels us to reflect on the messages of transformation and reconciliation that are blowing around us. It reminds us that we are being brought together for the good of the humanity and all of creation. God is still speaking. The divine, the holy, the sacred, infuses our lives and the world around us if we will but see, hear, taste, feel, and smell what is around us and within us.
The mathematician, Paul Erdos heard God speaking in numbers, calculations, proofs, and theorems. God will send the message in whatever form we will receive it! But Erdos was paying attention. Always. Intentionally. Focussed. Expectant.
Tom Trotter, a mathematician at Georgia Institute of Technology, and a friend and colleague of Erdos, remembers him this way:
“Paul Erdos was one of those very special geniuses, the kind who comes along only once in a very long while yet he chose, quite consciously I am sure, to share mathematics with mere mortals – like me. And for this, I will always be grateful to him. I will miss the times he prowled my hallways at 4:00 a.m. and came to my bed to ask whether my ‘brain is open.’ I will miss the problems and conjectures and the stimulating conversations about anything and everything. But most of all, I will just miss Paul, the human. I loved him dearly.” [Hoffman, p. 3]
I love that expression used by Erdos, “the brain is open.” He was always open to apprehending anything mathematical. He was always doggedly listening. When we think about Pentecost and the wind and flames and the people having that transforming experience, I think about how God is always around and within us: The power of love. The cohesion of unity. The liberation and freedom from all that prevents full life. Coming to us in ways we can apprehend and understand, whoever we are. Driving out our fear. Filling us with love. Fostering reconciliation. Fomenting unity.
Like those of the Pentecost story, like Erdos, may our brains always be open: To God – the sacred, the divine, Spirit, universal love – at all times and in all circumstances. For God is still speaking. Amen.
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