Sermon: Pentecost in Practice or A New Creation
Date: May 15, 2016 Pentecost
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 104:1, 4 and Acts 2:1-24, 37-41
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
“In the beginning. . .” In the beginning of our story, the story of our faith, the story of our identity as Christians, and the story which shapes our community and culture, we are told that, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” [Genesis 1: 1-2] The Spirit was brooding over the waters. The Spirit was stirring things up. Something new was about to emerge from the divine imagination, a new reality was about to be born.
“And then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. . .” [Genesis 1:3-4a] There was the sun to light the day and the stars to light the night. Fire burning in the heavens lights this new creation. Wind and fire mark the inception of our first story of creation.
Now science tells us of a cloud of dust particles swirling through space and the explosion of a star creating fiery, chaotic forces that eventually formed our solar system including Earth. Again, we see fire and wind, the conditions for creation.
This morning we heard the Pentecost story. The disciples are gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. This was a harvest festival held 50 days after Passover. It was a celebration of the first harvest of the summer. Jewish people from many lands came to the Temple in Jerusalem for this festival. And what happens? Wind and fire. We are told that the Spirit of God comes – something like flames appear on each person. And there is the wind. The writers are struggling for words to convey what it was like because they hadn’t experienced anything like this before. But they know what they want to get across. They want to express a sense of a new creation. So they choose the images of wind and fire.
Wind and fire. The wind brooding over the waters in Genesis. The daytime sky lit by the fire of the sun. The night lit by the fire of the stars. Breath, wind, giving life to humanity. Wind and fire signal creation. Pentecost is a story about something being created.
These images of fire and wind are images of energy and life. Fire warms. It brings light. It provides energy and power. It is fuel. And wind spreads seeds for vegetation to flourish. It is a source of power and energy. Wind sails boats and powers machinery. Wind refreshes and cools. So there is creative, constructive power in wind and fire.
And just like the first creation story, the Pentecost story is a story of chaos and power beyond human control leading to a new kind of order.
The Pentecost story begins with a small group of Jesus followers from Galilee. They are in Jerusalem for this festival attended by people from all over the Empire. It’s a cosmopolitan crowd. And Galileans were known for being, well, we might say, hicks. From a backwater province. And here these unsophisticated people start speaking in the languages of all the other people who are there from all over the known world. These people are enabled to speak in every language so that everyone hears about what God is doing; no one is left out. God’s message of love and grace is for all people. Period. Not just for this group. Or that sect. Or this culture. Or that ethnicity. Or this religion. Or that socio-economic class. That’s the way religion worked in the past. That’s what people associated with the gods in past eras. Pentecost is telling of something new. This story is telling us that God wants to make sure that everyone knows of the love and grace at the heart of reality. No exceptions. No divisions. No favoritism. No privileging one group over another.
The story of the Tower of Babel was a story to explain why people are different and divided. The story of Pentecost is a story about bringing everyone together around the message of universal love. This is a new beginning, a new reality, of commonality and unity though not uniformity. Everyone hears in their own language; they do not all learn one language.
We also want to notice that the story begins with a small group of Galileans, and ends with 3,000 people being baptized that day. People from all over the world. From every culture. From all walks of life. Every strata of society. All these people are drawn to the message of divine love that they hear spoken directly to them in their own tongue.
Now, with the immediate baptizing of over 3,000 people, we are being told that there was not time for a test of creed or credentials. There was no theological screening. There was no background check. Man, woman, slave, free, Jew, Gentile, whosoever, let them come. They all heard the message. They were all free to respond by being baptized. No exceptions. This is an amazing expression of egalitarian community. All these different people, all these different languages, brought together by divine love. Drawn together as gravity pulled the swirling dust particles disturbed by the supernova together to form the solar system. Here the Holy Spirit is disturbing the crowd of diverse peoples and bringing them together in an unlikely, uncommon, unique mass, a new community free of the divisions and separations that previously defined orderly human society.
The Pentecost story is about the creating of a new reality where all the divisions we create and all the things that separate us are overpowered by the universality of divine love. In this new reality, we don’t get to control things, especially the faith community. There is no place in this new reality for the church to create tests and barriers that mete out divine love. There is no room for humanity to consider controlling divine forgiveness, grace, and love. The faith community is to completely submit itself to the power of the divine. There are simply to exceptions, no exclusions, and no fine print. And the results, the impact, the influence, the effect is beyond our wildest imaginings.
In this new creation, divine blessing is poured out on all of humanity and all of creation; “. . . the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. . . and the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. . .” [Genesis 1: 21, 25] The Pentecost story conveys the Spirit of God poured out on all, as wind blows and touches whatever is in its path; as fire illuminates whatever is present. Divine love imbues all of creation and our calling is to reverence the sacred in every person, every life, and all of the cosmos.
This is the new reality that we pray for: Thy Kin-dom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. A new creation, with fire to consume all that prevents universal blessing. We think of the images that we have seen of the conflagration engulfing the area of Fort McMurray, Canada. Fire definitely has destructive capacity. The fire of the Holy Spirit has the power to destroy pettiness, selfishness, ethnocentric attitudes, classism, and all divisions and separations that perpetuate conflict. And wind also has destructive capacity. We think of the images of Hurricane Katrina or Andrew. The wind of the Holy Spirit has the ability to wipe out our fears, grudges, illusions, and delusions. All of this creating the conditions for the Spirit to ignite our passion of eternal love and caress us with refreshing joy and peace.
There is a photon in every atom, including every atom of our bodies. We are fire and light. And we live by breathing; wind, spirit flowing through our nostrils and lungs. Fire and wind. Each of us a new creation, Spirit filled, a message of divine love for the universe. Amen.
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