Acts 2:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Happy birthday, church! Today we move from the liturgical season of Easter where we remember the resurrection and Jesus’ final days on Earth to Pentecost, where we celebrate the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church.
I like to think of the Spirit as being the part of the Trinity which dances around us, nudging us towards justice, towards inclusion, towards celebration of our faith. I’ve always loved being in the church during Pentecost. I’ve loved dressing up with everyone else so that the congregation created a sea of red. I’ve loved being intentional about focusing on the Spirit, which I often feel is the least understood and often most neglected part of the Trinity.
This year is a little different, but I’m still excited that we get to move into a new liturgical season together.
For us, Pentecost comes once a year. Let’s remember though that for the early church, this was more than a day on the church calendar. Picture this with me for a moment. In the Bible stories for the season of Easter, the disciples are bombarded by emotions and new experiences. First, they saw their leader, their confidant, their friend arrested, beaten, and murdered.
They mourned him while in hiding together, afraid that if they were found they would share his fate. Then Mary Magdalene ran to them and proclaimed that Jesus had risen! They barely had time to comprehend that news before Jesus appeared to them, showed them the wounds in his side and hands, and told them that it was now their turn to share the news of the gospel with others. Days later, the text says, they witnessed his ascension into Heaven.
I don’t know about you all, but with the stress and anxiety affecting all of us lately I get overwhelmed when I have a few too many Zoom meetings on my calendar. Can you imagine how the disciples might have been feeling after living through all of this in just a matter of days? I can only imagine them looking around at each other now that Jesus was gone, and with baffled expressions saying, “What now?”
What, now, indeed.
What we learn next in our scripture for this morning, is that there was a festival in town. The streets were alive with the hustle and bustle of thousands of Jews from all over gathered in Jerusalem.
Instead of being out among them, our disciples were once again gathered together in a room. In my imagination, I see them huddled together still trying to comprehend all that had happened in the weeks before. Or maybe they were doing a little self-care…instead of going out into the busy festival outside, they were just chilling together and enjoying a little peace and quiet. Maybe they were doing the equivalent of what I do on my day off after an exceptionally long week—relaxing and soaking in a little introvert time.
But that didn’t last very long. Suddenly, a violent, rushing wind blew through the room and filled the entire house. Can you picture it? Maybe Simon Peter was sitting at the table with a scroll, when suddenly the wind catches it and blows it out of his hands. Thomas is holding a glass of water, and drops it in shock. Mary Magdelene quickly clutches the top of her head to keep her head covering from blowing away. They look around in surprise at the rest of the disciples and see flames of fire above their heads, and hear them speaking in many different languages. The room becomes full of their voices, the different languages coming together to create a cacophony of sound which fills the house.
The sound is so loud that it starts to gain the attention of the people outside on the streets. The crowd begins to gather around the house, baffled because through the hullabaloo they hear words being spoken in their own language. The disciples have a new energy, a new excitement, and they rush out into the streets to begin to share it with the people outside. They are so animated that people begin to wonder, “Are they drunk?”
“And then—to quote Rev. Emily Heitzman— Peter does something unexpected. Peter – the same one who had lacked confidence when Jesus called him to walk on water, the same one who cowardly denied Jesus three times before his crucifixion on the cross – now boldly stands up, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he raises his voice, and begins speaking the words of the prophet Joel, proclaiming that in the last days, the Spirit will be poured out onto ALL of God’s people. Both male and female. Young and old. Slave and free. That this Spirit will empower and equip ALL of the people of God to be prophets – no matter who they are, where they are from, what language they speak, no matter what their circumstances.”
The people who hear him preach are so compelled by the experience that over 3000 of them chose to join the church that day. It grew within a matter of hours from a small band of disciples to a community of Christ followers.
So, today, we celebrate that the early Church got an answer to the question, “Now what?” and then took their faith into the streets of Jerusalem, made a ruckus, and created change. We celebrate Pentecost every year because it is a reminder for us to ask ourselves, are we being the church the Spirit is calling us to be or are we sitting back asking ourselves, “Now what?”
Like the early church, we are living in strange and disruptive times. We are each trying to comprehend all the changes that are being thrown at us so quickly.
As if a global pandemic and stay at home orders aren’t enough to worry about right now, we also are once again seeing the horrific effects of racism in America. We are hearing the stories of Black lives that have been ended way too soon because of the color of their skin. But let us be clear here—the problem does not lie with someone having black skin, the problem lies with racist prejudices found in white people who consciously or unconsciously allow their racism to lead them to acts of violence.
This week there have been protests and riots in cities across the country to stand up against police brutality and race-related hate crimes. With that comes a myriad of opinions about what the right way and the wrong way to protest is—when the truth is that no matter how violent or non-violent these protests are, they will still be decried by a society that does not respect the full humanity of people of color.
Enough is enough, and it is beyond time that white people stop critiquing how black people respond to their siblings and friends being lynched. Instead, we need to commit to the work of dismantling white supremacy and racism in our own lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our state, and our country.
I recently read the article “Ahmaud, Breonna, Christian, and George and The Talk Every Black Boy Receives” that was published in Baptist Global Weekly on Friday. This article is about the talk that every Black mother has with her son about the danger that comes with being a man who has black skin in America. The author, Timothy Peoples’ ended that article this way:
“It takes another Pentecost to happen for each and all of us to yield to the redemptive power of the Spirit and to use our tongues to call out for justice.
Most of the time the scripture readings for Pentecost Sunday end before we get to Peter calling out the people and their systems for crucifying Jesus and the listeners’ response: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’” And Peter exclaimed, “Repent!” (Acts 2:37-38)
America, we have been crucifying our own for too long. I surely hope your heart has been cut by the tragedies of Ahmaud, Breonna, Christian and George – just to cite four victims whose names have circulated recently in the news media. I sure hope we are ready to repent and move with the Spirit of God, because right now when my momma calls to give me The Talk, about all I have left to say is, “I have life insurance now, just in case it’s me next.”
So friends, the Holy Spirit is upon us once again, moving us to answer the question, “Now what?”
There isn’t a simple answer to the question of how to end racism once and for all in America. If there was one, we would probably already be living in a much different society.
This is a heavy sermon for my 5th week of ministry with you all, and I recognize that. But when I accepted the call to become your minister, one of the main reasons was because of your heart for social justice and your love of neighbor. I know that this congregation is full of people who are feeling the weight of the world right now and trying to find ways to be part of the solution. If, like me, you are feeling compelled to action today but don’t know where to begin I have some ideas for you.
First, you can support the activists who are on the front lines of this fight by donating to one of the Community Bail Funds that has been set up to get activists out of jail. These funds exist to not only bail out folks, but also provide post-release support to pick them up from jail, fed, and to a safe place.
Another good option, and the place where I personally put my money this week, is donating to one of the many organizations that are fighting for Black Liberation. In particular, the Black Visions Collective is a great organization that promotes healing and transformative racial justice work.
Beyond donating money, we can educate ourselves on what white privilege is and how to work on dismantling it in our own lives and communities. If you need recommendations for good books to read to start this process for yourself, please reach out to me and I will make some recommendations for you.
We can challenge racist language and actions when we see them happening. We can choose not to ignore the racist joke told by our coworker or the off-hand comment made by our next-door neighbor. We can make sure that people know that if they are openly racist in front of us, we will challenge it.
Lastly, we can join anti-racist organizations like NGAGE NM or SURJ—whose name means Showing Up for Racial Justice– to learn how we can help work for equity for people of all races.
Friends—we are being called to action right now. It is up to us to listen and to make a choice to be the hands and feet of God in the world. When we do that, we never know what type of impact we may have in our community. It is through what we do, what we say, and how we interact with others that people see our faith.
Just like the original Pentecost, the Spirit is moving in this community. She is dancing among us, nudging us to move forward and do our part to make the world a safer and more equitable place for all people. Let us all be in prayer about what we can do to join her.