Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecost C


“Pentecost is something more than a so-called past event.
It is the story of God’s continuing presentness experienced again and again...
...the amazing story of people coming to awareness through reflection on the life of Jesus that the same Spirit that moved in him moved in them.”
Michael Morwood, Praying a New Story

I have always enjoyed a good party. Perhaps it is the maritimer in me; cause trust me, outside of Quebec, the rest of this country is far less likely to randomly break into a kitchen party. But there is something about the feeling of having friends and family, of a meal together, of music playing and people laughing… it really seems to make everything feel better.

The Jewish faith actually had this down to a science thousands of years before most of us did. For them, every religious observance was accompanied by a feast, by a gathering, by music and prayers…sometimes lasting for days.

The festival of Shavuot, some 7 weeks after Passover, was the Jewish festival celebrating the time when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on top of Mount Sinai. It was a time when you headed to the temple for the weekend and prayed and ate and celebrated.

And people from all over the world would flock to Jerusalem. Religious or not, everyone was going to be there, so why not go… traders and merchants, soldiers and tax collectors, The faithful from other countries and the curious… everyone would head to the city for the weekend.

One year, it happened that the disciples were there too… shortly after Jesus death… and that was the weekend everything changed.


If we are to truly understand Pentecost we have to see it as a time when things got put back, when things got fixed… and that is why we start with the tower of Babel… here is where they got broken. It is not a real story, but it is a true story… and here is the truth behind it… People reach too far… we want too much, we try too hard… and when we do, we get broken.

Think of it as being for our own good. If we build the tower too tall, we are going to fall and get hurt… it is as simple as that.

There is a Greek Myth about Icarus… who wanted to escape his world and so he made wings out of feathers and wax… but once he was flying he wanted to go higher and higher, eventually getting too close to the sun… when the wax melted, his wings fell apart, and he fell to his death.

Same story – sometimes we go too far, and it ends up with us getting hurt… so, as the tale is told, God protected us by making it so that we could not work together anymore…

And it was pretty effective too… instead of being united, we all spoke different languages, we all lived in different places, we all looked different, and we really did not trust each other…

Now we would not be able to build that tower to the sun anymore….


Now this is where the story gets interesting…. Where the broken gets put back together again… the point of the story of Pentecost is that it reverses the tower of Babel; our differences, our languages, our faults… none of that will stop us if we believe in Jesus.

The disciples, you might remember, are all from small town Galillee, and they are mostly fishermen. There was not much education between them, certainly they were not city kids on the streets of Montreal who might speak three or four languages… they spoke Aramaic… not even the Jews in the Temple spoke Aramaic… the city folk spoke Hebrew…

And yet, as they spoke and preached and prayed during that first Pentecost they did it in Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic… every language known to civilization.

The point of this story is not some miraculous speaking of tongues, the point is about overcoming differences. Here were these people with a message that they thought could change the world… but not that many people had heard the message yet… until this one day, during a festival, when people from all over the world were gathered in one place… and they got it.

This is why we call this the Birthday of the Church. It really did not start with Jesus, or with Paul, or with Peter… not the church… the message started and spread through them… but it took this moment, this perfect moment when everyone was in the right place at the right time, to start the church.

People left Jerusalem after the weekend and returned home, and they talked about this, and they spoke of Jesus, and other people got curious, and things spread from there to everywhere… 

You can think of a thousand reasons that this might not work, that people might not stop to listen, that others would not be curious, that the message was boring anyway… but that was not the case. They had something to say, and they said it with passion, with tongues of fire, and it was worth listening to, worth sharing….


"Wind, wind. A reflection on the Spirit"
By William Loader   (Adapted)

Wind, wind,
you come from nothingness and go to nothingness,
and when you are still,
there is nothing we see, nothing we hear,
and you surround us in our not seeing and not knowing.
Wild, wild wind,
you whip the seas, whirling great water spouts and fountains,
crashing the foamed edges of the shore,
sweeping the unsuspecting fisherman from the slippery rocks,
terrifying force, uncontrollable, beyond our power.
Wind, wind, wondrous wind,
hovering at the birth of creation,
whisking secretly among the wonders of new life,
bearing the seed, lifting high the heads of mighty trees,
swirling among the grasses, celebrating life.
Wind, wind, gentle wind,
wind of our breathing, our life, our hope,
renewing, refreshing,
sighing in our stress,
moaning in our pain,
still in our dying.
O wind, wind,
you breathed upon the clay and there was life,
you danced down to the forehead of a Galilean
and there was hope,
you shook the foundations of community
and there was Pentecost.


Did you know that there is only one word in Hebrew for Spirit, breath, and wind, “Ruach”? They are interchangeable… which I always find interesting because they are pretty much used in the same way in the Old Testament… the spirit of the Lord hovered upon the waters, the breath of God was upon him, God spoke in a mighty rush of wind… all sentences from the Bible we would understand to be almost the same….

Anyone who has ever watched the wind blow on a beach knows that it is powerful and creative. The wind is what makes boats sail and airplanes fly… it is, literally, the wind at our back…

Which is what the spirit of God is too; the spirit is that which blows through you and gives you strength, or courage, or hope, or love… it is the feeling that pushes you to better places, better ways of being…
It is what unites us all and weaves us together…

I wonder what changed at Pentecost. I wonder why a thousand years of division suddenly got reversed. 

Maybe when we tried to build the tower of Babel we were not ready to work together, but when we heard and understood the message of Jesus we were?

Cause that is a powerful claim for those early Christians to make… where once we were all divided, now we are all together… where once we could not work together, now we understand that we are all the same…

But that is what they are saying, that once God had to separate us, but now through Jesus we are restored…. That is what Paul says when he writes that we are all part of the same body, that there is neither Jew nor Greek. It really was not only their hope, but their passionate belief that now God was with them and nothing could stop them!

And this time it was not arrogance because this time they were not trying to build a tower, or fly to the sun, or do anything to prove they were the coolest, or the best… this time they were trying to help everyone to be loved just like they were.

It surprised even them when it happened. Like all grace filled moments, they come out of nowhere… but looking back we can say that this is where it all began… this is when people took it seriously and went out into the world hoping that they could make a difference themselves.

Instead of spirit, let’s call it something else… inspiration…. This was the moment where inspiration came into their lives and it led them out into the world full of passion and purpose…


I think what we see around us is 90% what we feel. Think about it, your mood changes how things look, feel, taste, are….

So what, you may ask… well… I want you to see Pentecost the same way. I want you to see that it was attitude that caused people to have hardship, and it was attitude that got them all back together again…

We, as a church, moved from the tower of Babel to the celebration of Pentecost…

And it is a lesson we can all understand, all see as being true, and all take to heart. God’s love has the power to overcome our differences and set us free. Working together for the good of others is an idea that can challenge and inspire us, and the spirit is with us as we go.

No comments: