May 31, 2020
Saints today is Pentecost so we, of course, are reading the story of Pentecost as found in the book of Acts chapter two. Listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you today.
READ Acts 2:1-21
One thing that I have learned over the years is to never underestimate our capacity for hate. Well… no, that’s not true… I do underestimate it… and I am surprised again and again when I see just how deep it goes… how pervasive our hate really is… how our ability to hate one another is not just overt, but it sits there as the quiet foundation for so much of how the world functions today. Hate is there in our everyday greed… in our economic systems… who do we exploit… who benefits from the exploitation. Hate is there in our politics… in the lies we tell one another… making sure to point the finger at whoever is to blame for all your problems… who is out to take away your stuff… who is bad and a drain on the system while you are just innocently trying to do right by playing by the rules that are likely already stacked in your favor.
What is easier than to be manipulated through our little hatreds and biases? Isn’t that the not so secret secret behind weaponizing the internet and platforms like Facebook and Twitter? We love to hate through our zings and our memes and the sharing of the lies we like to believe are true because they feed so well into our hate. Let’s be honest. We’re nasty little creatures. I think that’s what John Calvin was trying to remind us with the theology of Total Depravity. Human nature is so completely sinful and so corrupt because of the Fall. And if the idea of the Fall isn’t something you like to carry around in your own personal theology… there is still no denying that we are nasty little creatures. John Calvin could see that our corruption touched everything… even when we were trying to do good it was there. It’s like Paul lamenting about the sin that dwells within… “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
I feel I need to start there on this Pentecost Sunday not just because of the darkness that is swirling around us again… suffocating us again… having broken loose from the ineffective fetters we like to put upon it so we can try to convince ourselves we aren’t really as bad as all that… I feel I need to start there on this Pentecost Sunday because… as the story goes… when the Spirit came upon the disciples… and the tongues of fire appeared and rested on them giving the ability to speak in other languages… they were driven out from inside and into the streets and used that ability to spread the good news of Christ. The disciples were hiding from the hate focused at them there in Jerusalem… the hate that would have taken their lives just as it had swarmed up to have Jesus crucified at the time of the Passover. But the Spirit filled the disciples and gifted them so that they had the ability to spread good news. And just what was that good news?
The crowd the disciples went into was filled with fellow Jews… but Jews from outside of Judea who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival of Pentecost… named for the fifty days that separates it from Passover. But… but… how many of those Judean Jerusalem Jews in the crowd… how many of them resented those outside Jews coming into their city? They could have held their tongues… but how many would have been betrayed by what actually lived there in their hearts. How many had muttered against them as foreigners even as they shared a common faith? How many of them couldn’t wait for them to leave so they could have their city back to normal? They were so different from them… and differences… we like to hate differences don’t we? I wonder how many complaints there were about them not speaking the right language while in Jerusalem… or speaking it poorlyy… or with that weird accent so I can’t understand what they’re saying half the time. Sneers. Frowns. Outright derision aplenty. Again… that quiet hatred that we keep inside whose influence cannot be denied… like Paul was admitting… but nevertheless still manages to seep into the atmosphere and befoul the air around us.
The Holy Spirit gives the disciples the ability to speak in the language of the hearer in order to give a message of good news. The Holy Spirit gives the ability to cross differences and unify people through the good news. And just what was that good news?
Who cares?! They are filled with new wine. Drunk and stupid and not be listened to. Turn away. Ignore them. Don’t bother to hear what they have to say. Dismiss and distract. Denounce and deny. The tools of hate work well… that’s why they never change. We know how to effectively hate one another and to make sure that that hatred stays around. They are drunk on new wine. Here are all the reasons the messenger is flawed and any good news you might think you hear is tainted by those same flaws and ought to be dismissed out of hand without any real consideration. It’s not about the message… it’s always about the imperfections of the messenger I’m able to conjure and convince you to hate. Of course the real trick in doing that effectively is to find the sin within yourself and then hang that same sin on the other whom you’re trying to discredit… that way it is convincing because it rings true to our own sinful and corrupted experience.
Yet, Peter stands up and tells the crowd that is listening… Peter tells them some words from the prophet Joel. And what’s interesting about those words is how the Spirit does not respect our designated lines of hatred for one another. The Spirit ignores our well established rules of who is superior to whom. The Spirit comes upon people regardless of gender. The Spirit comes upon people regardless of age. The Spirit comes upon people regardless of economic and social placement. The good news is God’s Spirit like God’s grace knows no bounds… is a disrespecter of all divisions we would create through our works of self-justification. Of course, hate shortens our memories and we forget that… we easily come to believe God hates whom we hate. Or sometimes we allow our theology to teach us to hate those whom God hates… which also is conveniently who we already hated. You know… I’ve always found it interesting how we can take this religion… this Jewish religion… and use that very same Jewish religion to develop a theology of hate against the Jews. The power of idolatry that helps us to shape our faith according to our wants and needs rather than to be shaped by the good news of God in Christ. And just what was that good news?
I will pour out my Spirit on them and they shall prophesy… they shall deliver good news. Joel… Old Testament prophet that he is… talks a lot about what God will do. And Joel also talks about what God requires… requires… not asks… of us. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”
That’s the good news of God in Christ. Steadfast love. Saints, let go of your hate… for salvation comes through God’s steadfast love. A love so steadfast that it doesn’t ask you to kill in its name. A love so steadfast that you are not required to condemn others so that you yourself will know what the gospel is. Christ took up his cross to show that these ways of hate have no power. God raised him from the dead to show that these ways of hate have no power. Love one another as I loved you is the good news… because that love… that steadfast love is a servant’s love. That is the love we are commanded… not recommended… not advised… commanded… that is the love we are commanded to live out because that is the manner of love that best reflects this steadfast love of God. That is the good news.
The disciple of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, speaks the language of those with whom they share the good news of God in Christ. The disciple of God weeps with those who weep. That is the language they are gifted to employ. The disciple of God mourns with those who mourn. That is the language they are gifted to employ. Over 100,000 people have died in our nation alone… rend your hearts. Christ died for you so through your discipleship you could bring life to this world… not more death. Christ faced injustice and was killed by those who would use the tools of power and law for their own benefit. The disciple of God speaks against injustice and does not make excuses for wrong. That is the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been poured upon us for the spreading of the good news of God in Christ Jesus. Saints, it is not normal that African Americans in our society are dying at a higher rate from this disease, at the hands of law enforcement, from violence in their communities, from poverty, from lack of clean water and health care. We cannot normalize injustice and then throw up our hands in apathy and disgust when it keeps reappearing again and again. Because the good news of God in Christ is that God didn’t not hold back God’s grace from a humanity inflicted by total depravity. The good news is that God’s Holy Spirit is poured out on us all… those who foolishly think they deserve it and those who know better. That the steadfast love of God is… well… steadfast… and not just reserved for some… but is especially good news for those who are in deepest depths of Hell… God will go there… God will be there… God will pour out such love that our eyes will be opened and we will be ashamed of the hate that we still hold onto while grasping with full hands to grab hold of the salvation of love that is being offered.
The fire… the flames of Pentecost… I pray this year it will gift us by being a refining fire that will burn away the sin that still continues to cling too tightly… that burns away our hate for one another… that softens our hardened hearts… so that we will be disciples of God known only for bringing the good news of God in Christ into the world. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.