Pentecost, Sunday, June 9, 2019
– Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
The story about the building of the tower of Babel, where God confused the language of those who arrogantly sought equality with God, and the story of Pentecost, when God enabled the good news of the resurrection to be commonly understood by those divided by language, serve as bookends to a truth that transcends space and time and all divisions. The truth is that the Word of God made flesh is so pervasive and powerful that all life pauses for one sacred moment to take note of the all-encompassing intimacy of the divine. It stops us in our tracks. It is a game-changer, an equalizer so radically and upsettingly poignant that only with God is any accommodation of such truth possible.
In our world, both then and now, fraught with divisions and hierarchies determining who’s in or out, who’s worthy or worthless according to worldly standards, God spits on our standards by pouring the divine spirit upon all flesh, making no distinctions between sons and daughters, male or female, slave or free, racial or ethnic characteristics, nationalities or gender identity; for “the Lord looks on the heart,” said God to the prophet Samuel (1st Samuel 16:7); for “God shows no partiality,” said the apostle Peter (Acts 10:34); for “you are all one in Christ Jesus,” said the apostle Paul (Galatians 3:28); for “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly,” said Mary (Luke 1:52).
It’s not just what the disciples said about Jesus to an international gathering of Jews in Jerusalem, most of whom had no idea whom these Galileans were talking about. It was how they said it speaking in ways that allowed them to comprehend, despite their divisions of language, that made them take note. In other words, it was what they did or, more precisely, what God did through them, that allowed the listeners to fully receive and take to heart their good news.
What makes you a child of God? What convinces you, or keeps you in the realm of speculation, that there is an intimate cosmic Creator whose spirit of goodness permeates all life including your life; that affirms your connection and purpose with all life so that, in the words of Paul, “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1st Corinthians 12:26)?
While many of us may profess our faith through age-old creedal statements and faithful testimonies of scripture, many others considering membership among us often hear such statements and testimonies as untrained listeners to a foreign tongue, which regardless of efforts to explain, still come across as babble or nonsense to their reality.
Maybe, like the disciples of Pentecost, we must learn to open our hearts and lives to different ways the spirit of Christ may convey age-old truths in new ways to new generations of seekers and believers.
The First Epistle of John says that “no one has ever seen God.” (4:12) So, any reference we make of God as male or female; as singular, plural or even trinitarian is, at best, metaphor or symbolic speech. Why then are we so caught up in trying to fashion God into something that belongs to us and no one else? Why are we obsess in trying to create God in our own image instead of reflecting the image of God? Can we as the church learn to appreciate the spirit of God speaking through others in ways that might at first sound foreign to us?
“I’m unable to state what I believe,” said Marjorie, a ninety-year-old retired New York City psychotherapist and member of an Upper West Side church. She further said “I’m baffled about where we come from, where we’re going, and what we’re supposed to be doing while we’re here. I have formulated a map in my mind that goes something like this. We have been thrown into this world evolving through much turbulence. We are separated from our Creator, but as creatures we long and yearn to be reunited. It makes sense for me to call that from which we originated Essence since it refers to the ground of being, and our present state as Existence meaning to stand outside of being. For humanity to stand outside its essence is to live in a state of sin, which is unavoidable. But we make it less of a problem by figuring out how to draw closer to the Essence from which we came.” This is Marjorie’s credo or statement of faith.
In a world fraught with divisions and hierarchies determining who’s in or out, who’s worthy or worthless according to worldly standards, God spits upon our standards by pouring the divine spirit upon all flesh, and creating a body of Christ called the church where a different and alternative standard of being may be explored founded in divine grace, compassion and love.
“No one has ever seen God,” said the First Epistle of John. But everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1st John 4:7b-8) This is the spirit of Pentecost. This is my credo.