Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost, 2019-C: Our Pentecost reality

Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

In the Pentecost story from Acts, the disciples are waiting together as Jesus had told them to do, until they’d been “clothed with power from on high” which truly did descend upon them filling them with the Holy Spirit. And the best way the Luke could describe it was that it looked like divided tongues of fire settling upon each one present. As you know, fire is biblical language for the presence of God: the burning bush in Genesis, the pillar of fire in Exodus, and the fire covering the tent of the covenant in the book of Numbers.

On that first Pentecost, fire which signaled the presence of God, divided itself into smaller bits and each person present was given one of those bits. Gathering all of their bits together enabled the synergy of God’s presence in each of them to blossom into the fullness of God among them. This equipped them to carry the Good News to the whole world as the prophet Joel had said, and the early church grew exponentially.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for some of those disciples upon whom the spirit of God descended to be edged out to the margins of the community once again. As the fledgling church began to form its institutional identity the top leadership – Jewish men - shoved the new wine of this Pentecost reality back into the old skins of the Jewish temple system, eventually edging women, slaves, the poor, and others right back to the “outer courts” of the community.

There was no existing earthly system that would enable the Spirit of God to continue to move unimpeded among the disciples, so they fell back on a familiar one. The doors that Jesus had flung open began to close and that institutional system evolved into the one we have today which continues to reflect this ancient patriarchal advantage.

It’s a pattern that has played out in human history over and over again.

I recently read a novel called, “The Healing” by Jonathan O’Dell. Set on a cotton plantation in pre-Civil War Mississippi, this book tells the story of a young slave girl named Granada who transitions from life in the “great house” to an apprentice “doctress” – a midwife and healer - under the tutelage of an amber-eyed, mixed race slave named Polly Shine. Polly, a healer, was purchased by the master to intervene in the cholera epidemic wiping out his “stock.” Knowing abolition was on the horizon, the master aimed to treat his slaves well enough so that when freedom became an option, they’d have no need of it – a condition Polly called being “freedom stupid.”

Mother Polly had “the sight.” A person with “the sight” had visions and dreams from the eternal realm which helped them “see” beyond what seemed apparent in the world to what was eternally true: in their bodies, their community, and in the world.

Polly could “see” this truth and she saw that same ability in Granada but Granada would have to learn how to use it, and doing so would cause her to confront and unlearn so much of what she had assumed was true. Polly told Granada that in order to learn this Granada would have to stop talking, watch, and listen.

Polly’s great frustration with Granada was what she was “freedom stupid.” Once when discussing the prospect of freedom with her young apprentice, Granada complained that she didn’t want to leave the plantation to go to freedom-land. “Where was it, anyway?” she wanted to know.

It isn’t a place, Polly told her, it’s a way of being.

This story is such a great metaphor for the church. Church isn’t a place. It’s a way of being. We don’t go to church. We are the church who gathers together in a building we call our church. Each Sunday we share stories from Scripture that help us remember our identity; and we share the divine meal together – the one Jesus asked us to share in order to remember him.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter quotes the prophet Joel who declares God’s intention to pour out divine Spirit onto ALL flesh: sons and daughters, men and women, old and young, slave and free. This is that time, Peter proclaims. It still is because God is still redeeming. God is always redeeming.

But like young Granada, so many in the church cling to old understandings and old ways. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of the freedom of God’s spirit and trust its power to transform us, our community, and even the world, many Christians turn away from it, choosing to fall back into a spirit of fear as St. Paul said.

“Do you not believe…?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Believe me [when I say] that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”

Or as Polly would have said: stop talking, watch, and listen. Transformation is happening even now in our individual bodies, our communities, and in the world. God is redeeming. God is always redeeming.

We look back at the pre-Civil War era and wonder how Christians could ever have believed that the kidnapping and enslavement of humans could be proclaimed as in keeping with God’s will …that snatching nursing babies from their mother’s breasts, and children from their innocence; that working people to near exhaustion, whipping them, and hanging them from trees was in any way in keeping with Jesus’ commandments to love.

Yet today more than ten thousand brown children, whom we separated from their parents - some while literally nursing at their mother’s breasts – are being housed in cages on our soil. An additional 1500 children remain officially “lost.” While in our custody, 7 year old Jakelin Caal Maquin died from dehydration and exhaustion, and 8 year old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died from a cold that went untreated until it was too late.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus said. And his commandments were to love God, and neighbor as self. To love others as he loved us.

Thankfully, God is still redeeming. God is always redeeming until “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” God renews the face of the earth by continually sending forth God’s own spirit to create and re-create the world; and God has chosen us to make manifest on earth what is true in heaven.

This is a tremendous gift, one that often overwhelms our experience. Like Granada, we may hesitate to accept it and resist unlearning what we know in order to learn this new way of being, but when we gather together, the bits of God’s spirit in each of us unites with the bits of God’s spirit in all of us, and the fullness of God is made manifest through us on the earth.

That’s why we come to church. We don’t come to check off the attendance box on our heaven-bound report card, or to prop up a building, or to hang out with friends. We gather together every Sunday to remember the stories of our identity and share the divine meal so that we, as a community, can unite our bits of the spirit of God together in order to manifest the fullness of God into the world.

We know that each church and every church institution will be as imperfect as the people who comprise it and devise it, so we endeavor to free up the spirit of God to establish new ways of being church in the world: our church, THE church, remembering that God continually works through us in all our imperfections to redeem. God is always redeeming.

Happy birthday to the church in our continual becoming. Amen.

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