Summer finally seems to have arrived. Beaches are beginning to open up. Lawns are needing to be mowed. Fans are still waiting for the “crack” of the bat hitting a baseball. Many are yearning for ‘normal’ to return but that normal is not present. “I can’t breathe,” are words refusing to be silent. Will the next wave of Covid-19 be a ripple or tsunami? The presidential campaign is turning into a full out sprint. The worry is how will the connective fibres holding us together as a country withstand the efforts to tear us apart into divisive camps.
Jesus had gone around the area preaching the good news of the kingdom as well as healing the sick. The crowds were large with no one to unite and bring healing to them. He had compassion for them. So the disciples were sent out to continue what Jesus had been doing. The more workers meant more could be done. Jesus told them to do this freely, without payment. He also told them to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The kingdom of heaven and its reign comes to us freely without a cost. Make no mistake, the cross was costly for Christ but the gift of his kingdom is free. The disciples needed to model this and to be aware of the push back they would face. There were those, like wolves, who profited and enjoyed having power over the sheep (people). These wolves will prosecute and persecute anyone getting in the way of their privileged position. The disciples needed to know this and to also understand that they’ll have the Holy Spirit’s support with them.
The summer season has arrived and the desire for many is to get back to what is considered to be normal. However the political division, racial issues and progression of Covid-19 infections are forcing us to face a world that is far from that normal. Into this world, Jesus is sending us (the church). The message is that there is another way for the world to exist and it comes freely, the kingdom of heaven which comes to us through Christ. This other way is where the sick are cared for and our neighbour’s health is important for us to support and keep. This other way brings healing to injuries formed by racial and political divisions. This other way calls out with honesty the evil that sits at the doorway of our lives, naming it for what is done. Will this cause a push back? Of course. However, don’t forget that the Spirit is present and will give the support needed. A lot of work needs to be done. The more announcing the kingdom of heaven that comes near to us in Christ, the more that good news gets spread.
The heading “Coherent Voices” sounds a lot like an oxymoron. Coherence means there is a unifying reference. Yet in the middle of an argument when all sides are shouting there is no coherence. This country is in the middle of an argument about race, I like to call it human dignity. The protests of the past few days are an eruption of it.
Another man of color, George Floyd, has died while under arrest at the hands of the police. This continues to happen and it should not. Protests have happened in thirty cities because this must stop. Yes, there has been damage to property. The other side has labelled the protesters “thugs” and connects “looting” to “shooting” as pointed out in a recent Twitter comment by the President. The argument continues to be fanned for political gain.
This Sunday is Pentecost. Jews from the known world had gathered for a festival when the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a strong wind and tongues of fire settled above the heads of Jesus’ disciples. They spoke and those present, even with different dialects and languages, could hear clearly what was being said. There were many voices but they were coherent in the message which was about the wonderful things that God has done. One of the great things God has done and continues to do is work toward unity of all people.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all people with no distinction between age, rank or sex. God is pouring his Spirit on all people. We divide but God unifies. We degrade each other but Christ’s death and resurrection was for all and brings value to all humanity. We destroy but in Christ all creation is being made new.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 20: 19-23) has Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. He sent them out with the business of forgiveness which is about restoration and the renewing of relationships (with God and each other). The church is being sent out today with a coherent message among the voices. The message is about human dignity that is granted not by us but by Christ himself. The message speaks directly to the division that it must end because the kingdom of heaven is not of this world. The message is about what the wonderful things God has done for us in Christ. It is for all.
The nation is beginning to open up. Whether this was a wise move will be shown over the next couple months. However, the idea of getting back to some sense of normal human interaction does feel good. Yes, there are those for whom the thought of being shut in at home with nothing to do but play video games is heaven on earth. Yet even for them, human interaction is still needed. We have tried drive-by waving at family. Zoom has suddenly become an indispensable app. They help but aren’t the same as actually being with family and friends.
Jesus is continuing his farewell address to his disciples and needless to say they are anxious and fearful. He promised them that they would not be abandoned, orphaned. Another Counselor — the Spirit of truth — will be with them. This Counselor will be one who comes along side and continues Jesus’ relationship with them. If there was ever a time when we seek the assurance of God’s presence, these would be the days. The Counselor is more than God “hanging out” with us. The Spirit has a purpose and that is to give us the truth. The world isn’t a fan of this truth. Our political environment has left ‘truth’ on life support. The truth is that we are infinitely loved by God and that includes our enemies and political foes. The truth is Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the way this loving relationship is put into action.
So how do we live out this loving relationship? Well, we do the things Jesus taught us to do. We know what they involve…loving our neighbor…serving not ourselves and our personal interests but what is best for our neighbor. Jesus was correct, the world wants nothing to do with the truth of a loving God. If the world listened to the truth and followed Jesus’ commands, our current political environment would be radically transformed.
These are difficult times as we feel the loss of presence with family and friends. These days make us wonder of God’s presence with us. Yet, the message today is that you are loved and so is the rest of the world. The Spirit is along side you to keep reminding you of that reality. The way to live out this love is to show it to our neighbor so they will know that they are not alone either.
The day of Pentecost has come as the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. The day is often called the birthday of the church. One thing for sure it is the dread of lay readers trying to pronounce the likes of Cappadocia, Elamites and Phrygia. The day is a strange one with a violent wind and tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples. The God-fearing Jews heard the witness of the disciples in their native language (outreach to the Gentiles will come later). The reaction was bewilderment and some considering the disciples to be drunk at 9:00 a.m. While alcohol may loosen the tongue, it doesn’t give command of another language. This shows the Spirit was given for the purpose to give witness to the mighty things God had done. Namely, raising Jesus from the dead.
The Holy Spirit was the gift given for the benefit of the church to do the work God has called it to do through Christ. Yet, as always, we work to limit the Spirit to our own prejudices and power structures. Peter quoted the prophet Joel to respond to the bewilderment of the people present. In the last days, God will pour the Spirit upon sons, daughters, young, old, men and women. Nobody gets left out! Imagine how much the church has lost out by restricting the witness of women. How many children have walked away because their voice was not allowed to develop and be shared?
The Holy Spirit was the gift given for the benefit of the church. Yet we praise the gifts of some and not others. We use the gifts as a measurement of who is most empowered or blessed the most by God. We get so enamored with the gifts that we forget to use them. The gifts need to used for the purpose given by the Spirit.
The people present were bewildered by what was going on. We should be too! There was God setting people free by cutting through the boundaries of sex and age. There was God refusing to be held under the power of tyranny as the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead. This news was bewildering to the people. The mighty acts of God was running counter cultural to all they understood. This was God setting his people and all of creation free.
So we celebrate Pentecost as the same Spirit is upon us to declare the mighty acts of God. The message is still the same of God cutting through the boundaries of age and sex and race for people to be free. The message is still the same of how God refuses to allow the powers at hand to have final control as Jesus was raised from the dead. The message is still the same but the language is bewildering because it is so different from what we are used to hearing. God is here and setting us free. This is what the Spirit is guiding us to do. This is a Holy voice.