Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
*All art is from the Art in the Christian Tradition collection at Vanderbilt University
Note before our sermon: This week was filled with the news of incidents of racist violence in the United States. In this sermon, which was initially envisioned as a joyful activity for the kids at our church, I also discuss some of the history our denomination has in supporting protest as a holy act. Let me be clear: Pentecost is about a holy ruckus that turns people’s lives toward God. The protests in our country are a part of Pentecost.
How can you be a part of this Pentecost protest movement, even if you are practicing social distancing?
Tithe some of your time during the stay at home order to learning more about anti-racism. Here is a good list of resources, both for kids and adults, to help us continue the holy work of dismantling racism. You could read them on your own or, if you’re feeling like connecting with others at church about this, develop a long-distance study group to talk about what you’re learning: https://tinyurl.com/antiracismresourcelist
Share your money: If you have some money to share, these programs in Minneapolis are doing great work and could use our support right now:
Become involved in local government. Ask questions about the kinds of training your town and county’s police force has received in de-escalation, implicit bias, and anti-racism. Ask about funds the department has been given for military-grade equipment. Ask about what community policing measures they are putting in place.
On to the sermon:
OK, we are going to do a quick scavenger hunt. I need help from everyone who is in elementary or middle school. High schoolers and adults can help if you want. Ok, the rules are: First, the thing has to be inside your house. Second: You can walk fast but do not run. Third, if you can’t find it in 12 seconds, you have to come back and get another assignment. Grown-ups in the house, I will need your help counting. Fourth, it has to be small enough that you can safely carry it. If it is sharp or made of glass, you have to have a grown up help you. Alright, here’s the list of things we are going to try to find:
Alright, real quick, somebody show me your ribbon, your bird, your fan, your wind-chime, your red, yellow, and orange things, your thing that reminds you of fire. Now, if you had to guess, why do you think I asked you to find this list of things? What do they all have in common? (We left some room for their guesses.) Those are all good guesses. I picked all of these things because they remind me of the story of Pentecost. The fan, wind-chimes, and ribbon all help me see, feel, and hear the wind. In the story, the Holy Spirit rushes into a room like a strong burst of wind. And, what about the red, yellow, and orange stuff: Yes, it’s the color of fire. And, you may have brought something that reminded you of fire. The story says that the Holy Spirit looked like a fire over people’s heads. What did the Holy Spirit help the people do? It helped them speak a bunch of languages. Does anyone know why it was important that they speak a bunch of different languages?
This story took place in Jerusalem, a city where people spoke a bunch of different languages. This is the fun part about living in a big city. There are many people there from all over the world. And, they speak the languages that they learned in those places. They would also know one common language so they could talk to each other. The People in Jerusalem probably understood Greek. They spoke Greek at the grocery store and when they talked to neighbors and strangers, maybe even at the synagogue. They spoke their languages at home. That’s how they sang lullabies to their babies and argued with their siblings. While you might assume that people could speak the common language, you wouldn’t necessarily think that someone who wasn’t from your country could speak the language of your home.
Were the people surprised to be hearing the other languages? Yes. They definitely were. They heard the big noise of the rush of Holy Spirit wind and they heard all the shouting and they came running to hear what was going on. You see, I don’t think this Pentecost event was quiet. We know that the Holy Spirit was loud. I can’t imagine the people who were speaking spoke quietly after that. I bet they shouted. That’s why the big group of people could hear them. There were 120 people in the room where the Holy Spirit wooshed. There is no way that 120 people, all talking at the same time, would have been quiet. I don’t think the 3000 people who came to hear them would have been quiet, either.
I bet a lot of us who are on this call today were raised to believe that most of the time holy things are quiet things. For the grown-ups especially, you might remember you parents or grandparents making you sit very still at church. If you spoke even one little bit, you got shushed and maybe got your arm pinched. You were taught that you showed respect by being quiet. That’s how I experience your quietness when I preach. This is how you learned to be respectful. So many of us learned how to recognize God in still and quiet places. Quiet walks in the woods, quiet meditations on your porch, quiet trips around a labyrinth. We are good at it because we’ve had a lot of practice doing it.
The story of Pentecost reminds us that God is found in loud and raucous places, too. And, I think this story, especially this weekend where there are people loudly protesting for racial equality all over our country, it is good for those of us used to Holy Stillness to remember this Holy Ruckus. And, to look for God at work in these protests. Let’s go back to the stuff you found in your scavenger hunt. Who all found something that reminded them of the Holy Spirit? What did you find? (they shared) Those things are all so good.
Here’s what I found. I look at it every time I write a sermon and whenever I lead worship at home. It’s a sign, that you could use as a protest sign, from one of my schools. It says, “Be a revolutionary. Question authority. Challenge the status quo. That’s not what Jesus would do. That’s what he did.” It even has a little flame on it. That’s the symbol for my school, Chicago Theological Seminary. Even though I need to find still and quiet places, this sign reminds me that that isn’t the only place to find God.
Did you know that in 1966, our denomination, the United Church of Christ worked to help make sure that TV stations run by racist people couldn’t refuse to show the protests that were happening across the South. They were trying to hide the protests to make them less effective and didn’t want people to see that the people who were protesting had a right to be angry. The people who owned the TV stations didn’t want the people in other places to see how badly the protesters were being treated. Pastors in the South, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., asked our denomination to help. They asked us because there was a Pastor named Everett Parker who worked in journalism before he became a pastor. He knew how to help them.
Together, they went all the way to the Supreme Court and won! The court said that TV stations couldn’t have the license they needed to show TV shows and the news if they weren’t going to be fair in how they did it. If they wanted to be able to keep working, they had to stop keeping the protests off their shows. After that, the protests were able to do more good because more people knew they were happening and they would help the protesters, even if they lived far away. The protesters were inspired by God to make the world better. They could do what God was asking them to do after they found someone who knew how to help them.
The people in our Bible story were willing to follow Jesus when they saw and heard the loud miracle on Pentecost. People in our country were willing to follow Jesus better, too, and change unfair laws once they saw, on their TV screens, the truth about what was happening in the South. It’s like they finally heard words they understood, but it was images on their screens. I think this weekend is another Pentecost season, where people are telling the truth about their lives and we are seeing and hearing it, maybe for the first time. The question is, will we be like our ancestors and change because of it? Or will we be too afraid of the ruckus and miss God working in the wind?
Resources mentioned in this sermon:
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.