(Watch at your own risk [once again thanks to cheap child labor lol], but listen for a word.)
Borders, walls, fences, oceans; there are a multitude of barriers in place that separate us from others. That segregates us from others. Some of the barriers are even invisible and we abide by them nonetheless. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about…those invisible lines, you know the one that’s drawn riiiggghhtt at 35th street and if you live on the south side, you ain’t crossing that line! Uhh crossing that line is like crossing into another country; you almost need a passport that’s how serious it is for some of ya’ll. And if you’re real bad nevermind 35th, 55th might be your limit. Ya’ll know I aint lying. I bet if I took a poll right now of those of you who live south asking the last time you were downtown many of you would have to think long and hard about it. Even as I ride the cta redline I can see the division happen right before my eyes. If they’re white and they’re still on the redline after 55th street, they’re lost. They’d probably exit sooner than that if not for the many academic institutions in hyde park that they attend. That’s because the same goes for the Chicago loop group; borders and barriers, invisible lines. You can’t pay many in the loop group to go past Roosevelt on the south, Halsted on the west, and North Ave to the north.
There are borders and barriers all around us; those that have been created for us and those that have been created by us. Many, many wars have been waged, over borders. One of the most militarized regions in the world is the border between North and South Korea: The demilitarization zone. One false move at that border could ignite nuclear war. Trust me I’ve been there. Borders and barriers, invisible lines. To this day Palestine and Israel are still feuding over borders; over lines. Because lines mean land and land means people and whoever has control over the most land has control over the most people and therefore the most power. Even when this country was established the currency was not the dollars and cents we hold so close to ourselves when the collection plate comes around. It was land, and that land, THIS land, was conquered and divided by borders and barriers, invisible lines. Borders and barriers can be a matter of life and death. Invisible lines can be the difference between free man and slave. What would our world be without borders and barriers, invisible lines? Imagine…imagine a world with no borders, walls, fences, or oceans to separate countries. No invisible lines. Imagine instead a unified nation not divided by an invisible line, but united by an invisible spirit. The Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost.
This Sunday marks the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles; Pentecost Sunday: The Feast of Weeks. The word “Pentecost,” prefix “pente” which is Greek for 5 is derived from the 50 days, 5-0, that mark the culmination of the Easter season on the liturgical Calendar. Count each day beginning on Easter Sunday and ending today, and this day- Pentecost Sunday would be day 50; 10 days after Ascension Thursday when Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father. As a side note, the season of Easter is 50 days, 10 days longer than the season of Lent. The 40 days of Lent mark a difficult time of sacrifice, prayer, penance, repentance of sins, and self-denial that climax at the crucifixion of our Lord. The 50 days of Easter is a period to celebrate in the resurrection of our risen savior. Easter. Lent. Easter is 10 days longer than Lent. Our celebration is 10 days longer than our sacrifice. Isn’t beautiful that our rejoicing in God is always longer than any trials and tribulations that come our way? I think that’s good news that’s worthy of praise, Amen?
But back to Pentecost. As recorded in our lesson this morning according to the Acts of the Apostles, Pentecost fulfills Jesus’ promise in the alternate Gospel text of John 14 and ahead in John 16 that “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever- the Spirit of Truth…the Counselor.” And so the story of Pentecost again reads in Acts 2:
“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 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 speak 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 supposed, 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 spirits upon all flesh, and your sons and 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 heaven above and signs on 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 glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
So here we have this powerful force overtaking this place, the Holy Spirit. And not only does the Holy Spirit fill the room but it also fills the people; people from every nation under heaven. And in the Pentecostal tradition they begin speak in tongues. Languages not of their own. Nah this wasn’t Rosetta Stone ya’ll this was the Holy Ghost. And people were amazed! People from everywhere! The fire of the Holy Spirit was present and burning, a flame that we symbolize by the clothing of the church and of ourselves in red on Pentecost Sunday. What does this mean?! They exclaimed. It means…the Holy Spirit had arrived to complete the Holy Trinity.
In the alternate Gospel text of John 14, Phillip’s disbelief that Jesus is both the Father and the Son, prompts Jesus to respond, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves, and whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father, and I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the father may be glorified in the Son. I will ask the Father, and he will give you the Spirit of Truth to help you and be with you forever. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Here, Jesus offers the unification of the Holy Trinity. First the Father, then the Son, and now the Holy Spirit. But He says the world cannot accept the Holy Ghost, because the world cannot accept what it cannot see or does not know.”
Acceptance. Rejection. Who and what do we deem acceptable in this world, and who or what do we reject when we don’t accept the Holy Spirit? What really stood out to me in the Acts of the Apostles is the authoritative interpretation of the Pentecost event by the prophet Joel. He speaks of this new community that is remarkably and radically inclusive: It’s gender inclusive when he says “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…male and female.” This new community is age inclusive when he proclaims, “your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” It’s class inclusive as the spirit of the Lord is even offered to slaves. And if we take note to the movement of the holy spirit through the people of different lands and different tongues, all exhibiting God’s deeds of power, then this community is also destined to be ethnically inclusive. So if the prophet Joel is right, what happens when we do not accept a Holy Ghost that is inclusive of all an alienating of none? Why is it that we acknowledge so many borders and barriers, invisible lines, but reject the invisible spirit that has the power to unite nations as one, as the the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have so united?
You know with my recent appointment to the executive committee of the World Council of Churches I’ll have to attend 2-3 meetings a year for the next 4-7 years at the WCC’s office in Geneva, Switzerland. I was there in February and will be back there in one month. As many of you are aware, Geneva, Switzerland is the epicenter for international entities and affairs, the most well-known being the United Nations. And because all these international bodies are convened in this one little city that borders France, its population is predominately foreigners. In fact, Switzerland has 4 official languages signifying it’s diverse mixture of people. I love it. Envision a place where everyone is foreign, essentially making no one is foreign. Diversity is the norm. Racial ad-mixture is the status-quo. Minority is the majority. Can you conceive such a scene? I then found myself attending the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations New York Headquarters and again I found myself mesmerized by the mass of flags flown, tongues spoken, and colors seen. And I told myself, “this is comfortable; I could get used to this.”
Imagine a world where: lift up disparity, conflict, discrimination, separation and connect to Pentecost/Holy Spirit/Holy Trinity.
“Wake up Everybody”