Unanxious Heroes for Uncertain Times: Your Sons and Daughters Will Prophecy
Pastor Matt Sturtevant
(Video includes entire worship service. Bulletin)
The Zoom Room was filling up. Two. Then seven. Then eleven. Then fourteen. The time for the meeting to start had come, and as people looked around, they realized the person who had called the meeting hadn’t shown up, yet! So, the conversation moved to how everyone was doing in their modified shelter in place. “Who found a good place for takeout? Anyone get a haircut yet?”
Then, someone mentioned a thing. A piece of information that they had heard about the virus. Or about the government response. Or the economy. It doesn’t matter. What matters next is what everyone in that Zoom Room thought, and more than one asked out loud, “well, who said it?” That’s when the conversation went downhill in a hurry.
“Was it Fauci? I can’t stand that guy!”
“Are you kidding? He knows more than Trump does…if he said the thing, I definitely believe it.”
“At least Trump tells it like it is…better than our governor. Look, Kelly is just trying to destroy the economy so that the Democrats look better in the fall.”
And so went the Zoom Room conversation. Finally, the person who called the meeting showed up, but at that point, they had on their hands a Brady Bunch board of total chaos.
Anyone else know the feeling? We walked the dogs by a big sign the other day with bright letters splashed across it: “we’re in this together!” But are we?
It seems like wherever I turn, it seems clear that we aren’t. Instead of being an opportunity to come together to fight against a common foe, we have fought each other. And mistrusted each other. And been encouraged to compete with each other. And judged each other. The same distrust that we had before this all started is still there. Deep down, we don’t want to trust someone of this gender, or that race, or someone so old…or so young.
- I can’t trust you…your medical advice isn’t valid because it interferes with my political party’s economic goals.
- I can’t trust you…because you aren’t on the cable news station that I watch.
- I can’t trust you…I can trust someone who is heterosexual, but all those other initials? Not a chance.
- I can’t trust you…because you want me to put a mask on in your store; in fact, if you try and make me, I have the right to shoot you.
- I can’t trust you…in fact if I disagree with your policies, I have the right to lynch you in effigy.
I wish I was making this stuff up.
And I wish that the Church was different. But those divisions that splinter us in the world come right on into the church. I’ll listen to this person, but not that one. This man, but not that woman. Someone from the same race as me, but not that person who isn’t. If they are a part of my denomination, then they are to be trusted; but if they aren’t, watch out!
I wince when I read signs like, “we’re all in this together.” Because pretty clearly, we aren’t.
But as I have said now five weeks in a row, while we are living through uncertain times, it is not the first era in which God’s people have had to do just that. Today’s passage opens in the midst of a similar set of uncertain times. The Romans are in charge of God’s city, Jerusalem. Without warning, a new Roman official will show up and force them to give up a part of their faith practice. Or take away their freedom. Or mock their faith. Or a member of their military, their police can violently impose his will on another without fear of recourse.
As the passage opens, it looks like there is a unified presence in reaction to this oppression. Thousands have gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Pentecost. It was so named because it came 50 (“Pente”) days after Passover. So, at Passover, they remembered the time that Moses led the people out of Egypt. And fifty days later, they remembered the time that Moses received the law from the top of Mt. Sinai. The Pentecost festival was a time for all of God’s people to get together and celebrate the Torah, the Law of God. They would stream into Jerusalem from all parts of the world, Jewish pilgrims gathered to celebrate Pentecost with one voice.
But just like that sign in our neighborhood, they were not “all in this together.” In fact, faithful Jews picked very different responses to the oppression. Some picked violence, fighting back against the oppressor. Some picked escape, heading off into the desert to build a new communion. And some picked the way of privilege. They made nice with the Romans, and cozied up to their power in order to preserve their own. Again, it looked like they were one homogenous group, but there were a hundred different ideologies and a hundred different responses to the oppression that they faced.
But like this big sign in our neighborhood, it looked like they were in it together, but that message rang hollow. We can tell from the story. It is clear that the responses of the faithful gathered there came from this attitude of power and privilege…see what the people say when these fishermen from Galilee start to talk. They hear their accent and sneer, “these Galileans.” Remember that Galilee was the rural north, far from the urbane capitol of Jerusalem. So, they are looking down their noses with geographical and racial undertones: “These Galileans…” We hear that same sneer when someone from around here hears someone’s accent like the people in Jerusalem and sneer, “that must be a Southerner.” Or refers to anyone of Latino descent as “Mexican.” Or anyone from Asia as “Chinese.” And I don’t even want name the words used to describe those with black bodies in our culture. We can almost hear the tone in the text: “those Galileans.” And there are class undertones, as well. “They must be drunk on cheap wine.” It says “new wine,” but new wine is cheap wine. You can hear this way of privilege loud and clear: they hear what the disciples are saying, and immediately dismiss them as backwater, poor, rural rednecks. Very clearly, they weren’t all in this together.
But look what happens in the midst of their doubting and cynicism and privilege. There is a fresh blowing of the Spirit into their lives and into their hearts. Instead of the way of violence, or the way of escape, or the way of privilege, they hear the story of the Way of Jesus! The Spirit of God brings a new word of unity!
Now, let me pause for a minute on that word: unity. Let me make a distinction between unity and this other thing that we confuse for unity: uniformity. Uniformity says “we’re all in this together…as long as you are with me.” But what came on Pentecost was not uniformity.
Very easily, the Holy Spirit could have brought uniformity. The Spirit could have tuned the ears of these pilgrims to all understand one uniform language. These Galileans would have simply had to walk out the door and start sharing their story in their own tongue, and everyone would have understood it, in uniformity. But that’s not what the Holy Spirit did. Instead, the Spirit made it possible for the followers of Jesus to speak their language. The unity of the Pentecost story is not one of uniformity, but one of diversity. Partheans. Medes. Mesopotamians. The list goes on and on and on. Last week in the Two-way [sermon discussion group], we talked about a contrast between the story of the Tower of Babel, when the pride of One Language of the world was frustrated and all the languages of the world were created. We noticed how Pentecost seemed to be a reversal of that story. But scholar Justo Gonzalez notes that Pentecost is not an undoing of the Tower of Babel, but instead a Second Babel. A New Babel. A new scattering. A new diversity. But not one built on pride, but one built on humility and grace. At once, all these voices become witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of bringing uniformity—all of us are the same now—the power of the Spirit was to bring unity even in the midst of differentness. I would argue because of the differentness. The strength is in the diversity, not in spite of it.
Isn’t that what Peter’s message is? This is his big moment. Everyone is paying attention to him. He could choose any passage from the Scriptures to use as his text, but he picks a random verse from the prophet Joel. I mean, there is nothing wrong with Joel…he’s a great prophet and all. But why Joel? Listen to the power of diversity in this passage: “Old. Young. Women. Men. Married. Unmarried. Slave. Free.” Out of all the passages that Peter could have picked, he picked this passage that demonstrates that the coming of God to earth will be necessarily accompanied by a diversity of voices. All of God’s people have the power to prophecy, regardless of race or gender or nationality or position!
And isn’t that we have figured out together through this whole series? God can speak through ANY voice. Even a woman like Deborah or like Huldah. Even a racial outcast like Miriam. Even a religious minority like Esther. Look what happens to God’s people without these voices. Moses lays there in the bulrushes and cries until Pharaoh’s soldiers find him and kill him. Barack doesn’t go into battle to save the people from the Canaanites. Josiah doesn’t find the urgency to reform the people back to God. And without Esther, they’re all dead! It isn’t in the uniformity of “sound like us. Look like us. Act like us.” It is in the diversity of “Be who God made you to be. Speak from that voice. That is what the Holy Spirit will do to bring unity to God’s people.”
And so, today, let me suggest that the Church of 2020 must become the Church of the Pentecost once more. No longer can we hide in our upper rooms of fear and privilege. For here we are again, in a world filled with Zoom Rooms and social media posts and news stories that all have everyone stratified and in their place. Let’s put the Democrats up here and the Republicans down there. Maybe the Kansas Republicans can go here, but those others have to go down here. We stratify by race, by class, by gender.
Again, it is Justo Gonzalez with a word for us here. He says that the message of Pentecost is one of a “great leveling.” The disciples pour out of that room into a festival that is filled with the stratified. I am up here and you are down there. Or I am here, and you are over there, but at least neither of us are all the way down here. At once, in the moment, the Holy Spirit comes on all of them and look who pours out of that upper room. Not just the 12…not just the guys in charge. But all of the disciples, women and men. Top Twelve…down to the one guy that no one remembers his name. They’re all preaching that sermon with Peter, all with different voices and with different lips and different manifestations of the same Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit was a great leveler. At once, we are all witnesses to the power of God on earth.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, look again at what the Holy Spirit has done with the Church in 2020. Once again, we have met the Great Leveler. The Church of Uniformity must die to the Spirit’s transformation into the Church of Unity in Diversity. The Spirit must remind us again that God can speak through ANY voice. Any race. Any gender. Any sexual orientation. The white collar “work from home-ers” and blue-collar worker putting a roof on the house next door. Once again, it is up to us as the Church to reject the privilege that comes with our race or our position or our class. It is time for us to ask “what voices must we listen to? What voices have we ignored for far too long? Who do we need to communicate with? What new language must we learn?”
Because look again at what happened when the disciples were willing to do these things. By the end of the passage, the same people who sneered from their privilege: “those Galileans,” now asked, “brothers, what shall we do?” From uniformity to unity. Sisters and brothers united by the power of the Spirit.
So today, I want all of us to spill out into our world. Don’t think physically, but relationally. Even if we never leave our houses, how might we speak with these voices: your voice, and your voice, and my voice, witnessing to the power of Christ’s love in our world? How might we listen to these voices, especially the most vulnerable and hurting in our society? How might we celebrate these voices, like the diversity of Pentecost come again? How might we defend these voices, voices silenced for far too long?
I want us to pour out of that upper room with the power of the Holy Spirit at our backs, even if we never leave our front porch!
I want us to be Christ’s hands and feet and love and grace and hope and peace for a world that desperately needs all of it. Because, when that happens, we don’t need to put up signs that say we are all in this together. Because through the power of the Holy Spirit, we as the Church are the signs that we are in this together. That every child of God matters. That any voice can be the voice of God speaking on earth. So, this Pentecost Sunday…
With the wisdom of Deborah…
And the faithfulness of Miriam…
With the passion of Huldah…
And the courage of Esther…
I call on you, Sons and Daughters, to prophesy. To preach the love of Christ in all you do and all you say. Yes, we live in Uncertain Times. But we can be the heroes that this world needs.
Go, be heroes today.
The following music is used by permission under CCLI license #20126570:
“All Glory Be To God On High,”music by J.S. Bach, arr. by E. Power Biggs.
© 1943 Mills Music, Inc./H.W. Gray Publications.
“I’ve Got Peace Like A River,” traditional American spiritual arr. by Mark Hayes.
© 2011 The Lorenz Corporation (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
“People Need The Lord,” by Phill McHugh and Greg Nelson.
© 1983 River Oaks Music Co. and Shepherd’s Fold Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
“Festive March,” by Rex Koury, compiled by James Mansfield.
© 1990, 1991 The Lorenz Corporation (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)