This sermon was written by Rev. KJ Norris for Kerr Presbyterian Church May 31, 2020, Pentecost Sunday.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, at the feast of Pentecost you sent your Holy Spirit to the disciples, filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel; empower us with that same Spirit to witness to your redeeming love and draw all people to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (From the PCUSA Book of Common Worship)
Today is Pentecost. It is the birthday of the church. The day the Holy Spirit came like a mighty wind and a rushing fire and an open tongue and fell upon the people gathered in worship.
And as usual the people didn’t really understand what God was up to. Some thought that maybe the disciples were drunk. Others simply didn’t believe their own eyes about what was happening.
But God was doing a new thing. God was creating connection between God’s own self and humankind and also between different human beings in a way the world had never seen before.
The Holy Spirit entered believers. And perhaps they didn’t fully understand what was happening then, but Paul explained it later saying that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of God—God’s own self, the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord—the Holy Spirit lives in those who believe in God (see 1 Cor 6:19).
This is incredible! When we pray, we do not pray to a God who stands far off but we pray to a God who is so close; that God is inside of us. Scriptures says it elsewhere like this: deep speaks to deep. Our very soul is in communion with God. God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us, speaking to us, strengthening us, teaching us, empowering us to be the people of God who we are created to be.
But the miracle of God on Pentecost did not stop there. It could have of course. It could have been enough. God could have simply connected with those whom God chose to love and some could have come to know the love and power of God on that day and others could have been forgotten. But that is not the God who we serve.
Our God is a God of all people. A God who created all human beings in God’s own likeness. In the image of God we all were created. Out of the mud God formed us all and God loves us all. Each individuals. Each uniquely and beautifully made. And God desires that we would live in unity.
So, at the very same moment that God entered humankind in a new way God also changed all of human relationships. The fire of the Holy Spirit which came upon those first Christians was not given to them so that they could praise God alone, but was give to them so that they could connect with others.
Immediately when the Spirit of God came upon them, they began speaking in other languages. Yes, they began praising God and giving testimony to what God had done, but they did it not in their own language but in other languages.
The very first church was called immediately into the work of reconciliation. Racial, ethic, language reconciliation. Immediately people were called out of their comfort zones and into new experiences. Immediately people were called to talk with those with whom they had never met and with whom they may have thought they had little in common. Immediately they were called to love one another as they were called to love God.
Those of you who have had the great blessing of learning another language fluently know that it is not just about mastering the ability to make sounds properly. Language is so much more. As the Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings says, “Most who enter a life-time fluency do so because at some point in time they learn to love it. They fall in love with the sounds. The language sounds beautiful to them. And if that love is complete, they fall in love with its original signifiers. They come to love the people—the food, the faces, the plans, the practices, the songs, the poetry, the happiness, the sadness, the ambiguity, the truth—and they love the place, that is, the circled earth those people call their land, their landscapes, their home. Speak a language, speak a people. God speaks people, fluently” (Belief Commentary, Acts, 30).
The God who speaks people fluently gives a great gift on the day of Pentecost—the gift of language. God wants us to connect with one another. To connect with one another’s dreams and hopes and joys. To connect with one another’s sorrows and sufferings and longings. God wants us to speak one another’s languages.
This is the fire of Pentecost. It is a fire that calls out of ourselves and into a life of love. It is a fire that calls us to speak truth. It is a fire that calls us to boldness.
And right now we desperately need that kind of fire.
Right now we need the fire of love to rain down.
Right now we need a fresh breathing of the Holy Spirit.
We live in America. We like to think of our nation as a place which is the land of the free. The land of the brave. The land of opportunity. And it is that. For some.
But we also know that America is built and rooted in systems of oppression and hatred. From the earliest days of our nation white supremacy has been rooted in our culture. It has taken on many different legalized forms in the past from slavery to Jim Crow regulations to the redlining that divided Pittsburgh neighborhoods to the mass incarceration we see today. (If you want to read more about this 400 year history and its lasting impact on America today a good place to start is the 1619 Project: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html)
And it takes on many cultural forms as well like the fact that our schools tend to emphasize white writers instead of immersing students in the wisdom of people from all colors and ethic backgrounds. Or that 11 AM on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in the nation because people choose to separate themselves from their brothers and sisters in Christ despite our Biblical mandate to come together as one.
Racial injustice has taken different forms through the generations in our nation, but it is still alive and well. And on Monday the nation watched in horror as the life of a Black man was slowly drained from him. He was suffocated by a white police officer. It was filmed over an agonizing eight minutes. George Floyd passed out in the street and later died from his injury.
People across the nation, including other police officers, are outraged. And it comes on the heals of other outrageous deaths, Breonna Taylor shot 8 times while in her bed. Ahamaud Arbery shot while jogging and no charges were brought against his murders until a video surfaced to the public even though law enforcement had seen the video months ago.
These three recent deaths of Black individuals killed by white individuals and officers of the law have brought new calls for justice. New calls for an end of hate. New calls for righteousness to rain down like water.
Right now the world needs a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit.
From the very beginning where the Spirit of the Lord was there was justice and love and unity. When the Spirit is as work, hate cannot prevail, injustice cannot prevail, silence in the face of evil cannot prevail. The Spirit of the Lord moves us out of our comfort zone and demands that we speak truth. The Spirit puts a fire on our tongue and demands that we cross cultural lines and learn the language of those who look different from us who speak differently than us who think differently than we do.
This is a love that is a wind and a fire and a language. It cannot be tamed. It calls us into the most intimate spaces, even into the intimate spaces of our own hearts where we are forced to look inside ourselves and see what we may wish to hide. We see the ways in which we hurt others. We see the ways we benefit from systems of oppression. We see the ways in which our silence hurts others.
And when we look inside and come face to face with our own failure, we are called to confess it. To name the hurt we have done. To name the ways we have stayed silent. To repent of our own prejudices. To repent that we choose to keep our world small instead of reaching out the way that God intended. The good news of the gospel is, God does not leave us in our own sin. God does not leave us in our own small box. God is continuously calling us forth, forgiving us, washing us clean, giving us new mercies, allowing us another day to try again.
And then the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in us once again calling us to make friends across ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God calls us once again to love bigger. To love with more boldness. To speak with more truth. God calls us to stand firm against hate. Against injustice. Against violence. God calls us into his perfect love.
A love which unites us with God’s ownself and with one another. Brothers and sisters, on this Day of Pentecost, let us be filled anew with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Let us speak truth. Let us live in love. Let us build relationships.
Let us Pray:
Come, Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation. Send the wind and flame of your transforming life to lift up the church in this day. Give us wisdom and faith, that we may know the great hope to which we are called. Come, Holy Spirit.
Giver of life, sustain your creation. Confront us with our greedy consuming of your gifts. Call us forth into new harmonies of care for all who live and breathe and have their being. Come, Holy Spirit.
Creator who fashioned us all in your own image, we confess that we have participated in structures and systems of bias and racism instead of standing against them. Help us to see the ways in which we have sinned. Transform us and sanctify us. Give us the gifts we need to be your church in spirit and truth. Come, Holy Spirit.
Spirit of truth, set us free to emerge as the children of God. Open our ears, that we may hear the weeping of the world. Open our mouths, that we may be a voice for the voiceless. Open our eyes, that we may see your vision of peace and justice. Make us alive with the courage and faith of your prophetic truth. Come, Holy Spirit.
Spirit of unity, reconcile your people. Give us the wisdom to hold to what we need to be your church. Give us the grace to lay down those things that you can do without. Give us a vision of your breadth and length and height to challenge our smallness of heart and bring us humbly together. Come, Holy Spirit.
(Based on a prayer for the day of Pentecost from The Worship Sourcebook, Second Edition).
Return to Home Worship Services May 31, 2020.