Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, it seems appropriate to ask, “How long will cities burn?” We can hear your response to Isaiah, “Until your cities lie waste.” Some cannot breathe, others cannot run, and still others cannot feel safe inside their own homes. If we refuse to comprehend, to understand, to see, to hear, keep telling us the Good News that all may hear that our warfare has ended. That in the Resurrection of Jesus we see the vindication of his life and meaning of his death as the end to burning cities, restricted breathing, fearful running and a lack of safety. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, Lord, our hope and help.
They were in the minority. They were the minority. What was once a remarkable crowd in the thousands, had narrowed to 120 people. We now know, thanks to Luke the Gospel writer, the names of some of them while others names we will never know. The world as they had known it had been ruptured as they had been met by Jesus. Asked to wait, to express patience, they did. Then suddenly things changed. Now, things would take a decidedly different turn. They would be the ones who would be given the role of living in the world as it was as though the world promised had already come.
And yet, when onlookers wondered what was going on, trying to make sense of what they witnessed, some decided they were just early drunks. It’s right there in the text. When at last some bystanders could not grasp what was happening they dismissed what they saw with the explanation this group of people had broken out the good wine and it was just 9 a.m., the poor lushes.
It is what human beings do. When we cannot find a connection to what is going on, to what we see, we dismiss it so we don’t have to deal with it. We label. We dismiss. Real people with experiences outside of our own become, “They.” Nameless. Then faceless. That is until we hear the plea, “I can’t breathe.”
Those early Jesus followers, Apostles, women and men who’s names we do not know, experienced the Spirit, the breath of God, and became witnesses to the power of God’s love. No longer “They” the people that day were “Heralds,” voices full of vigor. The words they spoke were understandable across barriers of language, culture and ethnicity. These minority voices became the Church. And when the Church, in its history, took up the role of majority, it was not often a chorus of love. Instead when the Church found itself in the majority position it found a love of power, supporting the empires of its day.
And, while our cities burn, we cannot abandon the melodies of grace that need to be heard more loudly. No longer may we make excuses for not standing against a long history where some can’t breath, run or feel safe. Today, it is given to us, Christians, the Church, to bear witness to the breath of God, the Spirit of God, that we live in the present, in the world as it is, as though the world promised has already come. We don’t wait for the world to change, our living in the world brings about the reality of that change. In that world, in the one Jesus promised to make real, for all, we won’t ever hear the words, “I can’t breathe.” We Christians, Church, made alive by God’s Spirit, living today in the world as it is, hear the promise of Jesus insist the world to come where we will never hear, “I can’t breathe,’ become our way of life now.
If we cannot make a connection with the experience of those who cannot breathe, we cannot dismiss them as though they are drunk again.
No, They are not drunk again. It is ours to listen and learn lest the voices we hear are to us the same message Isaiah was to give Israel,
Keep listening but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.
Make the minds of the people dull.
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.
A young pastor friend called this week. He described the way the events, like the death of George Floyd, meant he would need to talk to his children. Again. He and his wife adopted two of their children. These two children are black. The young pastor and his wife are white. He described the pain and anger of having to tell his children that the world as it is, is not the world to come. The matter is made worse when the events that prompt the need for another conversation seem to be on repeat?
It left me wondering about our grandchildren. We want our grandchildren to grow up in the Faith. We want them to know the world is not the way it will always be. We want them to know they will have opportunities to illustrate what the world made new will be while resisting the world as it is.
Cohen, our oldest grandson, had not seen the news when the news of George Floyd’s death broke. He saw the news for the first time since that day. He, like many, maybe even you, are filled with questions. Why is this happening? What does it mean? At nine years old, he will need to begin learning the parts of our Country’s history that lay behind these events. As his grandpa, his Pastor Grandpa, I will want him to learn what the world to come will be like, so that he will know exactly how to face the world as it is. From there, together, in family, in Church, and in community we may live as though the world promised has already come.
Church, today the task is great and if we fail to disciple our young people to know what the world to come will be like, then we may be sure, they will more often contribute to the world as it is. There is no neutral formation for any of us. Either we dismiss the experience out of hand, considering those whose lives have encountered something different from our own as only drunk again. Or, we point out that the grace and mercy of God is for all and we turn the tables on our inherent impulse to divide up as Us vs. Them. Church, we are the place in the world where the world that is to come is fostered and lived out within the world as it is. Our witness to the world is given life by the Spirit of God who points us to Jesus.
So here we are given life in the world as it is to illustrate what life will look like in the world made new.
The Good News is that Jesus, the Christ, disrupted the world as it is by inviting people considered other into the Kingdom. Church, where Jesus is Lord, we proclaim the life of Jesus by inviting people considered other into the Kingdom. Why? Because we all know that all of us are somebodies other. Nothing we have done sets us above any other human being. All of us share in the life of the world as it is as participants.
So discipled by the patterns of this world are we that we often do not see the ways we are complicit, even supportive of a way of life that advantages some and disadvantages others. The world creates its laws, its patterns that wires this in to the human experience. Christians, hear me carefully, we often bring this use of God’s Law as our aid to promote how much better we are than They.
But, what is true is that we cannot escape the Law. In fact, Pentecost was first practiced as a celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Finally, we human beings would have a word from God about life and living. Out of those ten laws were created all other laws prescribing our own tendency to make more laws that eventually bracket out other people with whom we prefer not to share life with at all.
In other words, the same practices in the world as it is, show up in the Church blunting our witness to the world to come promised by Jesus.
We forget that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drew out the heart of the Law to reveal that all of us, all people, are incompatible with the world to come. We would need not Law to save us, but grace and mercy. Pentecost as given new meaning is a celebration that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law for us. What we could not do he did.
The giving of the Spirit that day was a reminder that God always come to us and gifts us with what we need to declare God’s words of hope that the Law with its demands will always keep us creating divisions between us and them. The gift of the Spirit is to produce in us lives that reflect the grace and mercy of God. And this God, the God revealed in Jesus, always takes the side of those who have been other’d by our use of the Law against them.
Peter rises to declare what God says and what will become his own experience that God comes to all. Five times, in the translation I am using, we read the word all.
In its first two uses it describes the people, the 120,
they were all together in one place
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
The Apostles and the unnamed alike were gathered together. Any notion of importance based on status was replaced with the Gift of the Spirit for all of them.
The third use of all,
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Peter rises to answer the question what does this mean. In his long sermon he points to Jesus. When people are looking for a word, some meaning, Peter declares than in the Living Word, God has spoken and he and all who are heralding the Good News are witness to the world to come in Jesus.
God has made him both Lord and Messiah.
The last two uses of all,
Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem,
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
The disruptive force of the Good News is that it is for all people. All means all. There is no discriminating the Good News of God in Jesus, the Christ. Church, Christians, our place is to bear witness that had it not been that this Good News is for all, we would not have qualified.
Apart from the grace and mercy of God none of us could breathe. So, Christians, Church, given that God met us in Jesus, that Good News insists we take up living in the world as it is as if the world to come had already arrived. On that ground, we live to see that all may breathe and believe.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen or watch here.