“The Birth of Us”
Pentecost Sunday, May 31 2020. Text: Acts 2:1-21
By Rev. James Murray at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church
When Jesus began his ministry, he started by asking a number of individuals to follow him.He invited them to learn from his teaching. He spent time with them, so they could see what a difference these ideas could have in everyday life. Jesus’ ministry focused on the ideas of repentance and healing. He showed people what the love of God looks like in everyday situations. He showed them the power of forgiveness has to turn a life around. He revealed how God is present in every situation and in every moment that we face. This way of life was so unique that his followers started calling this “The Way of Jesus”.
Jesus’ way of living and loving soon spread as it had a profound impact on more than that initial group of followers.When Jesus was brutally executed, his followers worried that this new way of loving might die with him. But on that first Easter day, they started to realize that the Way of Jesus was bigger than just this one man. Every time they broke bread together or cared for each other they felt he was still with them. Eventually those personal encounters started to fade, and the disciples started to talk about Jesus as if he had left them. They were left in limbo, because they didn’t quite know how the Way of Jesus could survive without Jesus. All they could do is wait. And pray.
As they waited and prayed, they continue to meet together. They take the time to share once more the teachings Jesus has given them. They try their best to love each other the way he has loved them. They eat together the way Jesus had eaten with them.They even break the bread and share it with each other the curious way Jesus did. They take turns being the host of the meal who says the blessing over the food, and then the host gets up to take on the role of servant to serve the meal to everyone. Then one day everything catches on fire.
On this day of Pentecost, the disciples have such a profound experience of God’s presence that they are now on fire.They realize that the divine spark which they had first experienced in Jesus is present in each of them. This divine spark is being fanned into a burning flame that shines so brightly even strangers on the street can see how they are changed. Their world is transformed. They are changed from being a group of individuals who followThe Way of Jesus, into being a loving community that is The Way of Jesus.
In the history of Christianity, we usually speak of Pentecost as the birth of the institutional church. The rushing wind and the tongues of fire are described as being God’s seal on our charter to be The Church of Jesus Christ. The early disciples are then commissioned to be apostles. They given the title of evangelists who are sent out to the four corners of the world to proclaim this Gospel. But the purpose of Pentecost is not to formally establish a new religion with a rigid hierarchy of apostles and clergy who will lead this new institution.
Pentecost is the powerful moment when the individuals who first followed Jesus become a beloved community where everyone is invited to love each otherthe way Jesus has shown us by his shining example. Pentecost is the birth of ‘us’. It is the shared experience we have together of God’s loving grace. When Peter stands up to preach, he is expressing what all of us are experiencing together. He doesn’t talk about himself and his new authority over the other believers. He does talk about what we know and how Jesus has affected us. He is giving a collective voice to this shared experience of spiritual communion. Peter begins by reminding us of the visions promised long ago by the prophet Joel.
Joel dreamed of a day when every person would experience God directly and be free to share that experience for the good of us all. Peter says this promise is now being fulfilled and all of us can experience God in this direct way. Peter announces that anyone who comes in contact with this new way to look at life can share in its powerful transformation.
For we are a community that shares the gifts of God’s spirit for the good of all. Peter’s testimony shows how Christianity is much more than a list of rules or a set of beliefs. At its heart this is a way of life. The Way of Jesus is guided by a spirit of humility, compassion, and mutuality as we take turns serving each other for the good of us all. It is egalitarian for everyone is free to share their gifts for the good of all life on this planet. It is a gift each of us can share with the world every day.
The lessons of Pentecost are very much needed in our world today. Modern science teaches us that we are all created out of the same star dust. All of life comes from this common source. Sadly, we do not often think or act like we are all part of the same inter-connected web of life. Instead our world is driven by a sense of individualism that does not value the need for community with other people or other forms of life. Our world is driven by a motive for profit that puts money ahead of the well being of people or the environment.
The pandemic that is sweeping across the globe is a stark reminder of how misguided these motives are. As powerful as our economy is, capitalism isn’t strong enough on its own to survive the disruption caused by the coronavirus. Corporations that have long sought to minimize taxes or government interference in the market place are now clamouring for bailouts. Individuals that want personal freedom above all else are now being reminded that it is how we treat one another that will affect whether we get sick or not. Wearing a mask doesn’t protect you from getting the coronavirus. It does protect others from you spreading the disease. It’s a simple personal act that we can do to protect us all from harm. It’s been said that with this pandemic, while we are all facing the same storm, but we are not yet all in the same boat.
It takes the gift of the Holy Spirit for us to realize we are all in the same boat. For the Holy Spirit is the spirit of life that we all share. The Holy Spirit shows us how God is present in every atom. God is present in all forms of life, and in every relationship we have. The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr says the Holy Spirit ‘sustains and heals all things into Love, by slowly unveiling the inherent goodness, truth and beauty that is in everything.’ Every thing we see and touch and do is holy, because God is part of us all. The Jesuit scholar Teilhard de Chardin goes so far as to say the very ‘physical structure of the universe is love’. So it is God’s very nature to seek out the deepest possible communion and loving relationship with every last creature on earth. Communion is the act of the many becoming united in love as one.The sacrament of communion is a symbol of that deeper union.
Over the past few months there has been a fiery debate inside the Christian church as to whether or not a virtual communion celebrated electronically over the internet is a real communion or not. Some say it must be celebrated in person for it to count. While I agree that it is always better to celebrate communion in person, the purpose of communion is to bring individuals together to form a beloved community where the Holy Spirit is present. Though we are physically separate from each other, today we need to think and act like a community like never before. We need this Spirit of Life to unite us for a common purpose, for the good of all life on this planet. Since we know that God is with each of us wherever we are, we can still be part of the Way of Jesus even when we are apart from each other.
And that is why we celebrate communion on this day. For God is ever present, calling us all into a deeper relationship of love. My friends may the Holy Spirit set you on fire today and fill your hearts with love. Amen.