It’s Pentecost, the Scripture story known as the Birthday of the Church. (And, yes, at tonight’s Musical Pentecost Celebration, there WILL be birthday cake!)
Here’s the church’s birth story. Once upon a time, a child grew up to be a wiser teacher. He taught people about God’s love for every person! As he taught and healed, he helped people imagine a new way of living…and loving…a way that included everyone.
Some people–like the religious authorities– weren’t happy about this God-loving-every– person thing. Not at all. So, those unhappy and threatened folks–this is the sad and ugly part of the story–those unhappy and threatened folks colluded with the state to have Jesus executed.
But the people who condemned and killed Jesus didn’t have the last word, did they? No, Jesus was resurrected! He came back to life! And for 40 days, he taught and hung out with his followers…until it came time for him to go for good.
We heard that part of the story last week. The Ascension, it’s called. Jesus took his disciples to a hill outside of Jerusalem. He told them to be his witnesses–to tell others about the radical inclusivity of God’s love–in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth. But first, they were to go back to Jerusalem and await the coming of God’s Spirit. If they were going to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the Earth, they were going to need some Spirit power!
Waiting on a birth…can anyone relate? What do you do when you’re waiting on a birth? You prepare…you tell stories…you imagine the future…When you’re waiting on a birth, the air becomes electric with joy!
In my second interview with the Search Committee, Kathy Heinz mentioned there being four pregnant people in the congregation. (At the time, I didn’t know that one of those pregnant people was participating in that very zoom call!) Something shifted when I learned of those pregnant people. A congregation with babies is alive…and intends to stay that way. That’s the moment I knew this was a congregation I wanted to serve.
So, the people were hanging out in Jerusalem, the air electric with anticipation…they waited …and waited… waited… until one morning–it happened! The divine water broke, the contractions began, and all joy broke loose!
Wind whooshed in! Tongues, as of fire, appeared on each person’s head! People talked together–and understood each other–even though they spoke a multitude of languages!
That’s often what happens with births, isn’t it? Some something beyond us pulls us all together, connects us. It’s said that multi-faith encounters require three things: that we pray together, eat together, and hold each other’s babies. Yes. There’s something about newborns that brings us all together, connects us, unites us. The same was true on the day the church was born, the day God’s Spirit whooshed in and empowered Jesus’ followers.
The day of a birth is a day of unbridled joy, perhaps even euphoria. Eventually, of course, though the joy remains, the euphoria wanes and you get to the important, sometimes exhausting work of raising that newborn. That’s when you learn that, while the joy attending the birth of newborns might be similar, what it takes to raise each newborn can be very different… Because each newborn is unique and lives in unique circumstances.
Today’s Scripture story came from the recently published First Nations Version of the New Testament. The Introduction says this about the birth of the FNV. “The FNV is a retelling of Creator’s Story from the Scriptures, attempting to follow the tradition of the storytellers of our oral cultures. Many of our Native tribes still resonate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of Native people.” (FNV, ix)
Last week, Allen and I visited San Luis Mission, the living museum of the Spanish mission established there in the 17th century. As we visited the Council House, fort, and Church, we learned about how Spanish and Apalachee people lived together at the mission.
This picture on one of the interpretive signs gave me pause.
In one place, I read that when the Apalachee’s religion failed them, they asked the Spanish to tell them about their faith. That certainly might have happened. But looking at the larger historical context, we know that the Spanish came to Florida to convert the indigenous people…ultimately, as a way to subdue them. When I look at this picture, I wonder what those Apalachee people were losing as they raised that cross.
The sub-title of today’s sermon, Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians, comes from a book that looks at biblical interpretation through diverse cultural lenses. Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians is Robert Allen Warrior’s contribution from a Native American perspective. When I read it, it blew my mind.
To the point of reading the article, I’d always understood the story of the Exodus as a story of liberation. The story is pivotal for many African American Christians. The parallels between their and the Israelites’ stories are clear–enslaved, abused, crying out for freedom, then finally receiving it. The Israelites do have to wander around the wilderness for a few decades, but after that, they move into their new land, a land flowing with milk and honey. They settle there, create their own farms, produce their own crops. It’s a great story, a hopeful story for an enslaved people longing to be free…
But what if you identify, not with the people who are freed, but with those who are displaced from their native land by those freed people? In the story of the exodus, the Canaanites are the people who get pushed off the land when the freed slaves from Egypt arrive. Sound similar to the history of any other countries you know? Like our own? As an indigenous person, Robert Warrior’s point is that, for him, the exodus story is not a story of liberation. For him, it’s a text of terror, a story of how he and his people lost everything.
After reading Warrior’s article, I had to completely rethink how I interpreted Scripture. Though reading Scripture through a feminist lens at my Southern Baptist seminary was nothing to sneeze at, Warrior’s article showed me that my interpretation of Scripture still centered my white experience. Since then, I’ve tried to become more aware of how I read Scripture…but I know I still have some really big, shiny-white blind spots.
We all have blind spots. We all read Scripture through our own cultural and historical lenses. But this story, the story of Pentecost, shows us how to come together despite those differences.
With all its wind, fire, and understanding-each-other-though-they-spoke-different- languages, the Pentecost story comes off as magical. I wonder, though, if it wasn’t so much magic as it was that, caught up in the euphoria of the birth that was happening in their midst, people simply were paying better attention to each other, really seeing and listening to each other. And maybe it wasn’t even the words others were speaking that people understood… maybe it was their expressions, their clothing, the family groupings they were in. Maybe they were holding each others babies.
Friday, Allen and I attended two events related to reducing gun violence. The first was a “Call to Conscience” panel discussion called by Pastor R. B. Holmes at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. All of the panelists and most of the people present were Black. As we heard about how the epidemic of gun violence impacts people in Black communities, we realized that, though our common concern to end gun violence brought us together, our experiences of the impacts of gun violence differ significantly.
Friday evening, Allen and I arrived early at City Hall for a rally sponsored by Moms Demand Action. A man wearing a bright orange yarmulke was leading a prayer service. Jeremy told me it was Rabbi Shields from Temple Israel just down the road. Again, though our common concern about gun violence brought us together, the rabbi offered a response from his own tradition. As the sun was setting, and Sabbath was beginning, he wished us Shabbat Shalom, Sabbath peace.
At our last church, at every prayer service, Allen prayed for a new Pentecost for the church, not only for our church, but for the wider church, as well. You know, of course, that we have the ability, we have the power to create space for that Pentecost to happen, right? If we wait together, if we seek out what we have in common as human beings, if we respect and listen to and from each other from our different cultural contexts…Oh, yes. If we do these things, God’s spirit will come. God’s spirit WILL come!
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022