Scripture: Acts 2: 1-18
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel:
As we gather this morning on the anniversary of that first Pentecost, I’ve been thinking about the fact that our Biblical story is set a mere fifty three days after Jesus’ brutal execution at the hands of the Roman Empire… fifty days… that’s less than two months…
Some believe that the disciples were still in hiding, still mostly immobilized in terror from all that’d witnessed of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture and execution. The text does say that they were all together in the same house. I can imagine that the windows and doors might still be covered and locked. I imagine them still gripped in a fear that is making them watch their backs.
A good friend of mine often quotes 1 John 4:18 and then embellishes it: Perfect love casts out fear… and perfect fear casts out love. That’s what I imagine the disciples are feeling, a kind of perfect fear.
And, really that’s what the Roman Empire wanted them to feel. The point and purpose of public crucifixion was to instill a perfect fear that casts out love, and casts out resistance and casts out creative justice-making.
It feels important to me to remember this context as we read our Pentecost story. Because it is into this fear and furtive hypervigilance that the rush of a mighty wind, the sound of the Spirit comes. And at the sound of the Spirit, people gather, from all over the world, they gather. And they are given to speak in their own language and yet be understood by all. And they are given to prophesy and dream… the young and the old, those marginalized by gender and those enslaved are given to speak truths and share visions of what the world ought be…
As Ashley and I talked about this Pentecost, this Pentecost of 2021, coming just two days before the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I could help but feel in my bones the ways in which we are living amidst a Pentecostal experience.
In our own Cities, we were witness to a modern day crucifixion perpetrated by a system of oppression whose desire it is to instill fear, a perfect fear that casts out love and solidarity and justice-making. But like Simon of Cyrene and Mary Magdalene and Salome and Jesus’ mother, Mary who bore witness to Jesus’ crucifixion, Darnella Frazier and Donald Winn Williams II and Genevieve Hansen bore witness to George Floyd’s crucifixion.
And, I don’t know about you, but I believe I heard the rush of a might wind blowing through Minneapolis and St Paul, yes, but all around the world in response to the crucifixion of George Floyd… And people from all over the world have gathered at 38th and Chicago in our City. And in that place, the Spirit’s presence has made many to speak in their native languages and yet all have understood their offerings. And many have been given to dream and prophesy.
And their dreams and their prophesies have been embodied in the archive project that Jeannelle Austin has faithfully led… the one that has gathered every prayer and stuffed animal and poem that has been left and turned them into a testimony to the power of grief gathered.
And their dreams and their prophesies have been embodied in the green house that is growing the plants that have been planted at the center of George Floyd Square at the foot of the raised fist statue. That garden which holds the artwork and faces of those who continue to be killed by police.
And their dreams and prophesies have been embodied in the mutual aid stations that Marcia Howard has made sure are staffed and protected.
And the book mobile and the fire circle which holds the community every morning at 8 am to meet and make decisions together and the Say Their Names cemetery and the murals and posters and paintings all over the square…Their dreams and prophesies are embodied, made manifest in art and community and food and connection.
For me, on this Pentecost 2021, as I hear the rush of the mighty wind, as I am reminded of God’s Holy Spirit, that un-tameable, mysterious, baffling, bodacious Spirit of resurrection and healing, I hear the question to us being: what liberation, what freedom, what holy nudge or shove is this? What dreams, what prophesies are we called into?
Beloved Lyndale, what does it mean for us?
In the last few months, I have been asked to define where I see the “church” in my work as a music therapist. When I met with the committee that approved my call as a hospice music therapist as an ordainable position, I shared that I thought of church a bit more broadly than what was traditionally thought of. That church can be experienced at the bedside of a dying patient. That communion can be shared with a person with dementia who can no longer swallow or speak but gently taps their toes to a favorite country song. God is made present here and now in these small moments. This is church.
The seed for this vision of church was planted in me when I was assigned to read Clyde Stykel’s book Ecclesiology & Polity. Clyde Stekel is a mainstay of the UCC Minnesota Conference – he’s been to every annual conference for decades and used to teach at United Seminary. His book defined “church” as any group that gathers around font, word, and table. He challenged mainline Protestant denominations, the UCC in particular, to get un-stuck from modernity and think beyond church basement dinners, ladies aide societies, and double checking budget line items. He feared that if we got stuck in the voting/ democracy/ bureaucracy side of things in the UCC, then we miss the expansiveness of what it is to live as beloved community in covenant with each other. He calls for us to replace language of “Local Church” with “Local community of ministry and mission” and continues with these words:
“… we affirm an ecclesiological parity for local churches; hospital, military, and other institutional chaplaincies; specialized ministries on on college, university, and theological school campuses; urban and rural specialized ministries; house churches; and for other actual or envisioned institutional forms of a local community of ministry and mission. We would have to learn to think and act in new ways, for example, understanding that the sacrament of baptism and rituals of church membership belongs as much to these other church forms as to local churches.”
We wanted to affirm all these ways of living in beloved community. That covenant or holding each other in sacred accountability is not about moral judgements but a way for us to do justice together in the world.
Little did I know that when I read this for class in 2018 that this more radical view of church would come to be more real in 2020 and 2021. As Lyndale, we created holy moments with everyone getting whatever they had out of their cupboard for communion. We checked in with each other. We sent emails to each other when people were struggling. We made eye contact across the computer screen. We became the church from Washington state to Hudson, WI from cabins in Brainerd to the ground of the Line 3 building site alongside the water protectors in Palisade by the Mississippi River to virtually riding in the car to Madison together… Lyndale is everywhere!
Rev. Ashley Harness:
Happy Pentecost! I love this text, for all its weirdness and woo and wildness. The tongues of fire, the breath of God gusting, the gorgeousness of all these humans from all different places speaking all different languages and yet understanding each other. I also love its subversiveness. Peter preached a hell of a sermon calling on all those gathered to dream, vision, prophesy – not just the religiously trained, not just the powerful, not just the ones who spoke the language of the learned. ALL of us. This is what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to become embodied among and within us. She breaks through all we have called normal, lures us into community, and draws us into new visions of what we might collectively become.
In addition to a year of profound loss and lament, I think the last year has been a kind of extended Pentecost.
It certainly has in my personal life. A year ago this week I went into labor. Three days of progress and then stalling out, an induction and a c-section later, I met Alouette “LouLou” Joy Harness-Jimenez. Instead of shaking with the Spirit and speaking in tongues, though, I was literally shaking with adrenaline and nausea when another breath of God screamed through another room of holy anticipation. It was the operating room at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and LouLou had taken her first breath and let out a cry that meant she was alive and well. Each birth is a kind of rupture of the Divine into the ordinariness of our lives, right? We left behind our old ‘normal’ and she also has lured us deeper into beloved community (despite a pandemic) and demanded we who love her become new visions of ourselves as parents, a sibling, grandparents.
The same has been true for us as Lyndale. By this time of year last year, we knew that COVID travelled through the breath, through the particles that were too small to see but powerful beyond our control or knowing. Breath had become scary. We had to leave our beloved building behind to keep each other and ourselves safe. We took to zoom, the Spirit blowing us together across the vastness of space and internet. We no longer had ‘embuildingment,’ so to speak. We just had our own holy embodiment, terrifyingly vulnerable to disease and also our only way of experiencing all that is joy in this life.
“Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary* of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” – 1 Corinthians 6: 19
This is not the usual scripture we think of when we think of Pentecost. But I realize it has become true for me this year more than any other. We haven’t been able to gather like the saints of Peter’s first church in buildings to experience the Spirit rushing through. We’ve had to rely on the sanctuary of our individual bodies to experience the Divine. Sanctuary literally means God’s dwelling place, or God’s home. Our bodies are God’s home, the Spirit’s home among us.
It’s easy to see in a newborn. They are so obviously and deliciously Divine dwelling places. But what about your body? What about that part that has always stubbornly behaved differently than you have wanted it to? What about the part that is particularly painful these days? What about the part that has become far from groomed or toned or looks different than it used to? ALL of our bodies and every part of every body is a dwelling place for the Divine. “Your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit within you.”
Let us pause for just a moment to breathe together across the distance. Each breath can carry COVID. AND each breath can be an experience of the Holy Spirit rushing through us, of God’s breath merging with our own to blow through the sanctuary of our beings. Both are true at the same time.
Let us remember to tend this sanctuary of our bodies, of each other’s bodies, with infinite care. Especially as we begin to imagine how it will be possible again this year to enter our shared sanctuary together.