By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 11, 2008 (Pentecost Sunday)
Read: Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23
There is a lot of red in the church today. Red is the color we use to celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The day we were given the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit. The day the church was birthed, given new life…the birthday of the church. The day of wind and fire and languages that were different, yet the same. Each was speaking in their native language, and yet all could understand what was being said. There were accusations of drunken behavior….I suspect the crowd was in a state of joyful community. Barriers were broken down that day. Languages were different and yet the same. It was a unifying Spirit that crossed the artificial boundaries of language, race and culture. People could speak and be understood; strangers heard one another; communion happened. The Spirit breathes peace.
The film Chocolat, that we used in our Lenten series, tells the story of a gypsy woman and her daughter as they relocate to a very traditional and religious village in the French countryside. A hard, cold wind brings the pair to town, donned in bright red, hooded capes. They arrive in the middle of Lent and open a chocolaterie—shocking for certain, but not as shocking as their refusal to go to church.
But rather unexpectedly, their presence begins to transform the relationships and ideas of the village. Transforms in a very God-like way. It is amazing how relationships can be so transforming. I suspect we all have stories of people who show up in our lives, in a haphazard way, even irritating at first, only to stretch us and change us.
We are called, as baptized persons, to think in terms of “we” rather than “I”. Our culture has become one in which many of us are primarily concerned with our own needs and our own wants. Many advertisements deliver that message and appeal to that. Our consumer society has lost a lot of the concern for others that was present in decades past. But the biblical focus is on the community.
God’s answer to the human predicament was to create a new community, to start a family. We as individuals gain our identity by belonging to the community, and the community finds fulfillment in the growth and healing of the individual. Each nurtures the other. And the bread of life nurtures us all.
The story is told of a man who dropped out of church. He figured he could be just as faithful worshiping God on his own. A few weeks went by, and the minister came to visit. It was a cold and blustery day. They sat in the living room by the fireplace and made small talk. Then the minister took the fire tongs, picked up a glowing ember and placed it to one side of the hearth. The two men watched without saying a word. In no time, it began to cool. A few minutes later, he picked up the dead ember with his fingers and pitched it back into fire. Immediately, it sparked back to life. Without a word, the minister put on his coat and started to leave. The man looked at him and said, “That was one of your best sermons. I’ll see you in church this Sunday.”
To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with every person who is also in relationship with God. This one-ness applies to the whole world and to the small piece of the world known as Trinity Church. What one of us does or does not do has its impact on the whole. What one of us received or does not receive has its impact on the whole. When one is forgiven the entire community is healthier in spirit. When we as a community forgive, each of us is freer.
Notice in our reading from John’s gospel that when Jesus comes through the door he shows them his wounds…his hands and his sides. Jesus reveals his wounded, but living self. He says Peace be with you. Jesus offers unconditional love…wounds and all.
Rubem Alves, a liberation theologian from Brazil, says that, “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.” “Hope”, he says, “is the pre-sentiment that the imagination is more real, and reality less real, than we had thought. It is the sensation that the last word does not belong to the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression. It is the suspicion that reality is far more complex than realism would have us believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the present, and that miraculously and surprisingly, life is readying the creative event that will open the way to freedom and resurrection.”
The Spirit calls us to imagine this world as it should be, to hear the melody of God’s future. And to dance to it.
But that can be intimidating, can’t it. What if we don’t hear the melody and don’t know the steps. And what if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and someone tells us that we’re doing it all wrong? What if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and someone laughs at us, calls us naïve, or drunk, or worse? What if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and we realize that we’re out there all alone? What if we begin to dance to the melody of the future and it sweeps us away, overcomes us, changes our lives and our outlook altogether?
The prophet Joel, as quoted by Peter today, talks about young men and old men, sons and daughters, slaves seeing visions and dreaming dreams. Notice that the listing is of those who live on the margins of life, not those to whom we would normally look for leadership, the middle-aged CEOs, but the young, the old, the sons, the daughters, the poor…
“It isn’t to the palace that the Christ Child comes, “ sings Bruce Cockburn, “but to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums.”
In the book, Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver, Codi, who has gone back to her hometown to face her past, corresponds with her sister Hallie, who has gone to teach agriculture to the peasants of Nicaragua during the time that the United States is sending millions of dollars to the Contras. Codi is proud of Hallie, but is scared for her, too, and in one of her letters she writes:
I feel small and ridiculous and hemmed in on every side by the need to be safe. All I want is to be like you, to be brave, to walk into a country of chickens and land mines and call that home, and have it be home. How can you just charge ahead, always doing the right thing, even if you have to do it alone with people staring? I would have so many doubts—what if you lose that war? What then? If I had an ounce of your bravery, I’d be set for life. You get up and look the world in the eye, shoo the livestock away from the windowsill, and decide what portion of the world needs to be saved today…
Hallie, in her return letter to Codi, writes this:
Codi, here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it’s roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.
The Spirit calls us to figure out what it is that we hope for, and then to live inside that hope, under its roof, to run up and down its halls touching its walls on both sides. The Spirit calls us to envision the future as it should be, and then to live as if that future is already here.
Come, Lord Jesus….come as the rushing of the wind, breathe the gift of new life, ignite the embers….in communion, through relationships, may we renew the face of the earth and dance to your melody of life. Amen.
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