Pentecost 2020 Sermon
Acts 2:1-20 May 31, 2020
Rev. David J. Clark
Pentecost. The birth of the church when the Spirit of God helped people overcome the barriers of nationality and language and social status. We’ve always been about smashing the obstacles that keep people separated from each other so that people can connect despite their differences. If you really care about how divided everything has become these days, I think you can find in the story of Pentecost three keys that can really help you do your part to overcome obstacles and heal divisions and really connect with others.
The first thing to consider is the spirit or attitude or disposition you are carrying in your heart. Pentecost invites us to think about aligning our spirit, with God’s. That is make sure to focus your attitudes, and intentions on the right things. We can ask for God’s grace to fill us with a peaceful and helpful disposition.
My wife begins her sermons with this adaptation of a 16th-century prayer book called the Sarum Primer. God be in our heads and in our understanding. God be in our eyes and in our looking. God be in our mouths and in our speaking. God be in our hearts and in our loving.
We find this prayer a great spiritual tool to guide us through the pandemic. For example, anytime we slap ourselves on the forehead our reach to pull our hair out because we can’t imagine anyone in their right mind saying or doing what we just heard them say and do – we can pray – God be in my head and in my understanding, put me in a good frame of mind.
When we shut down or cover our eyes because we don’t want to see any more graphs, or protests, or lines of people waiting for food, or grieving families – we can pray – God be in our eyes and in our looking! Help me to see this situation as you see it. Show me a way to help.
When we have to bite our tongues or cover our mouths so as not to say hurtful, cynical or mean-spirited things we really want to say – we can pray – God be in our mouths and in our speaking! Help us to find words of encouragement and faith.
When we cover our hearts with our hands because we are lonely, or mad, or desperate, or slipping down the slippery slope of disillusionment – we can pray – God be in our hearts and in our thinking.
Once we open ourselves to this spirit of holiness, then we can be in the right mindset to make connections.
The second key is to be less reactive and more empathetic.
There has been so much disruption and anxiety that everyone is a little on edge. I saw a Tik Tok video of a mom showing a bunch of neat piles of folded clothes on her bed. From the sizes and styles of clothes, you can tell she has 3-4 kids. You hear her explaining about how she finally got 12 loads finished and then she pans the camera over to a full clothes hamper. She curses then announces to her family. “Okay, that’s it. From now on we’re all nudists!”
Recently, I caught myself filled with this urge not only to scold but humiliate strangers (good pastor that I am) for not wearing a mask and then for not following the arrows in the store. Like that would do any good.
Surely there were tensions and misunderstandings and a variety of perspectives amongst all those people gathered at Pentecost. They needed to listen and not react. They led with curiosity and empathy not hostility. In a similar way, this is an important time to listen and be mindful of what others are going through, their experience of this pandemic and their coping mechanisms are probably different than yours.
Even if you disagree with them, try to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that most people are doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them.
Damian Barr wrote a wonderful poem in April about how this time calls for us to be gentle and understanding of others
I heard that we are in the same boat.
But it’s not that.
We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
Some are in super-yachts, others have just one oar.
The thing is from the outside, you can’t tell who is who. Suffering is suffering. Even seasickness on a yacht is terrible. Some aren’t having that hard of a time while others are in truly tragic and dire situations on the outsides or the insides. The inequalities of our country are exposed now more than ever.
Barr reminds us that someday we will all emerge from the storm. So for now it would be great if we didn’t judge and tried to navigate our own routes with “respect, empathy, and responsibility.”
Some have added to his refrain by saying, “May everyone discover in you a safe harbor.” That is, may you be a nonjudgmental presence more interested in supporting people on their journey than tearing them down. And may it be so that anyone who is looking for safe harbor, safe people will find them at Bay Shore Church.
The Third Key is to embrace new ways of connecting.
The story of Pentecost is this. Just before he checked out, Jesus told the disciples to continue on and carry his message to Jerusalem, then all the region of Judea and Samaria then to all the earth. The disciples gather in one room trying to figure out what to do when suddenly (important word), the Holy Spirit comes and disrupts everything. There is loud howling wind, tongues of fire. It just blew the doors off the room. They went out from that room and spread the message to people in such a way that all kinds of foreigners who were in town heard the message in their own languages.
The Spirit pushed them out of their isolation to engage with others. It was a big risk to go out in public like that just 7 weeks after Jesus had been crucified. But they did it, gave birth to the church and changed the world because people could see that their faith manifested in care for others–especially the most vulnerable among them.
In a similar way, there the novel coronavirus has caused a great disruption that is pushing us out of our comfortable areas to connect with others in new ways. The church is no longer just concerned with our room, our sanctuary and buildings, but our neighborhood in new ways, connecting through new platforms, expanding our ministry. We’re not looking at this as just hoping to go back to the ways we’ve always done things, but we are looking to find new ways of making connections for people, to engage. People are watching our services all over the world.
We are trying new platforms for all ages. We have all kinds of opportunities now that we didn’t have before to reach a wider group. What can be born out of this is new ways to connect–especially in our own faith community. We are looking to see how we can improve and have a bigger impact.
So, I’m hoping that like those first disciples who were disrupted and took a risk to engage people, you will be doing it too. I don’t think there is any better way to address the wounds of this world than by people coming together in a spirit of love and holiness. Come Holy Spirit, Come.