A sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-21
The Book of Genesis provides an interesting look into the foundations of our understanding of our faith and our relationship with God. In particular, the stories that are shared in those pages tell of our history as creation within the context of the understanding of this one group of people. Within these stories we begin to understand how it is that our creator attempted to interact with just one set of people, how those interactions created for us the rules of creation that came to provide the framework for our understanding of the world. It is these stories that set the story for what is to come. It is these stories that connect the people of Israel directly to their creator. It is these stories that ground David in his faith. It is these stories that inspire the prophets to trust in the visions they receive from the creator. It is these foundational stories that are renewed and refreshed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We have the privilege of reading these foundational stories through the lens of understanding that is our new relationship with God that is only allowed through the life of Christ and our faith and belief in following his example. When we reconnect with these foundational stories in this new lens, we see both how God has interacted with creation (and us with the creator), but also how fundamentally different that relationship is now to be understood in and through Christ.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, the creation becomes infatuated with the power of creating, of access, because we share in a oneness through our sameness. This oneness of sameness allows us to realize that “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” We will put ourselves as equal with God, we will demand access to God, not because we deserve it or because we should, but simply because we can and our hubris demands it. It’s telling really that all God has to do to prevent us from realizing this potential is make us speak different languages and have us come from different areas. We lose our sense of oneness because our language and birthplace has changed, but that’s it. God does not create us any different. God does not gives us different physical or mental attributes. We simply stop being from the same place with the same language and that is enough to scatter us and prevent us from experiencing the oneness of our creation.
This is why the day of Pentecost is so powerful. God has restored our oneness in this moment. This is the moment when the advocate, the Holy Spirit is fully amongst us, alighting upon all, connecting us once more in a powerful experience of oneness. This is a real, tangible fulfillment of Christ’s promise that the advocate would always be with us. This is the moment when we realize that through Christ, through the oneness in Christ, in God, oneness that is made accessible through the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, always, that we can live into the way of love that has been placed before us.
This offer of oneness is limited though. Not in scope or potential, but in access. It’s not that the access is limited in and of itself, but it requires something of us, it requires us to give something up in order to fully realize it. There are no barriers or boundaries or obstacles placed in our way to this access. But, it does require something of us. It requires that we follow in the footsteps of Christ, that we give into the way of love, that we see creation as Christ saw creation, that we love without barrier, through service, through worship, through welcome, through everything that we do.
This is why Pentecost is often referred to as the birth day of the Church. It is on this day that the power of being reunited in oneness, not just with Christ or God or the Holy Spirit, but the oneness that is experienced together as all believers come together and hear each other for who they are, believers, and not for what language they speak or where they are from, not “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs,” is fully realized. Pentecost is the healing of a boundary that was created at the beginning of our time. Pentecost is the recognition that together, with our creator, we can do more than we could ever accomplish apart from one another.
We don’t have church without the life of Christ. We don’t have Pentecost without Easter, in fact Pentecost is the last day in our celebration of Easter. We don’t have Pentecost without the life and death and resurrection of Christ. But the church as a place where people come from all over to experience oneness is not a reality without Pentecost. In the death and resurrection of Christ, we are still a fragmented people. We have the ability to access the oneness, with and through Christ, but we do it in fragmented pockets. It is only in our coming together for the common purpose of worship that the Holy Spirit comes among us and solidifies our oneness, removing our barriers and allowing us to see each other as one in creation, one in faith and belief.
It’s hard not to think that we’ve lost some of this. We have fragmented once more. It’s not just in our denominations that continually splinter further and further away from one another, or with silo churches having no affiliation to anyone outside a one word descriptor of “Christian,” that we experience this fragmentation in our world. At our southern border we build walls because the people on the other side are “not from here,” because they don’t “speak our language.” In our national discourse we argue over who are real Christians, who gets to claim superiority to declare what the actual message of God is. Even here in our local community we throw up barriers between each other. Many in our community would see us “ship out” those homeless who “are not from here,” as if their status of being from somewhere far flung makes them any less deserving of our love and compassion (notwithstanding the fact that the homeless drug kingpin from parts unknown is a straw man at best).
If we are to truly celebrate the day of Pentecost, to celebrate the birth day of the Church, then we must come together and see each other in the oneness that is demanded of us in our faith and belief in Christ. If we lived into the oneness that Christ spoke of, that oneness where we connect to Christ, to God, through the Holy Spirit, our advocate who is with us, always, then we would not even have to work to bring down those arbitrary barriers we put between each other, for we would see each other as beloved creation, we would see the oneness that is being offered to us through our faith.
When we continue to live into barrier making, whether physical, mental, spiritual, then we are not truly living into our faith. When we continue to live into barrier making, then we cannot truly connect to the oneness that is afforded to us through the Holy Spirit.
So, if we are going to live into the true spirit of Pentecost, if we are going to celebrate this day as the birth day of our ability to come together, all of us, from all locations and tribes and languages, to come together to worship the one true God, then we can do so in no better way than tearing down those false barriers that others try to put between us. Our faith is not one of exclusivity for the sake of being exclusive. Our faith is not predicated on our own ability to access God. Our faith is based on the access to God that we have the privilege of experiencing when we come together as one body to worship in the way of love that Jesus Christ has left for us. This is our call in Pentecost. This is our call to take the flame of the Holy Spirit, to be filled with the power and might, and go out into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit as we do the work that has been left for us to do. We can do this work, we can tear down these barriers, because we have the Holy Spirit, because we have faith in Christ, because we are connected as one through Christ to God, and it is in this reality that we must venture out into the world and show that we are one.