The Book of Genesis begins with first God speaking creation into being…”God said let there be light…and there was light” and then God breathing life into the creature God had fashioned from clay. Similarly in the Easter readings we have been hearing….Jesus breathes on the disciples and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Breath, spirit, life, new life.
In the Acts reading we have just heard this breath takes on a new intensity….a rush of violent wind that filled the whole house….and tongues of fire, fanned by this same wind pour over the disciples who suddenly discover they can speak in other languages which moments before were utterly unfamiliar to them. This event of Pentecost is a work that proceeds out of being open to the transformative power of divine love.
Now many people work hard to learn to speak another language. I personally would like to be able to speak Italian…and regularly receive offers of six months of a Babbel course that assures me that if I use their program I will easily be able to do so. I can’t imagine how astonished I would be if all of a sudden I heard myself speaking Italian like a native! But for these first apostles they suddenly find they can speak all the languages of the then known world. And it sounds as if they were doing so with gusto…were highly enspirited as we say…so much so that some people thought they were drunk, even though it was only 9:00 in the morning….
The Jewish feast of Pentecost was an important festival bringing Jews from far away to Jerusalem. What an opportunity to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. And so they give voice to their experience, their new conviction, their experience of divine love. And Peter recalls the prophecy of Joel. ” In the last days it will be, God declares that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophecy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”
Spirit, prophecies, dreams. What might this say to us today. We use the expression “to find your voice.” Usually with reference to speaking your own truth…the truth of who you are, who you believe you are intended to be, what you are called to do with your “one and precious life” as the poet Mary Oliver says….In Baptism we give voice to our commitment sharing in the prayers and the breaking of bread, to our belief in the power and presence of the divine love of God in Christ. We were all moved when last hear we heard first Hannah and then Ezekiel speak their promises, their commitment to be people of God to be voices of God in the world. Today we remember this dramatic outpouring of voice….of the breath of God bringing something new to life, to the lives of the apostles and to those around them….It was a dramatic proclamation of something new in the world of divine love embodied in new hope, new life, new possibility for people who had known only the empire of Rome where women had no rights, where poverty and slavery were accepted norms.
The gospel as proclaimed and lived by these early apostles offered a radically different way of being in the world. The early Jesus communities that arose from the teaching and leadership of these first apostles offered new hope, new life to all kinds of people who had known only hunger, discrimination, fear and slavery. These people were to hear the apostle Paul say ” In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.” Lives and whole communities were turned upside down with the divinely inspired energy of the first apostles. What is our voice? What is our message?
Last week I was at the Diocesan clergy conference…it was challenging and intense. One session addressed the ways in which our theology has for too long expressed a level of imperialism and domination that had contributed to attitudes of cultural superiority expressed in residential schools and the Indian act…Early in this presentation a small native woman had slipped into the back of the hall and was acknowledged by Bishop Logan. Jill, as she was named, is a Penelakut elder, called to spiritual leadership in her community. When the Bishop asked her to comment on the presentation and our discussion she said she was relieved to hear our thinking. Jill then described her spiritual journey to Christianity including her decision to attend VST Native Ministry Summer School which will ultimately lead to her ordination. She spoke clearly about finding her voice, first as a traditional spiritual leader and then as a Penelakut woman who could also be a Christian priest. She also told us that the building where we were meeting was on the grounds of what had been her traditional village and fishing grounds…it took little imagination to picture what would have happened on that site years back. She spoke quietly, intensely. You could hear the breath, the spirit in the room as we listened to her. One of our clergy who has served for several years in Kingcome and Alert Bay is fluent in the language of that territory. When it was time for Jill to be thanked for sharing her story with us, he first went to her and asked her permission to use that particular language, especially as that nation had a violent history with the Penelakut people. It was very moving to see Lincoln, who is a tall and imposing man, bowing low before Jill with gestures of obvious respect as he asked her permission to speak. And speak he did though I couldn’t understand a word…his tone and gestures spoke thanks and humility in the face of her gracious generosity. When he was finished and had presented her with a small gift he checked to ensure he had followed the protocol correctly. Lincoln and Jill embodied the spirit of Pentecost for us that afternoon.
My friends I believe we need another Pentecost. In a world increasingly torn by conflict, racism, starvation and hopelessness, to what will we give voice? Will we proclaim the gospel of the love of God in Christ for all creation? Will we with Paul say in Christ there is no nationality, gender, or anything else that separates us from the love of God? Or will we turn away and remain silent…as so many did in the years of the holocaust, or in the racism that haunts the history of our nation and many others. Will we proclaim a vision of peace and hope and new life…or will we tell the same old stories of white privilege? What might a new Pentecost look like, sound like in our time? How might we find the courage to speak our truth, the truth of the gospel of God’s love for all creation, the creation God spoke into being. What if we were to experience a new Pentecost…what then? Amen