Blogging Towards Pentecost Sunday, May 27th
Mark 11:1-11 (Crowning the King),
Acts 2:1-21 (what does this mean?),
& Acts 2:42-47 (the gospel embodied in community)
Pentecost is a unique day in the life of the Church Calendar in which it is connoted by the color red, (remember our Godly Play lesson from 2 weeks ago?) Red is the color of passion, strong feelings, fire. It evokes the heat and passion of fire similar to the passionate purpose and transformative presence of God’s Spirit when it moves in the world. Pentecost is a reminder that God calls the Church to a risky endeavor, to engage the world, in the world, to declare in word and action that God loves the world and that we most know God through the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. If that’s the meaning of the birth-day of the Church, I find myself wondering what kind of legacy we’ve been leaving as the church? When folks encounter our church on College Avenue, or when the wonder about the Church in general, do they imagine a community of people making meaning in life together around a shared core value that we most know, experience God and grow in faith through knowing Jesus & practicing what he preached?
Theologically Mark 11 wrestles with several themes: the meaning of Jesus as the Messiah – the anointed new King of Israel, awaited to usher in God’s dominion in the world.
Acts 2 wrestles with the church – it tells the birth-day of the church and frames the legacy that the church is invited to leave and become. The church is a community of people set on fire, given purpose and a transformative passion to share the good news of Jesus. It’s an affirmation that the Spirit of God is alive, moving and creating in the world – through us. It’s a radical affirmation of the call to community at the center of Christian life. It’s an unadulterated invitation to the Church to go out into the world, engaging the world.
Eric Law, an Episcopal priest and expert on the multicultural church in the 21st century, interprets this Pentecost story asking what is the miracle of Pentecost? Is it a miracle of the tongue: meaning that the disciples could speak other languages to declare God’s goodness in Christ Jesus? Or is it a miracle of the ear: meaning that the people gathered in Jerusalem, representing the nations of the world, are able to hear, recognize and respond to the good news of the love of God? Is there a difference? What do you think? Is it about a miracle of the tongue or the ear?
Underneath the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate as Palm Sunday, are multiple layers of scripture from the First Testament built around the themes of God’s kingship and the royal leadership that God will provide to complete Israel: these include Zechariah 9:9; Genesis 49:10-11; Psalm 118; the oracle of 2 Samuel 7. Curiously in Matthew 21:8 & John 12:12 it’s the crowd, not the disciples, who hail Jesus.
Underneath the narrative of Pentecost are multiple layers of stories about how God’s Spirit – or immanent presence – is experienced and known in the world. In both Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Bible, Spirit and Breath are the same word. God’s spirit, or breath, breaths life into the church. There’s also the back story as told in Acts 1:1-2:1
Repeatedly in the Bible narratives about the presence of God’s Spirit describe that presence like that of a wind [Genesis 2:7], a fire or flame, or a dove [Mark 1:9-13] who overcomes all barriers to witness creatively to the ends of the earth giving people with a heart for service [Luke 1:15, Acts 9:17] or inspiration to speak God’s word [Exodus 19:18; 2 Samuel 22:16; Ezekiel 13:13; Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9] or to do mighty deeds [like Samson]. Curiously in the First Testament only priests, judges and kings receive – or are filled with the Spirit, whereas at Pentecost the Spirit is given to the disciples and to all those that God gifts.
Pentecost was a Jewish Holiday [The Festival of Weeks] celebrated 50 days (hence the penta-) after Passover, a celebration of God’s gift of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. This Pentecost moment is interpreted as a completes revelation of God’s word for the world. [Luke 24:35]
Some interpreter this Pentecost moment as a direct response – and dramatic reversal – of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), God’s reversal of the divisive diversity of different languages healed and overcome by the unifying presence of God’s Living Spirit. Other texts often associated with Pentecost are Ezekiel’s vision of dead bones returning to life in Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Paul’s words of Romans 8:22-27. Some also compares Acts 2 to Acts 10 (specifically 10:46) and the Cornelius episode as a sort of Gentile Pentecost.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
• Eric D. Barreto writes “[At Pentecost,] God meets us in the messiness of different languages and does not ask us to speak God’s language. Instead, God chooses to speak our many languages.” How does that invite us to speak faith, to testify to the faith that animates our lives, in our changing neighborhood which is increasingly hipster and populated by many over-worked, hyper-stressed, under-rested, tech-savy, service-oriented urbanites?
• We gather for worship each week. But to do what? Are we celebrating that God is alive and active? Or are we merely continuing old traditions and routines? Are we waiting for the world to come to us? Or are we going out to encounter the world? Some would say churches have often become more about the preservation of an institution than the radical living out of a life-transforming message of hope and grace in God’s love. How do we as a community invest time and resources in preserving an institution? How do we invest them to proclaim and embody this radical love and transforming solidarity in our cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Piedmont?