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Well here we are in church on celebrating Pentecost! For generations Pentecost was one of the great high feast days of the church; right up there with Easter and Epiphany. That’s right, for generations, the three great high feast days of the church year were Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost; not Christmas. Pentecost the day when the church celebrates the birth of the church. But in our life-times the festival of Pentecost has pretty much slipped off the radar of our culture. This year, well here in Canada at least, Pentecost is eclipsed by the first long-weekend of the summer season and most of our sisters and brothers are out there enjoying this rainy Victoria Day weekend. As for the rest of the world, this weekend’s Royal Wedding has garnered far more attention than the church’s birthday.
I remember, back in the olden days, when I first joined the church as a mere teenager, even then, Pentecost’s attraction was waning. I remember being taught all about the meaning of Pentecost. I can still hear our pastor, doing his best to get us excited about those tongues of fire resting upon the first followers of the Way. I remember the worship and music committee encouraging us to wear red to church. I remember the Sunday school coordinator releasing 7 red balloons into the congregation.
I was a bit of a dork back then. Unlike my fellow teenagers, who were mostly leaving the church, I joined the church when I was fifteen. I became enthralled with my guy Jesus. I immersed myself in the church. On Pentecost Sunday, 1972, just a few weeks before my 15thbirthday, I affirmed my baptism and joined Benediction Lutheran Church. So, even though the flames of Pentecost are continue to wain in our culture, Pentecost will always hold a special place in my heart. Back in 1972, I began a long journey of discovery; a journey that would see me study not only the birth of the church but the long history of the church; a journey that took be into the story of Jesus in ways that I could never have understood back then.
I can still remember how earnest I was back then; how diligently I studied, how deeply I believed! I took it all in. I breathed deeply of the Spirit. I was a true believer. Yes, I always had my doubts.But my doubts only drove me deeper into the MYSTERY.
I can still remember devouring every one of those red-letter words in the bible. You know the way those old bibles used to have the words of Jesus printed in red. I can still remember the trauma of discovering that Jesus didn’t actually say all those red-letter words! I was so very certain in the beginning that if I just studied harder, I would discover the answers. Over the years, I have studied harder, but my studies have not given me the answers; my studies have driven me to deeper and deeper questions. So many certainties, have evolved into deeper questions. So, today on this, the festival of Pentecost, when most of the world is out there, and there are but a few of us in here, I wonder, “Can these bones live?”
As handfuls of us, all over the world, celebrate the birthday of the Church, it is tempting to ask: Are our bones too dry? Is our hope gone? Is the Church doomed? Or, can these bones live? I’d love to be able to answer each of these questions with more than a hint of my youthful certainty. Maybe, just maybe we are in the valley of dry bones. Over the years, I’ve often grieved the loss of my youthful certainty. Over the years, I’ve shed many a tear as tightly held beliefs have been challenged. Over the years, I’ve often missed that young woman that I once was, who was so sure of herself, so confident, so steadfast in her faith, so secure in the knowledge that God was in his heaven and all would be right with the world if we would only learn to do things properly. Over the years, I have often been laid low by the pain of discovery and locked myself away to mourn the loss of that which I held so dear.
I suspect that the followers of Jesus tasted the pain of loss. They had loved Jesus and placed all their hopes and dreams for the future in him, only to have those hopes and dreams die a horrible death. Their grief is incalculable. Still pungent some 50 or 60 years later when the anonymous gospel writer that we call Luke wrote the in the Book of Acts and created the story of Pentecost.
“Upon entering the city of Jerusalem for during the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost, Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Mathew: James ben-Alpheaus: Simon, a member of the Zealot sect: and Judah ben-Jacob. Also, with them were some of the women who followed Jesus, his mother Mary and some of Jesus’ sisters and brothers. With one mind they devoted themselves to constant prayer.”
I can see them in my mind’s eye all huddled together in an upper room united in their grief. All their hopes and dreams shattered, their lives in disarray as what they had believed so strongly so passionately was gone. What were they to do? How could they go on? What was the point of it all? If Jesus was gone, why bother? Maybe he wasn’t all that they had hoped for?
I can hear them, up there in that room arguing, weeping, searching for answers, longing for the security of the way it had been when Jesus was there with them; when they were certain about what needed to be done. I can hear them talking about Jesus, remembering the stories listening to the tales of his courage, marveling at his audacious courage, second guessing his teaching, longing for his touch, feeling the hope stir in their bellies, hope for justice, anger at the oppression they were left to deal with, confused about what to do next, not knowing what to think or believe now.
I can almost see one of them smile through their tears as she remembers the power of the love Jesus demonstrated with every breath in his body. I can see them beginning to remember the power of his words.
I can hear them begin to talk about Jesus as if he was right there with them still, egging them on, encouraging them to be all that they are, pushing them to keep steadfast in their quest for justice. Reminding them of the plight of their sisters and brothers. Demanding that they love one another. Insisting that even the fearful Romans were to be the recipients of their love. I can hear the volume of their conversation increase as they remembered the details of Jesus’ life and relived the horrors of his death.
I can see the courage with which Jesus insisted upon responding to injustice with love; a love so fierce that it was as if Jesus, their beautiful, powerful, beloved Jesus was the actual embodiment of Love. I can see the reality beginning to emerge in their midst, the reality that in their beloved Jesus they had seen God in the flesh; for if God is not LOVE then there can be no God and surely, Jesus was the embodiment of LOVE and so Jesus their beloved Jesus was God in their midst.
As one by one the LOVE which they had experienced in Jesus began to emerge in their midst it was as if they room itself was on fire. They could see the power of love ignite among them. It was as if they too were alive in the same way they had seen the power of life in Jesus. Could it be that the same power of LOVE that they had experienced in Jesus was alive and well in them? It was as if they were all catching the fire; like the flames were resting on each of them. Out of their grief, life was emerging, love was becoming palpable once again. Their joy spilled out onto the streets, and people could see something strange in them, it was as if they were drunk, but they couldn’t be drunk, not yet anyway, it was too soon for that. Something new was emerging in their very midst, suddenly they began to see, to understand, and they simply could not contain their joy. Something was born among them, something new, something powerful, something they could not have imagined, something beyond their wildest dreams. They were filled with the Spirit of LOVE and all things were possible. All sorts of people were communicating with one another in ways none of them thought possible. All were amazed and disturbed. They asked each other, “What does this mean?”
Could this be a taste of what our ancestors once spoke of, “I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind. Your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams.
So, here we sit on this Pentecost Sunday, in a small room far from the crowds out there. Some of us have had our carefully held assumptions challenged. Others of us are missing that old-time religion; you know the stuff that was good enough for Grandma, shouldn’t it be good enough for me. We’ve been ReThinking, challenging, poking and prodding, changing, and tinkering with stuff that’s dangerous to mess with. Our foray into progressive Christianity has been daunting and not without cost. Some of us are grieving the loss of treasures we once held dear and longing for the stuff that used to comfort us in our grief. Others of us are mourning the loss of beliefs and struggling to make sense of it all. Others of us have been left speechless unable to pray.
These are difficult days, challenging times, frightening and sad as we struggle to cope with the death of the church we once held so dear. We don’t know what to believe or who to turn to. Our pain is palpable, our tears seem endless, and our desire to go back to the way things were, is understandable. It is as if we are groaning in one great act of giving birth.
Can these bones live? Does the church stand a chance in the face of science or in the actual contempt for the Church that so many harbour as a result of the pain caused by the sins of the Church? Can these bones live? We too groan inwardly as we wait to be set free from the traditions that hold us back “And hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance.”
As we struggle to comprehend all that has taken place over the last few years, can we still hear the voice of Jesus? As we live into our vision of being Progressive in approach: Christlike in action, do we have the courage to see in Jesus the kind of LOVE that we are longing for? Do we have the courage to look to one another to see the LOVE which Jesus was talking about embodied in one another? Or are we too afraid of being burned by the flames? Something new is about to be born.
Out of the ravages of our past and the travesties of our present, our questions are opening us to the reality of the LOVE that lives, in, with, through, and beyond us. It is a powerful LOVE, a LOVE beyond measure, a LOVE that our ancestors experienced in the life and death of Jesus, a LOVE that death could not kill. A LOVE that our sisters and brothers of other faiths and of no faiths have experienced in life itself. A LOVE that lives and breaths in, with, through and beyond us. A LOVE that will nourish ground and sustain us as we bring to birth the peace which Jesus envisioned, the peace that is born when justice and compassion are joined together. A LOVE that permeates all of creation and blows like the wind where it will. A LOVE so intoxicating that it will inspire us as we conspire with one another to embody that LOVE.
On this Pentecost Sunday let us have the courage to recognize our grief and resolve to tend to the wounds we have suffered. Let us be mindful of the birth-pangs. But let us also recall the power of the LOVE that lives in, with, through and beyond us so that we too can be intoxicated with the desire to embody LOVE. Let us see visions, and dream dreams. It will be wild, and dangerous, and we may have to speak in different ways to one another and to the world, but we will understand one another as long as LOVE is our guide. Can these bones live?
You bet they can!
They might be held together differently than they once were, but the Spirit of LOVE will live and breathe in these bones and it will be as if we have caught fire my friends, people will think we are drunk or mad or both, but it is only morning, early days yet, just breathe deeply of the Spirit of LOVE, and let’s dream dreams, big, hairy, audacious dreams, dreams filled with visions of the Spirit of LOVE who continues to inspire us! Let it be so among us!!!