If you were asked to share the Good News, what would you say?
And if you didn’t know the language, how would you attempt to communicate your faith?
And how would that differ from the way you normally communicate?
With all the enormous societal disruptions, revelations, fear and loss brought about by this pandemic, I’m among those who appreciate getting out for walks with more birdsong than voices.
Last week, a chance encounter and a privileged conversation presented me with the challenge.
I met a retired teacher I seldom see, and we had a – distanced – chat: how our adult children were finding their way in the world. His are bi-racial. Will things ever improve? Are they now?
I always see him as a joyful person, but he said, “I think you have an edge: What is it that makes you think there’s hope?”
Quite spontaneously and rather quickly I said, “I grew up in the 60’s just outside Milwaukee; positive home, Catholic school. Religion class 6th grade we were shown the Harvest of Shame about farmworkers. My Dad watched the TV news. There were riots over race. We saw the marches, police abuse of protesters, dogs, hoses. I hitchhiked into the city to see for myself. And I saw Fr. James Groppi and other white ministers lock arms with the leaders of the march. They struck me as credible Christians. They were bold with love like Jesus. I trust that a living God can give us that kind of love. I see or meet people who love like that and I believe Jesus lives in that love; I trust we still have a chance.
As I walked home, I recalled the advice in 1Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope; but do so with gentleness and respect. I hoped that I had done so.
Easter, with lighting the fire and the passing the light, singing of the Exultet revives us and reminds us that death will not win out. It is a celebration of sheer joy!
Pentecost is joyful, but it is disruptive! the Spirit’s power pushes us past our comfort to speak truth and possibility, love and hope to a world of overwhelming brokenness and need.
Pentecost, meaning 50th, is the name given by Greek speaking Jews to the offering of first fruits called Shavout (sha-voo-ut) in Hebrew. This harvest holy day comes 7 weeks falls after Passover, on the 50th day. In post-agrarian Jewish society, the celebration focuses of the gift of the Torah, and is often referred to as “Weeks”. A confusion of language was built in early!
Shavout was one of 3 annual feasts on which observant Jews were required to travel to Jerusalem, so today we find the apostles there, in a room above the teaming pilgrims of the Judaic diaspora.
Were they yet hiding for fear of the crowds who threatened those who followed Jesus? Were they on retreat, in meditation on the recent, stunning events that had sent them on an emotional and vocational rollercoaster?
“When suddenly came a noise like a strong driving wind”
That rush of wind that is described by Paul, could it have been the rising murmur of the crowds?
Or was it the blood rushing in their ears – as they breathed in the power and new courage of the Holy Spirit?! Their hearts were on fire with the love Jesus had shared.
Since Jesus’ face, voice and hands could no longer communicate the love that had transformed them; and recognizing now that this bold love could not be killed, they broke quarantine and ran outside.
The Holy Spirit literally thrust them into the messy cacophony and possibility of the whole of humankind.
- But how could it be that these local fishermen could be understood by a crowd of strangers, of distant lands and many languages and foreign cultures?
- Could they of an instant become polyglots?
- So..what was it they said that could be understood?
- that had such power over strangers?
Proclamation of the liberating, unconditional and selfless love of Jesus, word of God, requires courage, then and now. Words alone, not even our best words, do not suffice.
I trust that all of us are diligent in our efforts to speak only truth, Faith seeks the power of truth over cowardice, of encouragement, not fear, of love, not hatred
But I increasingly believe that listening for truth is a challenge we must rise to. We need to listen to the truths of others’ words and lives. In this moment, the voices of Black and Brown Americans are speaking clearly and publicly of their collective pain. As Roxane Gay wrote this week:
Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine, but black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.
To be face to face with someone’s pain is an uncomfortable place for most of us, and more so across races. I think we need to practice, so we can know people who differ from as more than angry, in need, in pain. So that we can love larger.
We may feel distressed, defensive, or deeply saddened at the wrong done to people of color. But the Spirit can give us courage to listen, to stay present, to respect the speaker whose courage must be greater. To honor their feelings, be it outrage, grief, or suspicion. These conversations need to happen if we want humanity to survive on this weary planet. MOSES is only one of the forums in this area in which we practice that listening; and you are welcome to join us. Now on Zoom!
We are called to weave our communities whole, educating ourselves through listening, reading, and showing up as opportunities arise to engage with the power of every ballot, the pen, and our voice.
I am grateful to Paz for having animated an outreach to the Hispanic community and will miss her skill and passion for weaving us together. But Pentecost reminds us that we are gifted with the Spirits power to go where we are needed, and that need for connection remains. It wasn’t just important for those hosted and supported; it was and is important Sunday Assembly to be in the world.
If our faith is to have any relevance in the world that emerges from this pandemic to face the crises of climate and world order, we must practice and thus witness to the unconditional, radical love shared by Jesus of Nazareth.
That is what the crowd understood on that Pentecost long ago.
The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis to which our daughter and her family now belong, has over the quarantine Zoomed its liturgy from the homes of its diverse prayer and music leaders.
There has been one constant, recorded as a duet from 2 homes, based on Julian of Norwich, with additional verse from Arundhati Roy.
All shall be well / Another world is not only possible, she is on Her way. All manner of things shall be well /On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing, she is on Her way…
My unexpected encounter in the park, and other recent exchanges give me a sense that many people, of all ages, are struggling to find their way through this chaotic time. A surprising array of people we each know hunger for the hope we are called to share.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to grace us with the Courage to proclaim that Hope with gentleness, respect, and Joy!
At Baptism, as the holy oil permeated our skin, your Holy Spirit entered to dwell within us, making us a priestly people, a royal people, a prophetic people.
Help us in this time to live up to our call. We pray, Come Holy Spirit Come.
Live, O God in each community: monastic, assembly, family, friends, and other groups to which we belong. May they and we cooperate with your Spirit to ever more clearly reflect the Just Love of Jesus of Nazareth. For this we pray, Come Holy Spirit, Come.
Spirit of Justice, in the same holy wrath with which Jesus cleansed the exploitation of the poor from the temple, empower us to end the pernicious racism that daily destroys persons, families, and communities of color in the United States, Come..
For the most recent victims of death by police and for their families, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, we pray Come Holy Spirit, ..
For those who are suffering with Covid19, for all who have died in this season, and for those who grieve, we pray.
For all upon whom we depend in this crisis: for medical workers, caregivers, farmworkers- and all in the food supply chain, and all other risky positions, we pray.
Please take a moment to raise your petitions from your home at this time:
Ever Creative, Renewing God of Love, we Praise you for the constancy of your Spirit within us. Accept these our prayers today, with our gratitude and our renewed desire to serve you lovingly, boldly, and with Joy. In the name of Jesus our Brother, Teacher and Friend, Amen.