June 9, 2019
Some years ago, one of Great Britain’s leading theologians was being considered for the position of Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. Some questioned his competency and whether the candidate was solid enough in his understanding of their faith. In his interview, an extremely conservative member of the selection committee opened the Bible to the 15thchapter of the First book of Samuel and read Samuel’s words to King Saul: “Thus said the Lord of Hosts: Attack Amalek, kill men and women, infants and children, oxen and sheep, sparing no one.” The candidate was then asked, “That’s in the Bible. Do you believe that God said it to Samuel?” The rabbi answered, “I believe that Samuel heard it, but I don’t believe God said it.”
I think the rabbi was right. The fact that we’ve been putting words in God’s mouth for so many centuries may have partly accounted for God decision to come and dwell with us. At least God could set the record straight of just what God was saying and what God was not. But I’m also quite certain that some of that - putting words in God’s mouth- goes on yet today. In fact, I am certain that same sin exists in light of what we celebrate today on this Feast of Pentecost.
Pentecost is not about everyone speaking the same language; it is about people listening to each other even when the language they hear seems foreign to our ears. It is not about everyone agreeing with each other; it is about everyone finding a way to unite. It is about truly hearing someone else’s story, because everyone’s story deserves to be heard. It means we must trust that we don’t have the last “word.”
Everything the Feast of Pentecost proclaims brings us to discover unity that is created from diversity, not by eliminating it. It is about finding one voice that speaks on behalf of many, not by eliminating other voices. It is about one body created from many contributing parts, not taking parts away from the body.
Jesus knew the history of his people. He understood the broken nature of humanity by his own experience of life and death. That’s why we must look closely at the life and teachings of Jesus, watching how he dealt with divisions and discerning what God revealed in that Pentecost experience. It seems that the “Voice of God” speaks very clearly: unity can only be created by love. Loving God more than loving anything or anyone else; loving God more than things we have instituted as a reflection of God, even the church itself. If you love me you will keep my commandments. Whoever loves me will keep my word. Those who do not love me do not keep my words. From that love, my friends, all that is of God flows. God’s Spirit speaks the love reflected in the teachings of the Beatitudes and the parables of forgiveness, in the story of the prodigal son and the compassion of the Good Samaritan. Jesus actions speak clearly as he ate with sinners and forgave the adulterous woman. It was the Peter’s declaration of his love for the Lord that erased his infamous three-fold denial.
Pentecost begins with the love of God-- not the love of an ideal, not the love of a moral platitude, not the love of an institution, not the love of a political ideology. It begins in the love of God, first revealed in Creation itself, then in the Word of God made flesh in Jesus, and now in the Spirit of God that continues to guide us and teach us today.
Look around this church this morning. Really, look around…at each other. We are so very, very different. We have different experiences of life and stories of love and journeys of faith. On this Pentecost Sunday, in all that makes us different from one another, in all that has the potential to divide and separate, can we, at least, agree to utter the same prayer: “Come Holy Spirit”! ….and go on from there?