Well, for heaven’s sake… here it is Pentecost again! It’s been nearly two millennia since the disciples, all gathered together in a house in Jerusalem, heard a sound coming from heaven like the rush of a violent wind… and were visited by—and imbued with—the fire of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever had the experience of being in church on Pentecost Sunday when the congregation has done a special reading of the passage from Acts that we heard in our first lesson today? Folks whose first language is not English, and even folks who studied other languages in school, stood and read the Pentecost story together in different languages. The reading would begin in English, to ground listeners in the familiar. Then non-English speakers would rise, and add their voices and tongues, one by one, to the recitation until the sound truly did begin to resemble a “great rushing wind,” a cacophony of praise and prophecy building to a climax and then diminishing, as one voice after another dropped out until only the original speaker remained, reassuring listeners in English that, in the end, despite the trials and tribulations of this life, “. . . everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Pretty powerful stuff, eh? At least for those of us who know what’s going on. For others, who may have just dropped by to visit on that particular Sunday, maybe not so much. Maybe it was a little overwhelming for them… and not in a good way. Maybe that’s why some in the passage today sneered and assumed that these Johnny-come-lately disciples of Jesus Messiah were “full of new wine.” Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul discouraged members of his congregations from speaking in tongues (also known as glossolalia) during worship… because it can sometimes separate rather than unite. Perhaps that’s why we in the Episcopal Church are drawn to common prayer… something we can all say and do together. And so, as much as I enjoy the multilingual reading of the Pentecost story, I wonder if it sometimes sends a bit of a mixed message. I wonder if some of us revel in the novel cacophony of the reading, rather than in truly hearing and experiencing this call to action in words that might convict and hold us accountable. We do love our cacophony (and drama) don’t we?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it; but here’s something I do know: we Christians have a long history of segregating ourselves into discrete denominations (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and a plethora of Protestant sects, including our own) based less upon Jesus’ message of unconditional love and forgiveness, and more upon our human proclivity to want to make our church somehow different—and better—than everyone else’s church, which is crazy, by my way of thinking. We have complicated our faith lives to the point that they sometimes seem to have become nothing but a cacophony of competing polities and priorities. We wrangle about the nature of God: is he a loving father… or a judge and taskmaster? Is he a he at all? Are we saved by our works… or by grace alone? How should Holy Scripture inform our faith? Is the Bible infallible? Or the Pope? What would Jesus do? And I’m pretty sure none of us knows, or would have the courage to do, what Jesus might do in all situations. And all of this debate is fine is fine and dandy until we begin hurting or denigrating one another in God’s name. That’s when things get ugly. That’s when what should be our cacophony of praise gives way to sectarian infighting and ecclesial one-upmanship. If we’re honest, we must admit that we have a tendency to create God in our own image, rather than allowing ourselves to be formed in the image of our Creator. Is it any wonder that the un-churched often view self-described “people of faith” a little suspiciously? A good friend once confided to me, “Oh, I believe in Christ… I just don’t believe in Christians.”
I’m pretty sure that this is not what Jesus had in mind when he came to show us the way to the Father (cf. John 14:8). When he ascended, Jesus left us with work to do. You might call it “going-home work.” And that work is following The Way: the way of love… for God and for neighbor. Unconditional love… the kind of love Jesus has for us. Jesus said, “Love one another the way that I have loved you” (John 15:12). Fortunately, Jesus left us with an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to guide and strengthen us as we grapple with this most difficult of all work… the work of learning to love like Jesus.
I can’t tell you precisely what loving like Jesus will look like in your life. Each of us has our own stuff—our own “cross of love” to take up… daily (cf. Luke 9:23). But I can tell you that learning to love like Jesus is life-giving in the truest sense of the word: Eternal. Life. Giving. How’re we doing with that? How’re we doing on living into the sole purpose for which we were created: learning to love each other the way that Jesus loves us? Yeah, it can be hard… and confusing… and maybe even a little bit inconvenient at times. But whatever the challenge, whatever the conundrum, whenever we feel baffled by the cacophony of competing polities and priorities in the world, and in our faith… and wonder what’s expected of us as Christians, we should always take a step back, and ask ourselves this question: “What does this (whatever ‘this’ might be) have to do with love?” Because nothing else really matters.
Our time here on earth, even the span of Earth herself, is nothing more than a “cosmic eye-blink” in the grand scheme of things… and God’s plan for the world, and for each of us, surpasses our wildest imaginings. So, we’ve got a bunch of work to do. Being church… is learning to love like Jesus, and we won’t really be church until all of the children of the earth, brothers and sisters from every tribe, every tongue, every nation of the world, are united under one language, which is God’s language of over-arching, never-ending love. That’s the “Great Commission” in a nutshell: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20)… show them the way to the Father. Show them the way to Love. We, as Church, have been given our marching orders, and temporal time is finite. How long will it be before we truly give in to love… and to the call of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
I’d like to share a prayer (or perhaps it’s more of a Christian manifesto) with you. It’s called “A Zimbabwe Covenant,”and I can’t tell you much about where it comes from. But it speaks to me as a powerful reminder of our purpose and calling as Christians… and as Church.
A Zimbabwe Covenant
I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed.
I have Holy Spirit power.
The die is cast.
I have stepped over the line.
The decision has been made.
I am a disciple of Jesus and I will not look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed.
My present makes sense.
My future is secure.
I am finished and done with low living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotion, or popularity.
I do not have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.
I now live by faith, lean on God’s presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, and my goal is Heaven.
My road is narrow, my way rough, but my Guide is reliable.
My [Com]mission clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed.
I will not give up, shut up, or let up.
I will go on until Christ comes, and work until Christ stops me.
I am a disciple of Jesus.