During our Living in The Story effort, we’ve been following the story of one biblical family: Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph to Moses and now (in Week 20) Joshua, Moses’ heir and Israel’s new leader.
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel finally crossed the Jordan River under Joshua’s leadership and moved into the land God had promised to their ancestors.
During these past few weeks, we’ve also been following the Gospel according to Luke and considering his understanding of the Christ event.
Luke’s Jesus stands squarely in the lineage of Abraham and the tradition of Moses. He is a son of Israel, or as Christian theology would say it: THE Son of Israel. Jesus was the one who lived his life in perfect obedience to Torah, loving God and loving neighbor as no one had done before or since.
Now we add Luke’s second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, to our readings. In Acts, we encounter the Resurrected Christ and the Spirit of the Risen Christ moving in astounding ways and expanding what it means to be the Chosen People, what it means to belong to the People of the Covenant.
The story in Acts 2 is the story of the ancient feast of Pentecost celebrated fifty days after Passover. For a thousand year, Pentecost, “Shavuot” had been the occasion for Israel to give thanks for the early harvest that arrived with all of its refreshing renewal.
The mystery of life, the reminder of abundance, the promise of new beginnings.
So how fitting it was that Pentecost became the occasion for this family, this one people that had grown from a small like-minded kinship group to now begin exploding into an expansive and diverse people!
This is the reign of God.
When Jesus entered his public ministry within his Jewish community, he came with one primary message: “the reign of God is here. The kingdom of God is coming. The presence of God is not out there; it’s here, among you” (Luke 17).
The people who heard that message didn’t really know what to make of it – especially since Jesus’ idea of kingdom, power and privilege was very different from their own notions. Maybe in fact, upside down from their own notions.
Jesus ate with anyone who sought him out.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”Luke 15
Jesus sought out people whom others isolated and taught his followers to do the same.
When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…Luke 14
Jesus shepherded the lost sheep, went after the lost coins, embraced the lost sons. Jesus washed feet and broke bread.
Jesus took up his cross and carried it straight into the worst violence the world of his day could muster.
And then, fifty days after the death of Jesus, a small group of disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. But these disciples were floundering and wondering:
It was this little group that experienced the wind of Pentecost.
The doors of their small lives were blown off their hinges. The safely shuttered windows of their preconceptions were whooshed wide open. The walls of all their Jericho’s came tumbling down.
Because of that Pentecost morning, that small questioning group of disciples of Jesus multiplied into a multitudinous community of Christ made up of people from every nation and every language and every walk of life.
Some of those early disciples were not comfortable with that.
Some of us still today are not comfortable with that.
But if Pentecost means anything, it means that the wind of the Spirit is continuing to blow away barriers and to break down walls and to breathe a new people of God into existence.
The Holy Spirit keeps expanding boundaries and enlarging the territory of God’s reign, so that now – here we are: gathered into God’s expansive community. Here we are: men and women and old and young and gay and straight and black and white and brown and red and blue and ….
How many other differences could we name?
But when we live as Pentecost people, differences don’t divide us.
None of those differences could ever become dividers because Pentecost people recognize that God’s kingdom includes all of us.
We understand we have all become part of God’s multi-cultural, multi-faceted, multitudinous people.
You probably noticed that the Pentecost wind Acts describes is not a gentle breeze. Sometimes, of course, God’s way is a soothing breath of fresh air. Sometimes God’s way is the way of cocoons and apple seeds and gradually greening fields in the patient springtime.
But sometimes God’s way is to blow the roof off our small settled lives.
And when the Holy Spirit rushes like a mighty wind, God may well intend to blow away every insecure, inadequate thing upon which we ground our lives. Because God’s Pentecost wind is supposed to drive us toward new possibilities and new directions.
And whenever that starts happening, it will be very uncomfortable and quite disorienting.
But even if we are blown into new places, even if new people come gusting into our lives, even if old familiar ideas give way to new challenging insights, so what?
What do we have to fear?
When we are willing to live as God’s Pentecost people, then we are willing to allow our coifed and structured lives be tousled by the Spirit’s wind that is ever fresh and new.
“Be strong and courageous,” Joshua’s God proclaimed to the people standing on the edge of a new future; “Everywhere your foot will trod: there, right there – I will be with you wherever you go.”
Every time we move away from established security and imagined safety: there, right there – “I will be with you.”
Every time we step up and step out into a bold open journey of faith: there, right there – “I will be with you.”
Every time we act like God’s reign actually has come into our lives, into our relationships, into our work, into our world: there, right there – “I will be with you.”
This is why Pentecost People are strong and courageous.
Because the Spirit of the Risen Christ is still breathing the mystery of life, the reminder of abundance and the promise of new beginnings.
Thanks be to God.
Living in The Story readings for Week 20
Charlotte originally preached this sermon on Pentecost Sunday, June 2013.
This striking Pentecost banner comes from Wells Cathedral in Somerset England.