Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Violent wind, tongues of fire, and rivers of living water—these things inspire both fascination and dread. Yet each is a reflection of God’s presence and power in scripture. With the sound of a rushing wind, the wild and mysterious Spirit of God seeks a home in us. Or, put another way, with tongues of burning fire the powerful unpredictable Spirit beacons us to return home in God. Like the prodigal son, or the lost sheep, you are treasure bought with a price.
The arrival of Pentecost startled the first disciples and stirred them to action. Pentecost rang like an alarm clock. Pentecost call us now to awaken to what Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth century Christian mystic said most simply but most radically, that we are not only made by God, we are made of God (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, 1998, p. 129).
In a language spoken by elemental powers Pentecost calls us back into relationship with the sacredness of the earth. Wind, fire, and water counsel that the earth’s well-being is essential to our own well-being. Everything and every creature are inseparable and inter-connected.
Water must flow or become stagnant. Air must move or become stale. Fire must feed or fade. All three are fluid and dynamic. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
We need the Spirit and power of Pentecost. After all, it’s been an especially terrible week for our country. So, let me begin with a story. One of the earliest fond memories I have of my dad is running beside him in an open field behind our home in Upstate New York. We were trying, and failing, to fly a kite. There was plenty of wind, but after every launch the kite spun and plunged to the ground. It refused to take to the air even with a running start. It just crashed and dragged along behind us.
Defeated, we went home for dinner. That was when I learned another lesson about cockle-burrs. They stuck all over my socks—but I digress. We tried again the next day, only this time, my dad had an idea. We found a ribbon and made a tail. Sure enough, the kite took to the air. It climbed higher and higher until it reached the end of our string.
We can take a lesson about the power of Pentecost to renew and restore us from that kite. God’s grace occurs naturally, like the wind. It’s available anywhere and everywhere. And like wind, grace beacons us come and soar. First, every kite needs a string. Without an anchor we tumble and blow aimlessly like loose sheets of paper without direction. Grace buoys us up on wings like an eagle through the cord of faith in Christ who is our connection to God. Second, every kite must have a proper tail. Without the shared wisdom of our community, the church, our tradition, and each other, we lack the necessary counterweight to keep us pointed up not down. There are other kites, other communities, other religions, but the great discovery of our faith is that Christ Jesus has revealed the face and character of the awesome God who gives life to us all.
This great discovery gave hope to restore the strength of the first disciples. They did not have to create it. They could not create it. They learned from Jesus they could ride it. As the Psalmist sings, “How manifold are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so, you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104: 24, 30)
Did I mention it’s been a terrible week? 40 million people are unemployed. 100,000 Americans died from the coronavirus—more than in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined. And once again we have seen the unsavory reality of systematic racism captured and played back to us from the clear eye of cell phone videos. These are selfies of the American soul. We cannot deny that systemic racial animus courses through our society channeling hatred and violence in every corner of our nation, even were we might not have expected it. George Floyd didn’t expect it in Minneapolis. That’s why he moved there from Houston. He hoped for a better life for him and his family. We have reached a crisis of unemployment, pandemic, and systemic racism. All three overlap to disproportionally impact the lives of Black families and people of color.
On Monday—Memorial Day—the same day George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by policeman another cell phone video was taken in New York City’s Central Park. A Black man, Christian Cooper confronted a white woman for allowing her dog to run unleashed despite a City ordinance requiring it. She was wrong, yet immediately and almost instinctively, she knew the tables could be turned if she threatened to call the police. She knew it was her prerogative as a white person to police non-white people, not the other way around. ‘I will tell them a Black man is threatening my life,’ she said—and then she actually did it. She was willing to send him to jail rather than put a leash on her dog. Her plan back-fired. That’s the only thing about this story that is surprising. Sure, we need accountability and training for police. The proposed Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (or GAPA) ordinance is supported by Alderman Osterman and Mayor Lightfoot does just that. But if we are honest, the problem runs deeper than that. The crisis compounding the pandemic, driving unemployment, and sparking violence throughout our nation today is the systemic racism hiding in us all.
We need the power of Pentecost to stir us to action. Pentecost rings like an alarm clock. The God of grace beacons us take flight from the narrow individual perspectives that lock us in our fear to see that we are all children of God. We are all George Floyd. Let the power of Pentecost fill our hearts with the fire and passion for justice. Let the Spirit fill our eyes with tears of compassion. “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7: 37-38).
The message of Pentecost is that faithfulness begets fruitfulness. The Greek word for church is ecclesia –it means literally “the called out.” We are called out and set apart from the world to be sent out for the sake of the world. Jesus, our Lord, is in the world and all things were made through him. The Divine calls from deep within come home. Join hands. Open your heart. Together with all my creatures and all creation take flight, rise on the winds of grace and let the fires of my justice burn.