On Pentecost, we celebrate how Holy Spirit gave birth to the church. Biblical study reveals that the Holy Spirit prefers feminine pronouns. This Sunday, let’s affirm God’s feminine side and celebrate all that is to come with a Big Announcement from our Pastor Nominating Committee.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Prayer for Illumination
May my words fail to hinder the Holy Spirit’s message to the Church. Amen.
I assume that the Holy Spirit did not allow you to hear everything in your own language, like the universal translator in Star Trek, but I know the Holy Spirit allows each of us to hear what we need to hear. May you hear what you need this morning.
By the time today’s scripture lesson was composed, the Empire had already struck back—the temple destroyed. The beleaguered Jesus Movement was going viral, in an ancient kind of way, spreading out from Jerusalem. Jesus himself was no longer with them, not in the flesh anyway.
Ours is a tradition of remembrance, a church established by the unruly Holy Spirit. That same Spirit, hakmat, was present in the beginning, says the steamy verses of Proverbs 8, and She was Yahweh’s daily delight. That same Spirit-Wisdom made possible what John’s gospel called logos, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.That same Spirit shows up at every baptism, ordering the water as She did in the beginning, personified as The Heavenly Dove that descended to Jesus in the Jordan. That same Spirit is called Comforter, Mediator, Intercessor, Advocate. The Holy Spirit unsticks churches and people when they get stuck. She’s like a plumber when you need a plumber. And She is as close as your next breath.
The Jesus Movement was originally called The Way—sounds like a trendy suburban ministry for Generation Next who are tired of their parents’ God. Jesus was cool before being cool was cool, and His Way is the way of action, missionary activity and, above all, community. If sheltering at home has taught us anything it is the power of community, so much so we are reinventing Beloved Community online.
Thomas Bohache writes about the birthday of the Church:
Christians can only be Christian in community… we will only make a difference in the world by sharing our goods in common and in a spirit of unity. Unfortunately, the powers of empire…diminish this communal…sensibility [and] bring the… church into greater conformity with…the…empire.
The temple destroying empire. The Jesus killing empire, whose power still relies on racism, militarism and poverty. The Church has a history of decreasing so that the empire may increase. This is due to a deep-seated fear of institutional death and a surrender to scarcity thinking, letting fear determine the ministry of Jesus rather than our remembrance of Jesus being embodied in our decisions. It’s been this way since the Day of Pentecost, but we are the people who remember an empty tomb. We are creatures of resurrection and light. Christianity is a death-defying religion!
Sidebar: Challenging Messages
My seminary advisor, Dr. Boyung Lee, is a Methodist and serves at the president of Ilyff Seminary in Denver. She told me that in the early years Methodism, the Wesley brothers would visit their newly-planted American churches asking congregations to evaluate their pastor. If the congregation sang a love song for their pastor, the Wesleys would snatch that pastor away and send him elsewhere, but if the congregation told of a pastor who was too hard on them or who confronted them too much, he would remain for as long as they could take it. I wonder where have I pushed against your growing edges. What is it about the gospel preached at Calvary that lingers and bothers you at times? Friends, that holy irritation is how the Spirit does Her best work. Don’t suppress it. Wrestle with it until blessed. Your life will be richer and your faith deeper. Above all, do not give up ten minutes before your big breakthrough.
Another sign outside Calvary reads “We welcome everyone, really.” The source code of the Christian church contains irrefutable and unconditional acceptance and love. Tolerance isn’t enough. They will know we are Christians by our love, not by how we put up with diversity but by our love.
Jerusalem was filled with foreign pilgrims speaking only God knows what languages, their weird customs and odd fashion choices, eating gross food. Then, God the Spirit let every diverse individual hear and understand God’ power. The ecstatic Galileans forgot to be scared of the empire for that whole afternoon. On Pentecost, they spoke of Jesus in public and at great risk.
Perhaps the church’s current crisis lies not in the loss of revenue or membership but in our unwillingness to take risks, to build ministries that necessitate that we rely on faith. If you want more faith, do something that requires faith.
When the sheltering orders are lifted and the evictions make lead to increased suffering in our city, I have a vision that this church could help to save those lives. As the economy unravels, think of all we could do to help the unemployed and unhoused. Do not underestimate the power you possess, if you stop listening to the devil’s advocates and instead cast your fears onto the Holy Spirit, God’s Advocate.
Illustration: The House of Light (Casa de Luz)
One of our scripture readers this morning, Petter Pèrez, lives with my husband and me. Petter is a Guatemalan asylum-seeker who I met on Calvary’s mission trip to Tijuana. When I returned home from Mexico, I shared with Lou about meeting Petter. Lou interrupted my story to tell me what he was feeling. It was the same as what I was feeling but worried about sharing with him—that we should sponsor Petter and have him live with us until he receives asylum and can work in this country. For the past four months, we have been speaking Spanglish and using Google Translate, a primitive version of the Star Trek universal translator.
See the picture? There we are in Tijuana at Casa de Luz. This picture is half Calvary people, half refugees. We had just heard stories of unspeakable suffering, but the entire house filled with a Spirit that exceeded our perceived differences. To the untrained eye, they may look like crape paper, but over our heads, those are tongues of fire. I know this because we understood one another, and through our diversity the Spirit made us one—and that’s some diversity right there! The Spirit also nagged at Lou and me to do something that required faith, something risky, something other might find objectionable or even — gasp — controversial.
God the Holy Spirit
In honor of the two trans women pictured on the left, Marjorie and Katarina, let’s briefly discuss the Holy Spirit’s preferred pronouns. I tend to use feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit, because the original texts reveal a female Spirit. Over the ages, translators and redactors have substituted male pronouns, probably in an attempt to assimilate the Church into the dominant culture, for empire’s sake rather than the sake truth. So for me, to call the Spirit “She” seems only fair, and it’s a little destabilizing, which is so Her., isn’t it? Now, you are also correct in referring to the Spirit as a He. That’s right there in the Bible, too. My choice is intentional and destabilizing, but I love you enough to risk it. I could just go along with the empire and let women get ignored some more, but I’d rather help to crack the veneer of the dominant culture.
Charge & Celebration
This world needs the rebirth of Pentecost: challenging the deadly aspects of empire, full inclusion of the foreigner and everybody on the margins, risky ministries that require us to rely on God and the destabilization of the sacred cow named “Decently and In Order.” The Holy Spirit is far from indecent, but she won’t be limited by human tradition. She is on equal Trinitarian footing with God the Father and God the Son. She does not negotiate. She will get here when She gets here. She can be quite a pill at times. She is the Comforter Jesus promised us. She loves you, and She will never let you go. She has big plans for you — and for this church. She keeps us balanced as we dare to be the Church—a death-defying high wire act that teeters between how things are and how things ought to be.