Acts 2:1-21 There Are No “Outsiders” Susan J.. Barnes
Feast of Pentecost, May 15, 2016 St. John’s, Minneapolis
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Who are we? How do we define ourselves?
In an essay on forgiveness, theologian L. Gregory Jones wrote, “we too often stake our identity on being against some person or group. We define ourselves against those who are stranger to us…”
Defining ourselves against other people, we may often down on them. Neighbor looks down on neighbor. City people look down on country people–and vice versa. Big city people look down on people from smaller cities.
These days, it seems, everybody looks down on the people in Texas. I’m a native Texan and I can’t really blame you!
The people of Jerusalem looked down on the disciples. Galilee is a far piece from Judea. It was and is an agricultural region with small villages and towns. To the city sophisticates of Jerusalem, those Galilean rubes didn’t deserve the time of day. Nor did they deserve the benefit of the doubt when–astonishingly–they began speaking in myriad foreign languages on Pentecost.
That’s the day the church was born We just heard the story from The Acts of the Apostles. Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke: volume two. At the end of Luke, when Jesus ascended to heaven, he instructed the disciples to stay together in Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ promise was fulfilled fifty days after the Passover, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection.
We’ll never know what really happened there that day–any more than we can know what Jesus’ resurrection appearances were like. Those video tapes have been lost! But the story of the Pentecost is full of wonder. As a tongue of fire danced over the head of each disciple, the meaning of fire itself was transformed. From an instrument of danger and destruction, fire became a sign of anointment, of blessing. It brought them the gift to speak in foreign tongues.
This was a defining moment for Jesus’ followers and for the movement they carried forward. Crowds from all over the world watched as they were equipped by the Spirit with every language they would need to share the gospel abroad.
It surprised everyone, beginning with the disciples! But Peter recognized it was the fulfillment of another, ancient promise from the prophet Joel. “God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
God’s Spirit was acting to unite all people: young and old, men and women, slave and free, people of every tribe and tongue. And God had chosen a band of outsiders, women and men from the Galilee, to carry the message that all are children of God, all are equally worthy, all are included in God’s unifying embrace.
In that godly vision, there are no outsiders. No one is greater or lesser than any other.
There are no outsiders. That’s the Gospel truth.
It is a truth we must proclaim here and now in the face of Donald Trump’s deeply disturbing campaign. Here and now: to counter his message of fear and loathing for “the other”. Trump’s demagogic rhetoric, his racism, his misogyny, his mocking disregard for the vulnerable, his politics of division compel us as followers of Jesus to speak up: not to shout, but calmly to speak out wherever and whenever we can. Like the prophets of old, we have to tell God’s truth. There are no “others” in God’s world.
The pulpit is no place for partisan politics. And this is not about partisan politics. As Jim Wallis wrote in a Sojourners post his week, it is about moral values.
This is a defining moment for us. We are people of faith—committed to respect the dignity of every human being, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Now, when divisions have boiled over into dangerous anger, and hatred, we must live into our vocation as reconcilers—prayerfully bringing the healing balm of God’s love in person.
First, we must actively reach out in love to the neighbors who have been targeted in this campaign and who are very fearful: immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans. The simplest way to reach out is to show up: engaging in those communities, supporting their businesses, venturing out to dine or walk or play in different parts of the marvelously diverse cities we live in, speaking kindly to people we meet there.
Never underestimate the healing power of loving presence.
More difficult, but just as important, is reaching out to those with whom we disagree, those whose frustration, anger, fear, and translated into votes for Trump. Pundits have tried to lump them together, but they are not all alike. Our challenge is NOT to generalize about them, not to treat them as “other”, not to look down on them. They are children of God. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They need healing. They need our prayers. And, as we are able and they are willing, they need to be heard respectfully.
We have a model for that work. It’s the one Michele Morgan taught us four years ago in the campaign against the Marriage Amendment. That amendment was the same kind of base appeal to fear and hatred of “the other”: gays and lesbians.
St. John’s people joined others to have simple, courageous, vulnerable conversations: one on one. You listened to strangers’ fears and shared your own stories of loved ones who are gay and lesbian. I was new here and awed to watch you reach out. Members of St. John’s helped turn Minnesotans’ hearts and minds toward love and acceptance.
You helped to turn the tide in this country.
Now we need to step up, play our part again–bridging the divide–to turn the tide. We are called to help all people become reconciled to one another and to God.
Reconciliation begins here: in our own hearts and in this community of faith. We have to take care of our selves and one another. Let’s not fall into the trap, not be pawns in politicians’ games of division–nor the media’s. It’s hard work to stay informed without getting pulled in. It means monitoring our own energy, turning away from things that stir our anger, resentment and fear. Switch them off! It means seeking and nurturing sources of well-being, compassion, love, and trust. Come to church. Remember who you really are, who we are.
We are called to tell the truth of God’s all-encompassing embrace and to BE it–to embody it in loving kindness. That’s what it means to seek and serve Christ in all persons. .
The first disciples were simple folk, the most ordinary people on earth. We can do what they did. Empowered by the Spirit, we can live into God’s age-old promise that everyone belongs in God’s kingdom–or “kindom: in Michele’s words.
I want to close with something that Thomas Merton wrote to Dorothy Day. “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That’s not our business; in fact, it’s nobody’s business. What are asked to do is love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”