In the name of The Holy Spirt: Our Parent, Friend, and Purpose. Amen.
When I was 17 years old, my parents, my cousin Michelle, and I were driving to the Victoria Falls when our car suffered a flat tire somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. We were quite anxious because we were in a very remote area in the African savannah and unbeknown to us when we left Harare, our spare tire was flat. We waited quite a while and no cars came down the road to our aid. Then to our surprise, several native people came out of the bush to greet us; almost all of whom were bare-chested. They did not understand the Shona or the English we spoke, and we did not understand what could have been Lozi, Kalanga, Dombe, Venda, Ndebele, Setswana, or Tonga – the languages spoken in that Matabeleland province. We resorted to universal human gestures to try to communicate with one another. As we gesticulated the predicament of our flat tires to them, two of the young men immediately picked up one flat tire each and then they started running to the nearest service station to repair them, about an hour away, the flat tires atop their heads. Astounded by this extravagant kindness we also accepted their gracious invitation to rest at their homestead while we waited for the two young men to return with our repaired tires. We were invited to sit with their elders at the center of the village. The coolest, sweetest water I’ve ever tasted was offered and enjoyed, as well as traditional refreshments: nzungu or peanuts, fried mopane worms, ishwas (which are fried flying ants), fire-roasted maize on the cob, and native fruits: mazhanjes also known as mahobohobos. Isn’t that a splendid word? Since it’s Pentecost say this Ndebele word with me: mahobohobo! Mahobohobos are Zimbabwean sugar plums and my mother cannot resist them. Even though we didn’t speak a word of each other’s languages, a sweet Spirit of comfort, belonging, tenderness, and joy settled over our hearts and minds that sunny afternoon. We laughed with the children playing; we joked, teased, and giggled with the grandmothers who were flirting shamelessly with my father, and we graciously declined wedding proposals from young men who were competing with offers of a dowry for my cousin Michelle’s hand in marriage. I believe we experienced something akin to that first Day of Pentecost described in the Acts of the Apostles today:
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
In that remote homestead on that gorgeous afternoon in Matabeleland, we may not have been able to understand each other linguistically, but I believe we did “speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave [us] ability.” We spoke in the native language of our human hearts. A language of hands graciously held over hearts and extended tenderly in friendship to hold our own; a language of human comfort, solace, and companionship in a time of need; a language of joyful smiles, light-hearted humor, and infectious laughter; a language of generosity, sacrifice, and sharing comingled with a language of gratitude for water and food to quench our thirst and to nourish our hunger: a language the Holy Spirit provides to bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem described this Holy and life-giving Spirit beautifully in his 4th century treatise as follows:
The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden for God is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as the Spirit approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, and to console.
Cyril of Jerusalem captures the universal quality of that Pentecost event that can still bind all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages together in Holy tenderness and comfort. After our car was repaired and our humble gifts of thanks were offered and received, we said goodbye to a homestead of people who amazed and astonished us with a universal language of Love: the language of the Holy Spirit. Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli wrote a small but mighty book called Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. I believe Dr. Rovelli captures what that Pentecost moment meant to my family as we waved goodbye to our new, life-saving friends:
We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy, we are being nothing other that what we can’t help but be: a part of our world.
It is part of our nature to love and to be honest. It is part of our nature to long to know more and to continue to learn… Here on the edge of what we know, in the contract with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it is breathtaking.
Those gathered together on that first Day of Pentecost were threatened by the Roman Empire’s campaigns to divide peoples based on their cultural differences, breeding the demons of fear, ignorance, and hatred between Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Persians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyrenes, Romans, Jews, Cretans, and Arabs; all named in today’s lesson. Roman authorities knew that if they kept these groups divided and made them hate each other, then Rome would be able to dominate them all. The oppressor has known this and has practiced this evil for centuries. This is precisely what took place in Apartheid South Africa. In his best-selling book, Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, comedian and host of The Daily Show Trevor Noah writes:
The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.
As we ponder today’s hate-fueled massacres in the middle east, the race-based oppression of people of color locally and globally and this country’s blood-thirsty idolatry of guns, we realize that the evil genius of apartheid is still at work in this age of estrangement. Nevertheless, just as She did on that first Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God can still bind us together in kinship across our many lines of difference, if we permit her to do so. We know this to be true. 500 years before Jesus, ancient philosopher Heraclitus proved that the Word or Ultimate Truth is unity in diversity, difference in unity. As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit of God, the Logos, God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus and that “In Christ there is unity in diversity – unity of Person in diversity of Natures,” since he is fully human and fully divine. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, God’s Word Incarnate, promises to send us that Holy Spirit of unity in diversity – the Advocate – who is the Triune God.
The word “Advocate,” derived from the Latin word advocatus, literally means “one who is called.” In this season of Pentecost, we celebrate the fact that in each of us, the Spirit of God resides. The Spirit of God, the Advocate, therefore calls us to discern our vocation and each of us must come to terms with who we are called to be. At our recent clergy conference, we learned from the Rt. Rev. Rob Wright that the word “Purpose” is derived from the Greek word “Pur” which means Fire. Purpose is that fire in our bellies; the deepest and richest source of moral energy in each of us. To know what sets our hearts on fire is to know our purpose. What is your purpose? Who is it that you yearn to be? What is it that kindles the flame of sacred love upon the altar of your heart? Since the ancient philosopher Heraclitus proved that the essence of all that is, is Fire, it is essential that we know the fire of our vocation in order to live on purpose. That fire of the Holy Spirit the Advocate ignites us with the joy of authentic Being and inspires us to become who we are. The most infectiously joyful people are those who, like Jesus of Nazareth, live their lives so authentically on purpose that their very existence speaks a universal language directly into every human heart. Just as all those nations, tribes, and peoples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in the native language of each on that first Day of Pentecost, we too are still called by the Advocate – the Holy Spirit of God – to live so faithfully and authentically on fire with our God-given purpose “that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace.”
As the final stanza of Down Ampney, that perfect Pentecost Hymn proclaims:
And so, the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till Love create a place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
May God’s richest blessings be upon us this Day of Pentecost and so kindle in each of us the fire of Christ’s love that we may yearn and long for The Holy Spirt: Our Parent, our Friend, and our Purpose, to find her dwelling place within each of us today and always. Amen.