May 23, 2021 Forward In The Spirit, by Rev. Tatgenhorst
Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent rushing wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as she enabled them. All were amazed and disturbed. They asked each other, “What does this mean?” But others said mockingly, “They’ve drunk too much new wine.” Then Peter stood up with the eleven and addressed the crowd: “Women and men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem! Listen to what I have to say! These people are not drunk as you think—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! No, it’s what Joel the prophet spoke of:
‘In the days to come—it is our God who speaks—I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind. Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams. Even on the most insignificant of my people, both women and men, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. And I will display wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire and billowing smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon will become blood before the coming of the great and sublime day of our God. And all who call upon the name of our God will be saved’
Breathe in and as you breathe out close your eyes. Notice you breath and feel the stillness and the movement of the Spirit during a moment of silence as we listen for God’s word within and among us.
May 23, 2021 Forward in the Spirit
Grills full of chicken (made with Pakistani spices), burgers, and hot dogs, tables with pizza, watermelon and chips, an ice cream truck, tents, and chairs, the parking lot was full of people yesterday. Children were playing basketball and pounding on the piano. I’ll show you pictures next week of the teenagers, tall and lanky in long robes with orange water ices from the truck were walking around. The neighbor in back there called me to ask what was going on. People worried to me about whether people coming for the Nelly Berman concert at 4 pm in the sanctuary right after the BBQ would have a place to park.
This weekend at St. Luke had the kind of activity and problems that I love to have - too much going on, too many people enjoying each other and the spirit in their midst. The piano concert was beautiful, extraordinary talent. Then after that Bill and Joanne worked to make an outside Pentecost altar and a way to still broadcast to people at home.
And so we get to be outside for our Pentecost worship service. I love it. Every year, I try to explain a little bit more about why Pentecost means so much to me. It’s my favorite Christian holiday because there are no Hallmark cards, no commercials, no subversion of the essential message. The essential message is that the Holy Spirit lives and moves among God’s people - all God’s people. Different as we are, we find that through the Holy Spirit, we can understand each other. We can work together. We can hear each other.
Here’s a few current examples of how Pentecost is working in our midst. Just a silly little thing: I try to learn the word for ‘thank you’ in a variety of different languages. Yesterday at the end of Ramadan BBQ in our parking lot, Tahija Vikalu, one of their key leaders, gave me some Pakistani chicken. So I said, “Shukran,” which means thank you in Arabic. You say it: “Shukran” It’s not hard to say. You just have to remember it and feel confident enough to say it. Tahija smiled her delightful smile and said something back that was totally incomprehensible, but that I assumed meant “you’re welcome” or “you have a terrible accent” or something like that. It was a lovely, Pentecost type interaction, one way or the other.
Here’s a second Pentecost moment going on among us today. Did you notice when you came to church today that there’s some construction going on at Pennswood Ave? You can hardly miss it/ Did you notice that the whole center of the bridge is now laying on the road on our side of the bridge? That is just amazing to me. The drilled out big chunks of concrete from the bridge to make it light enough - meaning as light as a your whole house, - light enough to lift with one the most imposing cranes I’ve ever seen. Really, there’s a major section of road laying on top of the road on our side of the bridge. They’ve been working for 6 months to get to this point. And in a month or two more they’ll be able to start building the new bridge that’s going in.
My point in relation to Pentecost is that there are times when divine energy tears down and breaks open in order to make something new and to create bridges and new connections. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion, but here on Pentecost 40 days later, Peter preaches a powerful sermon about ‘blood, fire, and billowing smoke’ and the sun turning dark before the ‘great and sublime day of our God.’ We usually think of Peter’s words as referring to the endtimes, but really they can refer to any time of tearing down and remaking, any time of death and resurrection.
It’s easy to see with this bridge - as amazing as it is to watch - that after the destruction of the bridge, a new one is going to go in. It’s harder to see sometimes in other teardowns and deaths around us. Watching churches decline and close is painful and hard to comprehend. The Spirit though, blows where it will, and after one bridge is torn down, new bridges are always going up. Resurrections are happening in our midst through the power of the spirit - resurrections of relationships and new ministries.
The third example I want to give of Pentecost energy and spirit has to do with POWER Main Line and our Town Hall this afternoon. A couple years ago POWER Main Line was dominated by white liberal clergy. It was focused on things that white liberal clergy liked to do. We had a group that talked about theology. We worked on big issues and big thoughts. It was a good group. But it was missing some basic connections in the neighborhood.
We decided to start over and did a listening campaign particularly in the Black neighborhoods on the Main line. We said that we wanted to act more locally and asked folks about what they were concerned about. One of the strongest messages we received was that the local schools were difficult places for Black families. They did not see themselves represented in the curriculum and in the teachers. Some of them said they had been trying for years - like 10 years - to get the leadership of the school district to include Black studies in the curriculum. And only when things got very tense a year ago after the killing of George Floyd did the high school approve an elective course in Black literature.
The more students and teachers we listened to the clearer it became that local school districts need to include African American studies in their core curriculum for all students or all ages, as is now required in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, Cheltenham, and the whole state of Delaware. It’s not about catering to one ethnic group though; it’s about teaching the truth in its complexity, so that all students are able to handle the growing complexity in our world.
The leadership of POWER Main Line, as you will see if you tune in to the Town Hall this afternoon has changed dramatically, with a broad coalition of churches, synagogues, and mosques coming together to listen to each other and to advocate together for important changes in how and what we teach our children. It is a movement of the Spirit among people who speak different languages and hear things differently, but who are starting to be able to hear each other in their own language.
Friends, God is moving among us. The Spirit is connecting God’s creation on a global, local, and personal scale. Some things are being torn down and breaking open, but the Spirit is resurrecting life where it seemed like there was only destruction. The Spirit is building bridges in and among us where we had only seen distance and confusion. The church is building new possibilities through coalitions with people we didn’t used to talk to.
Part of what I’m saying is that sometimes the movement of the Spirit can seem a little messy and untidy, but we can trust the Spirit of the Living God, We ask the Spirit to descend upon our hearts today to feel the nearness and the movement of the Spirit among us. we ask that the Spirit teach us the patience of unanswered prayer. We ask the Spirit to create bridges, gratitude, connections, and good news. Amen