Archive for May, 2024

Pentecost Sunday Message, May 19, 2024

Sunday, May 19th, 2024

[NOTE: I delivered this message at Dayspring Church in Germantown, Maryland, USA, on May 19, 2024. You can listen to the recording of the message. The recording only includes the first few bars of each song for copyright reasons. YouTube links for the songs are included in this blog post.]

A reading from the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-21, The Message).

2 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!
“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”
13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives,
the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help
to me, God, will be saved.”
The Word of the Lord.

Good morning, Church!

This is Pentecost Sunday, and what I have read to you is the key text of Pentecost – or part of it, because Peter’s speech to the people goes on quite a bit more. The Holy Spirit came in power, and everyone was amazed to hear these Galileans in their own languages. Peter stands before the crowd to explain what is happening. This is the simple, uneducated fisherman who got out of his boat to follow Jesus. And now the Spirit gave Peter the power to eloquently share God’s message with people.

Something which one hears or reads in their own heart language may have an impact that it doesn’t in another language, even if you understand that language. I remember a workshop on the Psalms at Baltimore Yearly Meeting sessions. (Baltimore Yearly Meeting is the Quaker regional body for our area.) The leader asked each person to read a favorite psalm. One of those present was a native Japanese. He said he normally read the Bible in Japanese, but he would read the psalm in English so the rest of us could understand. After he did, the leader asked him to read it in Japanese. Her wisdom was shown as we were moved by his reading it in Japanese. We felt it sink deeper into us as its meaning to his spirit came out so much better when he read it in his native language.

When I was thinking about Pentecost and what I could share, several things came to me and I’m trying to coalesce some of them in this message. One theme is the power of the Holy Spirit and how it can move people. The other, which is related, is about it being for all people, illustrated here by everyone hearing the message in their own languages. I will weave between these two emphases.

When I was 5, my parents, who were then living in South Dakota, felt the Spirit telling them to go to the Deep South. They didn’t have any jobs to go to there, and with four young children, that seemed like a crazy thing to do. Friends told them so, and that they should be focused on providing a good education and all the things of life to their children. The late John Lewis used to talk about good trouble, when people stood up to the forces of exploitation and domination in ways the system thought of as trouble. I think there’s also good crazy. They packed up our needed things in an old truck and we headed south, winding up in Southwest Georgia renting a rundown house and putting up a sign saying Brotherhood Acres. This may have been crazy, but I think my parents served us better by being examples of faithfulness rather than providing us with things and good schools.

I think of the different languages in which people heard God’s message on Pentecost as an example of a bigger lesson about God speaking to us all. It is not just about languages per se, but about speaking in different cultural and religious contexts. These include different musical styles. I am going to share during this message a few songs in different musical styles as an illustration of this. Further, I think it goes beyond hearing in these contexts but also to each of us coming to appreciate God speaking in contexts other than our own.

Our family was of northern European heritage and both sides of my family were Methodists. We were from a WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – context. But I grew up listening to recordings of great singers from the African American tradition – Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and William Warfield. Here’s an example of a song sung by Paul Robeson – the Black spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead.

Both my parents came from a Methodist background and my father was a Methodist pastor in my early years. We then became Quakers, initially with a Friends Church in the pastoral tradition but then with meetings who practiced waiting worship rooted in silence. When we lived in Urbana, Illinois, my mother was the Quaker representative to a group opposing urban renewal, which was often called “Negro removal.” The leader of the effort, the President of the local NAACP, was an AME Zion pastor. We started attending Quaker meeting on Sunday mornings and the AME Zion Church’s Sunday evening service – very different styles of worship, but both filled with the Holy Spirit. And I’ll never forget that after my arrest at 16 in a witness against segregated housing, that pastor called it my baptism by fire!

The Holy Spirit can even give us knowledge that we did not receive by ordinary human means. One time I was at a meeting of Christian Quakers visited by the Irish Quaker Simon Lamb. He arrived late so he did not get to meet the attenders before he arrived. When the worship ended, he asked if anyone wanted him to pray for them. The woman I had carpooled with to the meeting made a prayer request. Simon, who had never met the woman, told her the request she made was not her real prayer need, which he described in general generic terms. On our way back, the woman told me he was correct, and she shared with me the difficult experience from her past from which she had not healed that was her real prayer need.

I spent over half of my life as a Quaker. Quakers seek to be led by the Spirit of Christ. As part of my sharing of different musical styles, I want to share a song by Quaker singer/songwriter Aaron Fowler from Wichita. He is joined in singing this song he wrote, Holy Spirit Come, by his wife Laura Dungan.

In 1997, my wife Young and I took a trip to Scandinavia. We added an extension to St. Petersburg, Russia. The bus driver from Helsinki to St. Petersburg was a Russian very familiar with the area. He took us on back roads and gave a running narrative. We came on a small Russian Orthodox Church that he told us had stayed open during the Soviet era with the faithful attending regularly. Passengers asked if we could stop. He said we could but could only stay five minutes. We went inside the church and found worship going on. I don’t think any of us tourists had been in a worship experience like this before. It was not much like Western Christian worship services we knew. There was no seating. Worshippers were going around praying before icons and expressing their faith in various ways. Angelic a capella music was being sung from the choir loft. We all were transfixed and wound up there a lot longer than five minutes. We didn’t really understand what was going on but recognized it as genuine and powerful.

Some of you have heard me offer a song – You Know My Name – at some small gatherings here at Dayspring by the Grammy winning contemporary black gospel singer Tasha Cobbs Leonard I first heard at the Brunswick 15 celebration I participated in last September. I have picked a song of hers appropriate to Pentecost to end my sharing this morning. This song is Your Spirit.

May we all feel the breath of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and may we respond to it as we are called. Thank you.