Resurrection: Signs of Life and Love
Day of Pentecost
May 31, 2020
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[Prayer] God, I ask for your presence today. We are seeking you in these times. Would a gust of wind take over now, like you did at Pentecost. Help me to speak, not from my own knowledge, but yours oh Jesus, from your love, your truth, your wisdom. Help us to hear you, through and despite my voice, would you speak to each of our own hearts. Pray this in Jesus name Amen.
Today, in the Christian liturgical calendar, is called Day of Pentecost. A tradition, a time where we remember this story from Acts. Let me read it for us.
2:1 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.
2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
2:17 ‘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.
2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
What a weird story! A tongue rested on each of them, and they spoke in different languages. And some people were like, are they drunk?
This is chapter two of Acts. A book that captures the history of the times following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Chapter one starts with Jesus being taken up to heaven, and then what happens to the community of Jesus followers, the aftermath of resurrection, that becomes the building of the first church of Christians. Chapter 2, catapults this powerful moment when the Holy Spirit comes. These were confusing times. Original followers of Jesus not knowing what to do exactly, gathered together in fear, constantly in prayer. There were even some changes in leadership by casting lots in chapter 1. These were uncertain times.
Much like our times. This is why I believe that the Holy Scriptures are alive because it hits us right where we are sometimes, even through stories from ages ago. I can see parallels and relate to some parts. Like they’re locked in a room together. And the State power had just recently unjustly executed one of their beloved teachers and friends. People were left with grief and loss, and confusion.
While others saw the resurrected Lord, spoke with him, touched his hands, and ate with him, others were in hiding and denying they knew Jesus at all. The rules of being a follower of Jesus had changed. His disciples went from being fishers, to traveling and doing ministry with a miracle worker, and then he was gone. Now what.
I’ve been saying to some folks in these times, I feel like I’m completely learning how to do ministry in this new age in new ways. I did not learn zoom in seminary! And we’re no longer meeting in a sanctuary for Sunday worship, now what!
Amidst the uncertainty, the chaos. This happens.While they were gathered together to pray, suddenly, a violent wind suddenly came in, making a huge noise. With that collapsing wind, a crowd came together in bewilderment. And each one heard them speaking in their own language. The Holy Spirit comes as a violent wind, and what happens? They all start speaking in different languages and hearing their own language.
That’s what the Holy Spirit did? I find that kind of, I don’t know, in one sense, that’s it? They just spoke different languages? They didn’t all fly, or all get healed, or all levitate, or all something more supernatural maybe? Just as perplexed as they were, I”m asking, “what does this mean?” And as I say I don’t get it, what the significance of why God decided this was the miracle sign of the Holy Spirit, I ask myself, what does this mean to me personally as I meditate on the words now. And it alivened in me a few thoughts.
In my own personal context as it meets me where I am today, is that God is speaking to me in my own language exactly where I am right now, what I need to hear. Which is maybe the power of the Holy Spirit at work even this week as I prepared for this message. I’ll explain it to you in that context and see if it makes any sense or meaning to you. I don’t know, but this is the only way I know how to understand this text. Through my own experience and language. Maybe you’ll hear it in your own language, wherever you are.
I am an Asian American. I know you can see that, and also that you see beyond that in most situations, that I’m just Lydia, or I’m a pastor, or a woman. But what I look like has had a big impact on my life on how I understand myself, how I understand how the world sees me. Even as I get older, my culture, my language, my heritage, my tradition rings me back to reality of who I am again and again. How I long to teach my daughter Korean. How making korean food makes me feel a certain way. How hearing Director Bong speak Korean on Oscar awards stage made me feel. I’ve been a part of Reservoir’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team and how those words and race plays a role in my life, my work, my church has been at the top of my mind. Race. Diversity….
Sometimes I wish I was just normal, not looking at the world through this lens, just me, just worry about work, and food, and I dunno hobbies instead of race, ethnicity, color. Sometimes I get tired of translating everything from “normal” to me.
So when I hear that the Holy Spirit flared up into your own language,I think, “God I so want that.” I need God’s work to be spoken in my language without me needing to translate it. And this is what the Holy Spirit does. It gathers disparate afraid people to gather in one zoom room, united by Jesus, and yet speaking in different languages, diverse from all different countries, backgrounds, experiences, stories, worldviews, political views, and the Spirit among us somehow, even though we are so different helps us speak up in our own languages AND hear in our own language. This is what the Spirit does. And may I say, sometimes it’s not very orderly like our Bible story today. It can be confusing, messy, some are astonished and oh, yes, there will be “others” who sneer and say, “They are filled with new wine.” Some won’t get it. Some who say how does that even work? Some who will judge or ridicule. Inside the room and outside the room. That voice will be there. Still, this is what the Spirit does. Spirit does what the Spirit needs to do to speak to God’s people, so that the God’s people hear, recognize, and are empowered by the truth of Jesus.
My favorite part of this story is what the Spirit did to Peter. In the midst of judgement and chaos, Peter gets up, raises his voice, and addresses the crowd to set things straight. It’s like this dramatic moment, like that old movie, Dead Poets Society, oh it’s such an old movie now but when the students start standing on their desks one by one in solidarity with their teacher played by Robin Williams. The spirit, an energy, moved around the room and gave them courage to stand.
And Peter, remember him? Dr. Debra Mumford professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary with interest and focus on African American prophetic preaching, pointed this out to me. She says, “Is this the, “I don’t know the man, I have never heard of Jesus,” Peter?” Yeah, in Luke 22, when people recognized him as one of the disciples, “you’re one of them.” He denied, “I am not!” and another said, yes you knew him, Peter said, “I don’t know the man. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” To that Peter, Dr Mumford says, “The power of the Holy Spirit emboldened Peter to speak to the masses.” One who denied Jesus only maybe weeks or months ago, now stands and defends and speaks. This is what the Holy Spirit does. It turns people around. It raises people to speak up. It changes people’s minds. It gives them courage, it gives them words, words of their own to reach those who are different from them.
So let me riff off of this power of the Holy Spirit, cause it sounds so good, I want some, I wanna try it out.
Let me stand up and take courage to say something that I really want to say, but I’ll say it in my own language, in my own context, and I pray, that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and will receive my words in your own language as you need. God, preaching is hard, and again I apologize if this sounds political to you, but race, look at my skin, is not political, it’s personal, this is my testimony and my witness. Humbly I speak.
When I read Peter standing up quoting Joel, I heard this. (You’ll see Joel text on your screen but I’ll share my thoughts throughout it.)
In the last days, boy it feels like last days these days. Daughters will prophesy, my god that’s good news, cause I’m a daughter, thank you Jesus for giving the power. They’re seeing visions. They’ve got dreams, that one day… Even on servants, and this word originally is slave but many translations use “servants” to make it less um, yeah, that’s why it says, “even” them, the Spirit will be poured out. And when I hear the word slaves, I can’t help but think of American history and black Americans, and yes, thank you Jesus, pour out your spirit on these descendants of slaves and for they are prophesying. Show us the wonders in heaven above cause I see the signs on earth, blood on the streets, fire in Minneapolis riots, and tear gas billows of smoke flaring up, Lord Jesus. The sun will be turned to darkness, man this winter was long, and the moon to blood… too much blood…. You say all this happens before, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord, oh God please, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, Yes Lord, Lord, I call out to you.
Like Peter, I used to deny, as an Asian American buying into the “norm”, benefitting from white normative culture. “Oh that man, I’ve never heard of him.” I’m sorry to bring this up, the clip of George Floyd’s death, that asian cop standing there, quoting my friend Ophelia Hu Kinney now, “as the accomplice to the murder”. It reminds me of the ways how complicite we can be. Again, I don’t know about you, who you are or how you identify yourself, but I’m speaking from my perspective. On Twitter @braynyang says, “Asians need to reckon with the fact that we are all too often subservient and party to white supremacy because we are seen as model minorities…Don’t play into it.” it’s a reminder to us all, to speak up against anti-blackness. We can not just stand idly by why this happens again and again.
And when folks say, oh those riots, they must be crazy, they’ve lost it, or maybe they are drunk. or whatever, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King says, “a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”
What is it that America has failed to hear? Wow. What is it that America has failed to hear?
Amidst the chaos, the blood, and fire, and smoke, I am caught by the thunderous and violent wind of the Holy Spirit that rushes in and ignites in each of us the fire of justice in and through our own stories, our own language, may that tongue rest on each of us, and hear in our own language about God’s deeds of power. Because I can’t imagine that this is what God wants for our world. Our tongues, may they be loosed with joy, hope, and love. Amen.