All Were Filled – May 31, 2020

All Were Filled

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Acts 2:1-21

May 31, 2020

Main Idea: The language of love transcends all other languages.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Pentecost Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year.  We get to wear red, play with pinwheels, celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.  We chuckle as we hold paper flames over our heads and we take a lovely musical walk to City Hall Park.  This year, of course, Pentecost has different resonances.  We recognize the Holy Spirit as a great wind blowing around us while we are kept separate because of a virus that travels through our breath.  We imagine the Spirit as a flame enlivening and empowering us while watching fires lit from the anguish of communities of color.  Last week we talked about the apostles’ anxiety and uncertainty following Jesus’ ascension and the need for prayer and discernment so as to be witnesses for Christ rather than just spectators.  On Pentecost we are empowered to share the love of God in real and concrete ways.

The story of Pentecost is weird and wild.  It is full of special effects and high drama which are entertaining but perhaps obscures its meaning for us today.  On that day of Pentecost, amidst the fire and wind, the apostles were empowered to share the Good News of God’s love with people from around the known world; people who looked different, who spoke different languages, had different backgrounds, and different points of view.  On that day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was set loose and people from all over the known world were joined together in God’s love. The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was not a one-time event which happened long ago.  The Spirit is given again and again throughout the history of the church and is among us to this very day. The language of the Spirit, the language of love, transcends all other languages.

Each week as we say Good Morning in different languages, I am humbled by an amusing irony.  The irony is that I am terrible at learning other languages.  I squeaked by in high school French.  I had to drop German in college after getting a F and a F+ on my first two exams.  I did well with New Testament Greek only because it was mainly a written language; I did not need to speak it. While waiting for Margaret, I spent countless hours trying to learn Nepali. I wrote out the alphabet, vocabulary and verb forms over and over and over again with no success. The only words I know in Karen are Gah Lua Gay, Amin, and pour quoi. (Which I remember because of French!  Pour quoi, Pour quoi, Why Son?) 

To me, this is proof that the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor and that she is working among us. We are fortunate to be in ministry with folk from around the world, people who speak many different languages.  We have said Good morning here in French, Karen, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Nepali, Welsh, Thai, and Tagalong.  That is amazing!  And even among the people who speak mainly English, we have a wide variety of accents and of points of view.  We do not always understand each other even if we share a language!

But the language of love, transcends all of these difficulties.

This love is empowered by the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for us to reach out to each other, to listen to each other, to trust each other regardless of the language that we speak.  The Spirit encourages us to pay attention and remain engaged with the other person until we come to understand each other.  This is how Pastor Thee Say and I have worked together (plus Thee Say’s gracious use of English!). When we, English speakers, have attended the Karen worship service, we may not understand the words spoken but we do experience the love, the community, the commitment, and the joy. We are welcomed despite our language deficiencies.  When non-English speakers attend this morning worship service, they may not understand all the words spoken but hopefully they feel valued and included in our community of faith.

The Holy Spirit is poured out whenever we truly listen to each other, whenever we choose to serve together, whenever we love each other.

Our world is in desperate need of this power.   Our nation is in desperate need of this power.  This pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the fault lines within our society.  We are divided by race, region, gender, and political party.  This week we have passed the tragic milestone of more than 100,000 people just in the US die from Covid 19. Think about this, this is the population of Burlington, Essex, South Burlington, and Colchester, the 4 largest municipalities in Vermont. Imagine all of us gone. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and are in need of food and basic necessities.  Our lack of universal healthcare or strong social safety nets has meant that many who are sick or vulnerable have still gone to work, risking their health and the health of others.  Wearing masks, or not wearing them has become a political statement of either fierce independence or concern for the community as a whole.  This month we have watched as armed white protestors have marched on State capitals and made threats against elected officials without consequence.  This week we have seen an unarmed black man, in handcuffs, die with a police officer’s knee on his neck.  Black protestors have been called thugs and met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Cities around the nation are seeing protests rise up. Even here in Burlington, 1300 people gathered in Battery Park last night to protest the systemic racism that threatens all people of color.

As the pandemic continues the grief, and the hardship, and the conflict mount up.   We are so in need of love.  Strong, courageous love that does not fear upsetting the privileged in order to bring justice and healing to those long denied.  Powerful, grace filled love that will listen with humility and work with ingenuity to knit our communities together with common purpose and concern.  This love has been given to us, to share with the world.  Even in our social distant life we can share this love!  We share this love when we pray for the world, when we speak out against injustice, when we volunteer for and support programs for the vulnerable, when we respectfully correct misinformation on social media, when we reach out to those who are hurting.  These are things that we all can do.

The church, this church, is one of the few places in our lives where we are joined together with people who are different from us.  We are a community in which we can ponder and discuss hard topics.  I invite you to join us tomorrow at 9am on Zoom for sermon talkback to discuss more about what we can do.   

The Holy Spirit has gathered us together and guides us to be witnesses to the power of God’s love in the world, to recognize and speak out against the evils of racism and other oppressions. The Holy Spirit empowers us to listen with love to those who are different from us and to those with whom we disagree.  The Holy Spirit prods us with prophesy, visions, and dreams of a future much bigger and bolder than we might dream on our own.   The language of love expands and enriches our ideas of what is possible.  This is a bright side of the pandemic, when all that is usual is suspended, we have the opportunity to create something new!

This morning, we will follow the leading of the Spirit to step out of our homes and proclaim to the world that the Spirit is moving among us all.  Outside we can pray for the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in the city of Burlington, in the various communities in which we live, in our nation, and in the whole world.  Just like the apostles on that Pentecost day long ago, we are inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, which compels us to leave the comfortable confines of the familiar in order to share the Good News of God’s love with all that we meet.  The Holy Spirit is loose in the world, enlivening and empowering humanity to reject hostility, greed, and despair and to share the language of love.  Today we celebrate this wild presence which shakes us up while leading us to ever more meaningful life with each other and with God.

Let us pray,

Holy Spirit of God, we are in awe of your power and grace. Teach us the language of love.  Breathe new life into us and embolden us to serve you with our whole beings.  Amen.