Pentecost

It’s a dangerous moment for Christianity.

The followers of Jesus are sequestered in a room. It’s a familiar place to them. They locked themselves away from the world after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

That locked room was where Jesus found them the evening of the resurrection – huddled together in fear, hoping the locked doors would keep out the forces of empire and evil that had brought Jesus to his death.

The startling news of the resurrection brought them out of hiding for a while. But now Jesus is gone again, for good this time. He promised before he departed for heaven that he would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them and empower them.

They had no idea what that meant. But 10 days have passed and nothing has happened, and once again they are hidden in a room away from the world.

That is where the Holy Spirit finds them. In dramatic fashion the Spirit blows through that room like a violent wind, propelling the disciples into the very world they feared.

The Spirit gives them courage and strength and abilities they had no idea they possessed. They speak about God’s deeds of power in languages that everyone can understand, no matter what their native tongue.

Peter, the most cowardly of them all, the one who on the night of Jesus’ death denied knowing him three times, becomes the boldest of all, proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the world. On that day, 3,000 people are baptized.

Pentecost, the day that Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled, is known as the birthday of the church. Without Pentecost, Christianity would likely not have developed into the religion we know today.

That is why the time of the disciples hiding in a room was a dangerous one for Christianity.  The disciples could have given in to their fears, they could gone back to the lives they lived before they knew Jesus, they could have reconciled themselves to the evils of empire which Jesus stood against.

If they had, the teachings of Jesus most likely would have gradually faded away, and we would not be here today.

Pentecost is the day that we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that is still abroad in the world today. Scripture tells us that the Spirit has gifts for each one of us, gifts to be used for the common good, spirits of love and truth and compassion and courage.

But the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit, is not the only one abroad in the world. Spirits that are not meant to build up the common good, but that seek to divide, to exclude, to benefit some while taking from others, are ever present among us.

Scripture warns us of that.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world,” scripture says.

We live in a time when false prophets are thriving among us. Here are just a few that I heard in the last week:

There is the false prophet running for governor, driving around the state in what he calls a “deportation bus,” covered with words of hate.

“Fill this bus with illegals!” it proclaims. “Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers on board! Follow me to Mexico.”

There were two false prophets, both evangelical ministers, asked to pray at the opening of our new embassy in Jerusalem. In the past they have said that all Jews will go to hell, that Hitler was part of God’s plan, that Islam is a “heresy from the pit of hell,” and that there is no salvation for gays and lesbians.

The false prophets were out in force in Texas this week after yet another school massacre, piously offering thoughts and prayers while holding their hands out for more money from the NRA.

The Holy Spirit that blew the disciples out into the world on Pentecost was the spirit of love and truth and courage. It was a spirit that overcame differences, that brought people together, that gave them courage to stand up to evil, to reach out to the marginalized.

What we see too often in the world today, proclaimed by many who purport to be followers of Jesus, is the opposite – a spirit of fear and hate, often bolstered by lies, that seeks to divide, to polarize, to exclude, to control.

It is once again a dangerous moment for Christianity.

Recognizing that, a statement put out earlier this month by national Christian leaders, including our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, says it is time for the church to “reclaim Jesus.”

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches,” it says.

“We believe that the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

“It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else – nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography – our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

The signers of the Reclaiming Jesus statement call on all of us to face these questions: Who is Jesus for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ require from us at this moment in our history?

They then offer six statements of what they believe, and what that belief requires them and us to reject.

Here is a part of their statement. I believe that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, resounds in these words.

First: “We believe that each human being is made in God’s image and likeness.

“Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as followers of Jesus, must clearly reject the use of racial bigotry for political gain. In the face of such bigotry, silence is complicity.”

Second: “We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class.

“Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment and assault of women. We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.”

Third: “We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself.

“Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.”

Fourth: “We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition.

“Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life. The normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of our society.”

Fifth: “We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination.

“Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. We believe authoritarian political leadership is a theological danger that threatens democracy and the common good – and we will resist it.”

Sixth: “We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries.

“Therefore, we reject ‘America first’ as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over another as a political goal. Serving our own communities is essential, but the global connections between us are undeniable.”

And I would add that while sharing the love of Christ we must always recognize the truth of other faiths, acknowledging that they also offer paths that may lead to God.

I believe that this statement is a modern-day Pentecostal moment, a moment inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is calling us, like the disciples long ago, to leave the safety of our rooms, our homes, our churches, and to go into the world living and proclaiming these truths.

These statements are rooted in the Spirit of love and truth, compassion and courage.

In his sermon at the royal wedding yesterday, Bishop Curry quoted Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a 20th century Jesuit priest and scientist, who said that the harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries of human history.

He then said that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

Love was on fire that first Pentecost, and it changed the world. Empowered by the Spirit, it can do so again.

As Bishop Curry quoted Dr. Martin Luther King yesterday: “We must rediscover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world.”

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Amen.

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