If you read the Weekly What’s What this week, some of this information may be redundant – but, it also bears repeating. First of all, I want to also say to you directly how grateful I am for the time I spent in St. Louis attending the class The Art of Transitional Ministry. That week away filled my spirit as well as my tool box for ministry and, most importantly, it afforded me time to reflect on and ponder the Spirit’s presence among all the stories you have shared with me over these last 6 months.
Since before I started in ministry with you all here at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, it was made clear to me that pain is among you, that conflict is experienced here in this community – and though it might not be felt or experienced by all of you, it is in the community. And, I am grateful that you have been willing to share with me your individual experiences – each experience is a thread in the great tapestry of this church. In our time together, I’ve had countless conversations with you – with you as individuals and you as a collective – and I want to hear more. I have listened to you laugh and cry. I’ve listened to you wonder and worry. I’ve listened to you lament and rage and question and doubt as you described to me your involvement, your experience and your love for this congregation. I have heard you speak of heartbreak and your desire for reconciliation and peace. Up to this point, I had a hard time seeing the forest for the trees – or the tapestry for the threads. But, with some time away in prayerful reflection, I’m beginning to see the Spirit at work, touching each of your lives and weaving together your stories.
And, our Scripture lesson today highlights that very work of the Spirit. It lifts up for us the power of the Spirit to touch each one of us uniquely and then to weave together our different threads, to tie together disparate experiences, to make sense out of chaos. Truth be told, Pentecost has never been the holiday on the calendar that has been most moving to me – however, this year, being here with you in this place, I sense the coming of the Spirit more meaningfully – and I hope you will too.
As we turn to the Scripture, I want for you to open your pew Bibles and read along with me. Some of you, I hope, will have a note card with a number on it and a word. The numbers are in order 1 through 10 and between the 4th and 5th verses, I would like for you to read the word on the cards in order from 1 to 10. Does that make sense? You’ll have to keep track of what number in the order your card is – but, I think you can manage. So, let us turn to the Book of Acts, chapter 2, and listen for God’s Word to us in the first 21 verses.
Let us pray: God of fire, God of Life, God of interpretation, God of understanding – make your Spirit known to us. Amaze and astonish us with your love so that we might hear you among us.
Acts 2: 1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
(words shouted out from the congregation: Grace, Pain, Peace, Forgiveness, Hurt, Love, Reconciliation, The Past, Mercy, Healing)
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 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. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
This is the Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
As you know, we in the church, follow a liturgical calendar. For the last 7 weeks, we have celebrated the season of Easter. And today we celebrate Pentecost and as we do, we embark on a new season. And, I have a proposal for you. On this Pentecost Day, I propose that we here at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church begin a new season of healing. It has been said that “Our churches are full of wounded and hurting people who have never taken a season to heal.” And, I find this to be true – not just here in this place – but in all churches. And so, I propose to you that on this Pentecost Day, on this day that we are acutely mindful of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives, we begin our work in earnest towards understanding and healing as a community. From this Pentecost Day forward, I invite you to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and propose that we turn toward one another to listen more deeply in hope for the voice of God.
I propose this Season of Healing to you now because, like Peter in our Scripture reading this morning, I have heard you speak of God’s love as you have shared your stories with me. As I consider the languages being spoken, I hear your individual voices crying out with vocabulary that yearns for peace, for reconciliation, for mercy, for grace, for forgiveness, and for God’s redemptive power to make all things new again. But, I also recognize that there is a confusion among you – What I hear from you is that which is hard for you to understand or believe of one another. Because of the deep pain some individuals have and are experiencing; because of the lack of trust; because of a fear of disturbing the fragile sense of calm which is a moment without conflict but is known not to be peace, it is difficult for you to hear one another’s hurts and hopes. But, with the Spirit’s help – I trust, anew, that we will all soon begin to understand one another.
Recently, I read a blog post of a woman who is on medical leave. It is the first time in her life when she is off work with no other task at hand other than healing. She’s not looking for another job. She’s not on vacation. She’s not taking a sabbatical. She is healing. And her blog post speaks to the actions she needs to take to enable the healing to take place. She needs to be disciplined – she needs to keep her physical therapy appointments, she needs to maintain a healthy diet. Discipline is needed to ensure the wound will heal. Second, healing needs rest – not just vegging out on the couch binge watching the latest series on Netflix, not reading every news outlet possible to distract the mind, but truly resting her body and her mind. Resting from anxiety, from exhaustion, from weariness – restorative rest is needed to heal. Third, she says that healing takes humility. It’s not easy to ask another to help, it’s not easy to show that we are in need – but to heal, it’s important to remember that we, as human beings, are not independent creatures, as much as we’d like to think so. Sure, we could try to do everything, but the risk of re-injuring the wound infinitely increases when we choose pride over humility. Instead, acknowledging imperfection, acknowledging need for grace, acknowledging need for help leads to proper healing. And, finally, she talks about how healing takes time. With all her discipline, her resting, and her humility, she can contribute to her healing, but it will simply take time for the wounds to mend, for healing to take hold, and she calls this a Season of Healing – it’s not a day, it’s not a week, it might even be longer than a month. It is a season. And I can’t help but see the parallel between the experience of her body healing and the healing needed in this congregation.
In this season of healing, each of us will be called to a great task that requires discipline – discipline to be open to the leading of the Spirit and to lay down our own need for control – we will be called to trust in God’s loving Spirit to repair the breach. We will be called to share our story with one another and trust in the Spirit’s power to make known God’s love through one another. No matter what language we speak – whether it be language of pain or hurt feelings, language of confusion or doubt, or even language of hope or gratitude – we will be called to trust that Holy Spirit is at work among us, helping us listen to and understand one another.
And, in this season of healing, we will require rest. As a congregation, we can take a rest from busyness. Aside from the necessary functions of the church as an organization, committees can take a rest from the busyness, they can take a break from the work which will always be there. The perpetual conversation in all congregations is to identify what the church’s mission, the church’s vision. However, before we discern what we’re called to do out in the world, we have the opportunity to take a rest in this season so that we might be healed and strong enough to sustain the work of justice and peace into the future. We can take rest together by focusing on worship, by spending time together in fellowship, by holding space together and allowing the Spirit to dwell among us in the quiet of our hearts.
This season of healing will require humility of us all as well. We will be called to heed Christ’s teachings of reconciling love – to love God and to love one another – and, to truly love one another, we must approach one another in humility, with abundant grace and mercy. In this season, we can lay down our pride, lay down our need to be right, lay down our need to hold power. In this season, we can ask for forgiveness and give it freely. Our tradition of confession and assurance offers us the framework wherein we can trust that truly, nothing in life or in death separates us from the love of God. In humility, surely, we can approach not only God but one another as well. In humility, we can withhold judgement and listen to one another more deeply and we can seek reconciliation together – yielding to the Spirit’s leading, rather than our own.
And, church, we will take time. In this season of healing, we will take time – time to reflect on the scriptures, time for the hurts to subside and for the wounds to heal. We’ll take time to listen to one another’s stories – and for those of you who have not experienced conflict or pain, please, share your stories widely. We’ll take time to re-build trust among us – the mere absence of tension or conflict will not be identified as “peace” – rather, we will take time to do the work of reconciling within the community. We will take time to ponder the Spirit among us as we practice patience with one another. This season of healing will take time – but, we must remember that it is a season. Seasons do, indeed, come and go.
Like the disciples looking on as the Jewish leaders each spoke with different tongues, it is clear to me that the Spirit of God is among you, church. It is clear to me that the languages you are all speaking articulate a desire for peace, a desire for reconciliation, a desire to experience Beloved Community right here in this neighborhood, and to share your love with the world. You might not be able to understand one another at this moment – but O, how I see the Spirit among you. I trust, with all my heart, all my mind and all my strength, that God’s love is and will be made known to you through one another this season in life of this beloved church. May it be so. Amen.
Sermon preached at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church on June 4, 2017.