- Published: 07 June 2020
In that well known hymn, Spirit of Gentleness, Spirit of Restlessness, there is a Pentecost invitation where with bold new decisions, your people arise . These words capture the Spirit energy of our Pentecost story, and this Spirit energy grounds us in the complicated times we find ourselves living in, grounds us as we arise empowered with the spirit to walk courageously and boldly.
Today we ground ourselves in these complicated times of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests by recognizing the pivotal role Pentecost has in our faith story, a faith story about a society changing Spirit-awakening transformation that proclaims a structural inclusion.
This pivotal story of structural inclusion is narrated by the writer of Luke-Acts. Most Biblical scholars accept that the same author wrote Luke and acts, because of linguistic similarity and because both texts are addressed to the most excellent Theophilus. Who Theophilus is unknown though theories abound. Many Biblical scholars suggest the title Most Excellent signifies that this person was a representative of state power, of political institution, or legal institution, and the writer of Luke-Acts is addressing institution powers when writing about the justice and spirit ways alive in Jesus of Nazareth, was speaking truth to power by describing the justice and spirit ways alive in the Christ Way that was being birthed by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
Other Biblical scholars note that the meaning of Theophilus is “lover of God” and that the writer is writing generally to everyone who loves God.
I personally think it is both. Luke-Acts is writing to the “lovers of God” who cry for justice and peace and healing in the world, to speak that truth to power.
Lovers of God seek justice and peace and healing in the land, and the writer of Luke-Acts unfolds this story in three phases.
First, there is the description of the manifesto of Jesus of Nazareth, a manifesto rooted in the prophetic tradition that Jesus reads…
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, anointing me
To bring good news to the poor
To proclaim liberty to captives
To bring sight to those who are blinded
To bring freedom for the oppressed
To proclaim a year of jubilee and liberation
Everything in the gospel of Luke, the teachings, the stories, the miracles are about embodying this manifesto, it is the lens the whole gospel is read.
What becomes clear is that Jesus represented a threat to the religious and political institution and structures of his day, and they responded like they often do…they took his breath away, they killed him. As we know, one can kill the body but one cannot kill the spirit and the love and the voices who knew what Jesus was all about. The writer of Luke-Acts, described how the death of Jesus is not the end of the story.
After the crucifixion, the writer briefly recounts appearance stories, stories filled with references to the Rising Jesus instructing and empowering and tooling followers to continue living the prophetic manifesto. Then in the opening paragraphs of the Acts of Apostles, the writer describes these appearances occurring for 40 days, a holy number, before repeating the story of the Rising Jesus ascending into the heavens, with a promise that the Spirit of Life, the Holy Spirit will be unleashed upon these followers and empower them, will clothe them with the ongoing spirit of justice and peace and healing.
For ten days after the 40, they are instructed to wait in the city. They gather for conversation and for prayer and for singing. They gather behind closed doors, shuttered away for a time, shuttered primarily for their safety. The 40 plus the 10 is the second phase.
Then on the 50th day, the third phase begins. Again, through evocative storytelling, the writer uses symbols of wind and fire, symbols of the Spirit of Life that have been present in the stories of the ancestors; however, the writer adds a unique twist is the inclusion of empowered speech. The Spirit enables the gathered community to not only break their silence after being shuttered away in the post-trauma of crucifixion, but their break their silence by speaking in every language of the world.
The many languages is structural and systematic inclusion.
The many languages is the anti-Babel story, a precursor to the anti-black racism story and anti-indigenous racism story, and the anti-Asian racism story, and the series of other anti-ism stories. Structural and systematic racism is challenged by structural and systematic inclusion.
This multi-linguistic speech confuses and bewilders the whole city, confuses and bewilders the whole known world…and it is supposed to.
The story finishes with Peter becoming a spokesperson for a collective breaking of silence, where on behalf of the whole community Peter articulates a vision of unity by quoting the prophets…
I shall pour out my Spirit upon all humanity
Your daughters and sons shall prophesy
Your young people shall see visions
Your old people dream dreams
Even on those enslaved, women and men and every gender,
shall I pour out my Spirit.
Peter was such a convincing spokesperson, 3,000 people joined the 120 who had been gathering, and the next phase of seeking justice and peace and healing was on, the story for every follower of Christ to be “lovers of God seeking justice and peace and healing in the land”
I have taken the time to tell the story because our stories of faith ground us in times of confusion and complicated living, ground us in times when we have to make bold new decisions in these moment when the people of the Spirit must arise.
I close with three quick comments.
First, In the genius of the storytelling by the writer of Luke-acts, Peter, the spokesperson, is soon embroiled in controversies because Peter needs to be confronted with his own prejudice and racist attitudes. Peter, by being clothed with the Holy Spirit, began to be changed by discoveries on how he had been conditioned and had woven into his very being, prejudice and racist attitudes. Peter underwent conversion.
I won’t speak for others, but I know that change to structural racism and injustice begins within and then moves outward, and for me, as one privileged because of my whiteness that brings benefit, I constantly have to learn of my unconscious and preconditioned racism, and rout it out, rout it out by doing a lot of listening and suspending judgement about experiences I do not understand, rout it out by hearing other languages, that lexicon beyond of my experience. This is what happens to Peter in the story of the acts of the Apostle.
Second, the followers of the Way of Christ were bold in confronting injustice, many were imprisoned, some lost their lives. Different circumstances required different actions, but the goal of justice and peace and healing remained the focus, and the writers continually drew followers away from distractions. Fundamentally, as the great justice spokespersons who have understood the Christ Way, spokespersons like Martin Luther King Junior and Mahatma Gandhi, though not a Christian was inspired by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, they were bold in their confrontations and deep in their commitments to non-violence. Today, I am particularly grateful for the Communities of Faith who are carrying brooms to clean and restore. We remain rooted in what is essential in the Christian faith The work of being a loving, liberating and life giving presence in the world that heals.
Thirdly, the storyteller rooted the energy of Pentecost in a time of prayer and waiting, of being shuttered behind closed doors, which became the cradle for the unleashing of spirit. This waiting happened in the wake and midst of crisis, happened following crucifixion. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was not chosen by the followers of Jesus, it happened to them. The time of crisis demanded soul-searching and soul-deepening that allowed for growing understandings of injustice that led to a renewal of commitment and vision for justice.
This is why it is so important that we pause to take deep breaths in our times of crisis when, for some, their breath is being taken away. We breathe so that we can discern and then arise in ways that are constructive, that are just and peaceable and healing.
We ground ourselves in our sacred stories to be renewed by the Spirit of life enabling us to see the beauty and wonder of life that we long to be shared equitably and peaceably by all peoples. This is our prayer as we invite the Holy to renew and empower our spirits.