A dream of Pentecost
May 24, Day of Pentecost:
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
A tall, blonde-haired American walked down a dusty road in rural China.
He was the son of missionaries…
He had grown up in China, so he was fluent in the local dialects.
Many years later he would be one of my teachers.
But this day when he was walking the road was years before westerners were a common sight in the Chinese countryside.
He was looking for some of the places he remembered as a child.
But things had changed and he wasn’t sure of his bearings.
He met a couple of older women on the road and he greeted them in Chinese…in the local dialect.
He asked if this was where such and such a village used to be.
They told him it was a little farther up the road.
After a few minutes of small talk—all in Chinese—the tall American went on his way.
And as he turned to go he overheard one of the women say: “That’s amazing! I never knew I could understand English.”
It was so preposterous to these women that an American could speak Chinese, that the only conclusion they could come to was that they must somehow be able to understand English.
New Year’s Eve, 1900.
A group of students from Charles Parham’s Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas had been intently studying the Book of Acts, and gathered to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Specifically, the gift of speaking in other languages.
Sometime after midnight, they all laid hands on a student named Agnes Ozman, and she began speaking in a language unknown to them…what everyone claimed was Mandarin Chinese.
With no one around who actually spoke Chinese this story is impossible to verify.
The story itself caught fire and gave birth to the modern Pentecostal movement.
Thousands of people, in the early 20th century, received the gifts of tongues, and convinced they could suddenly speak Chinese, or some other language, sailed off to various places to evangelize the world.
Trouble was, once they arrived, they found that they were speaking not some other language, but what we now refer to as “tongues.”
Chinese women suddenly “understanding” English…and an American woman suddenly “speaking” in Chinese?
Echoes of Pentecost…
On one level, they’re just humorous…but understandable mistakes.
On another, they point to something profound…
amid and across great diversity.
That is Pentecost…
A vision of where we’re headed.
Not with everyone in lock-step unity and the whole earth of one language, but with a richness of diversity and depth of understanding.
That’s the goal—the eschaton—but we’re still at the beginning of this adventure.
Pentecost is a vision of the end and the launching of the beginning.
Do you remember what happens right after this rush of wind and the miracles of speaking, and hearing, and understanding other languages?
Thousands are baptized.
This vision of the end is also the inauguration of the church.
The commissioning of the church to enact God’s dream…
To carry out God’s mission of reconciliation…
to engage this world of possibility and struggle with hope and understanding
It’s no accident that it comes at the beginning of this book known as The Acts of the Apostles.
Because, it’s the beginning of an adventure.
God is inviting us on an adventure.
An adventure to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (That’s how the Prayer Book defines ‘mission’).
In simpler terms it’s an adventure to find Jesus—out there—as Sam McDonald said last week.
An adventure to enter into deep relationships—to abide with—those very different from us, as Matt Engleby said two weeks ago.
An adventure to discover our treasures, and then risk giving them away, for the sake of God’s mission, for the sake of others, for the sake of the world and even for our own sake.
All those throughout the church who are getting baptized today (including Katyana here) are beginning this adventure.
This adventure into the heart of God.
This adventure to join in with the Acts of the Apostles.
We will be her companions.
Companions to guide, and mentor.
Companions to laugh with and grieve with.
Companions to share the journey.
It’s an uncertain journey, out into the world.
People speak different languages.
Eat different foods
Uphold different values.
But that’s where our Acts take us…and we carry our treasures from here with us into the world.
In addition to our treasures, we have some tools that we use to guide us on our journey.
In a way that’s what our Baptismal Covenant is…a tool.
Our affirmations of faith—the Baptismal Covenant, the Creeds are compasses that keep us oriented in a God-ward direction.
In a few minutes we’re going to stand and make renew these promises, and make promises on her behalf.
We’ll promise that we will guide her in continuing in the apostles teachings and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers…which means that we promise to remain in community, and to hand on the treasures of our faith: our music, our liturgy, our prayers, our scripture.
That we recognize and commit to living into the reality that we’re all in this together. That we abide with and for one another.
We also recognize that we are all blessedly finite, and broken…and that very often our weaknesses are our greatest strength. And so we promise to do our best to resist evil, and when we do fall, that we’ll acknowledge it and return to our God-ward direction.
We’ll promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News. I think that’s the one that’s really about discovering your treasure…what God has given you—the Good News inside you—and then figuring how to give it away.
We’ll promise to go out and look for Jesus. Everywhere. Seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Because it is in finding and meeting Jesus that we are transformed.
And because we’re transformed, and because we know that we’re all in this together, we won’t be satisfied until everyone has the same rights and responsibilities. Until that dream of unity and justice and understanding is a reality.
We have this compass; we also have maps, one of which is the Five Marks of Mission, that have been highlighted in your weekly bulletin.
The 5 Marks are a map that show us how far we’ve come and how much farther we can push on.
How and where do we proclaim the Good News?
Where and how do we teach, baptize and nurture…how do we invite people into this adventure?
To whom do we respond with loving service?
Which unjust structures have we transformed? How are we challenging violence?
What measurements do we use to know we are safeguarding creation.
It’s a map that marks our progress.
We’re on a great adventure…and our youth do see visions of the future, and our elders do dream dreams…and we need to listen to them, and learn from them.
And by journeying individually and together…following our maps and our compass…who knows…someday you may find yourself in another part of the world miraculously understanding the people and languages around you in a deep transformative way, and you’ll know that through our Acts this Pentecost dream has come true.