May 31, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
DNA… DNA is strange stuff. It connects us to a family, and at the same time it marks us as unique. My eyes are from my Dad, my complexion too. But my face and my voice, that is my mom. And the hair? God only knows. I passed my eyes onto my daughter, but the rest of her looks so much like her dad. My son inherited his father’s hair color and deep, booming voice, but the rest of him is so my family. But there is one trait that seems very strong in my family line, a dominant trait to be sure. I like to call it the McConnell goofiness. It happens where you get all of us together in one room-my mom and dad, my sister, her children and my children, this weird sense of humor that leads to out of control giggles. The silliness gets so out of control that those who married into the family will roll their eyes and find somewhere else to shelter for a while. DNA, it is strange stuff.
Pentecost is an ancient, Jewish festival that occurs 50 days after the feast of Passover; Pentecost…50 days. It is also called Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of First Fruits. For the festival of Pentecost, the children of Israel celebrate the giving of the Torah, the Law (our first five books of the Bible) to Moses at Mt. Sinai. The Law, that which formed the people into a united community, into a family. The Torah, the DNA of the people of God, the gift that reveals who they are and whose they are.
So it seems very fitting that on that Pentecost Day that we heard read this morning, God chose to pour out God’s Spirit in the rush of a mighty wind and in a rain of tongues of fire on a small group of Jesus followers gathered together in one place, and gave birth—gave birth—to a new family, rooted in the old. The story of this birth, a portion of which was read by Rev. McCune, Mattea, Jackson and Amy this morning, reveals OUR DNA as the Body of Christ, the Family in God…who we are…whose we are.
Our Pentecost story this morning begins calmly enough. Around 120 followers of Jesus are gathered together in one place, in the same house. Perhaps they are gathered for prayer, or companionship, or fellowship. Perhaps they are celebrating Shavuot; maybe all of the above? Certainly they are frightened and unsettled—frightened of the authorities that executed Jesus, unsure how to process the resurrection and now ascension of Jesus, wondering at this ‘power’ they are to wait for in Jerusalem. They have withdrawn from the larger community, sheltered in this house, secluded…insular even. And then everything changed! The Spirit-Wind-Breath…Pneuma in Greek…Ruah in Hebrew…arrived! Tongues of DNA rested on each gathered, infusing them with new dreams and visions. Making them a new creation, a new thing, uniting them as a new family, and revealing what this new family is all about. And it is NOT about seclusion and hiding. It is not about withdrawing from the world in fear. And it is NEVER insular—never that.
Wind and Flame and Spirit and Word PUSH out those first disciples, out of the house, out into the streets—a cacophony of voices revealing clearly and concisely the DNA of the new Jesus movement—united in the Spirit, a new family, a new Body, to be gifted to the world, speaking God’s Word to and for a hurting creation. Immediately after infusing each individual with this new DNA, the new family rushes outside and shares the Good News of God’s love revealed in and through Jesus with all the pilgrims who have journeyed from across the known world to Jerusalem to mark Passover, and remained in the city for Pentecost. And here is the KEY POINT, this new family shared this remarkable Good News to each sojourner in their mother tongue…in the languages of their hearts.
That, my beloved family, is our Pentecost DNA, and it is BEAUTIFUL to behold! We are the Church, wondrously diverse—unique and Fab-U-lous: all ages, all gender identities, all races and ethnicities and cultures, different gifts, different graces, different abilities, all sexual orientations, all socio-economic levels—a symphony of languages—a rainbow of diversity. We are the Church, diverse and ONE. We all have our Spirit’s eyes…if we choose to use them. We all have unique and unified places in the remarkable Body of Christ, each with a part in the whole work of Christ. We are the Church, diverse, unified, and CALLED. We are called as the family in Christ to speak God’s Word in the heart language of those most in need of God’s love and grace and justice. And in order to speak the mother tongues of the world, we must learn them. But in order to learn them, we have to listen!
What languages do we need to learn RIGHT NOW to speak to the world around us? What mother tongues have we neglected to hear; because they were too complicated, or too hard to learn, or would take up too much of our time? What mother tongues have we neglected to hear; because they seemed so very foreign, or made us uncomfortable, or required us to examine our ideas and assumptions and preconceived notions a bit too closely? What languages of the heart is the Spirit calling us to engage with right now? Because we can learn new languages. We are doing it right now, out of necessity—the digital language. We have been aware of the digital world for quite some time, but it hasn’t been a priority for us in the church. We have dabbled, tried out a few things. But we felt other things were more important, more ‘real.’ But now, out of necessity, we have learned to reach out across the internet and social media, connecting people like never before, speaking to new people in new ways. And we did this because necessity forced us to listen, learn, speak and act.
My beloved family, the Spirit is screaming for us to listen and learn another language right now—the language that will dismantle racism, tear down white privilege and lay bare implicit bias! The Spirit cries from the streets, “I CAN’T BREATHE!” This new digital world connects us to acts of racial hatred and violence that we might never have seen otherwise. The ugly truth of systemic racism, acted out in racial violence is now recorded and played in real time before our eyes. The question is, will we brave discomfort and listen—learn the language that exposes systems of racial injustice, our own privileges in society, and the biases that are inherent in our current systems? Will we let go of our defensiveness, our preconceived notions of what racism is, and listen to what the Spirit seeks to teach us?
The Holy Spirit is eager to share with us the heart languages of those most in need in our world for the sake of God’s dream, God’s vision of who we can be together—the Beloved Community, the Kin-dom of all people, the diverse and unified and called family of God!
DNA is strange stuff. It connects us as a family. It marks us as unique. It informs who we are…whose we are. Will we open ourselves more fully and intentionally, each and every day, to that hovering DNA, that Flame, that Breath of God? Will we enter a wildly diverse and yet powerfully united family and learn to speak the heart languages of a hurting world? Will we be a Pentecost People? The Spirit is called. Thanks be to God! Amen!