Summary: The Holy Spirit can heal the factions among us and bring us into unity with God and others. Then our mission is liberated because our focus is on Jesus's great commission.
Pentecost: Unified Diversity
Sermon by The Rev. Rian Adams
Pentecost is a strange day on the church calendar because we want to celebrate, but the Acts reading about speaking in tongues and erratic spiritual experiences is a little unsettling.
I’ve learned that if we talk too often about spiritual experiences, some people want to assign “labels” to us. Last week someone blasted me on Facebook (it’s not the first time…) for a comment I made on one Bishop Curry’s preaching videos. He preached that we need to stop being ashamed to talk about Jesus, and we need to all become unified under him!
I commented, “If the rest of us Episcopal Priests will believe and proclaim the Gospel with the same conviction as Bishop Curry, our church can change the world.”
Some angry white guy said, “You’re Caucasian, so you can’t mimic Bishop Curry, don’t even try or you’ll just be a wannabe. Know your role.”
I started to get offended but then I realized his label was a badge of honor. I thought, “He’s right, last time I checked I am white. Rian can’t mimic Bishop Curry either. But more than that, he is right, I need to know my role. As a matter of fact we all need to know our role: preach the love of God and the welcome of Jesus to all people.”
That’s when it hit me, that benevolent man gave me my sermon for Sunday: Unified Diversity.
Consider the Acts reading, diverse people, from diverse cultures, men AND women, are all filled with the Spirit.
It teaches that God placed a stamp on early Christianity that read, “All are welcome here.” Even women were accepted, and invited to proclaim the Good News.
What fascinated me about this passage is when the Spirit filled their hearts, they spoke other languages. The essence of Pentecost was to proclaim the Gospel in a language the people of Jerusalem understood.
Pentecost was the moment where the disciples of Jesus learned that they could speak the message of Jesus to those around them. The Holy Spirit empowered them to, what Bishop Curry calls, “talk about Jesus.” They had the gift of open tongues.
Isn’t that the challenge today? We’re trying to figure out how The Episcopal Church can announce the Good News in a language people can hear. To do that, we listen to the Spirit and embrace the voices of our sisters and brothers.
We shouldn’t ostracize one group just because we disagree on a political or theological issue. That’s not “Pentecost.” In Acts 2 everyone had a voice. But here’s the other side of the equation; everyone knew their role, and they talked about Jesus.
Today’s sermon is about being unified in our diversity.
Let’s look at what diversity meant for the 1st century followers of Jesus.
The disciples were cultured, perhaps more than we are. In the 1st Century, the Roman Empire changed the social landscape. They were acquainted with diverse cultures around the world. In Galilee they heard at least three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
That diversity scared some orthodox Jews. They didn’t want outside influence to change their faith. They believed it was God’s will for them to repel the evil culture. That commitment brought a particular problem; their sense of duty isolated them.
They doubled down and built fences. Does that sound familiar? We struggle with the question, “how do we see ourselves in a cultural melting pot?” The ego has a propensity to demand uniqueness. This drives us into groups and subcultures, and finally to isolation.
When that happens, we don’t talk about Jesus. We talk about what makes us different from that other group.
Pentecost is a challenge to put differences and focus on what unites us. The early disciples didn’t hesitate to proclaim Jesus to all people. The Holy Spirit helped them conqueror their fear of the other.
Peter’s sermon wasn’t about how this group was wrong, and this group was right. He said, “What you see here is what God talked about: All people, all cultures, men and women, are of one heart and one message.”
If we want to know our role, it starts with following the example of St. Peter and finding unity among ourselves. Then we can preach the Gospel in a language others understand.
Peter even preached about us, yes, he mentioned Episcopalians in his sermon. “These folks are not drunk, it’s only 9:00 AM.” How do I know they were not drunk? I’ve spent sufficient time around Fort Hood to learn that every crowd has that one token loudmouth drunk. He’s always the one with far too much to say. Peter knew that guy too, that’s why he wanted to make sure he knew that those preaching were not tipsy, but it excited them to talk about Jesus.