Summary: A sermon for Pentecost Sunday. We celebrate at Pentecost the power that exceeds all other "powers" of the world!
There is a poem by an unknown author that my Mom shared with me many years ago. Her college choir director read it at every concert, and as I grew to love and study music, it was never far from my mind. It reads like this: “For the common things of everyday, God gave man speech in a common way. For the higher things men think and feel, God gave man poets, their words to reveal. But for the heights and depths no words can reach, God gave man music, the soul’s own speech.”
Many of us know of the power of music, don’t we? A few days after 9/11, my college held a concert in the campus chapel. When words were not enough, music created the space for reflection and mourning. Music can express our joys and our sorrows, our patriotism, our beliefs. Music often unites us when nothing else can or does. Just imagine thousands of people at an outdoor symphony concert. They represent every conceivable nationality, political party, religious conviction, and personal taste. But they are drawn together by a common devotion to music. If the concert, as often happens, is a great one, the whole audience is electrified by it, they will all share to some degree the same experience. When the concert is over, they will leave silently, moved by an experience too great for words, raised, for the time being, to one of life’s supreme levels of emotion. “For the heights and depths no words can reach…”
This week, as I read again the story of Pentecost; of the gathering of believers infused with the Holy Spirit, who spoke in their own tongues and yet were able to understand all that was being said, I was reminded of this quote. And I thought about the fact that even music has its limits. But, when all else fails, where everything else falls short, “For the heights and depths no words can reach,” God has given us his Very Spirit, “the soul’s own speech.” And that is what we remember and celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.
God has given us the Holy Spirit, his very presence with us. It is the Spirit that lives within us. It is the Spirit that is at work all around us. It is the Spirit which undergirds and strengthens us to serve God in the world. And it is the Spirit that unifies us despite all of our differences. We live in a world in which forces are at work each day dividing us and threatening to destroy us. Every week the news seems to grow more urgent; the Middle East is a hotbed of sectarian violence. There is an ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Europe stands perched on the cliff of economic doom, threatening to tumble over at any moment. But the story of Pentecost is that when all else fails—all the sanctions and austerity measures, all the peace-negotiations, and non-violent protests—Christians can still have hope. And that’s because all who follow the Messiah are united by the power of the Holy Spirit, which rises above all other powers of this world.
When everything else in the world seeks to divide, Pentecost reminds us that Christians are people who are drawn together by a common devotion. “They were all together in one place,” our reading tells us. They were a group of people who probably had nothing else in common save this one thing: they loved Jesus. They were all there, their differences overcome, for the simple reason that they adored Christ. And Christians have been drawn together for the same reason ever since. Even now! And it is because of that bond in Christ Jesus our Lord that we can have hope.
It has been said that Pentecost is the “big bang” event that creates the Christian Church and puts God’s saving acts through Jesus Christ into motion. It also explains how a small group of frightened, puzzled, and largely uneducated men and women could so quickly become a force to be reckoned with all across the known world! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is born and is given the authority to proclaim the good news of the Risen Lord to the very same people who had put him to death!
And good news is exactly what this world needs, is it not? As I watched the news the week, I saw stories of murders and abductions, infidelity and suicide. When I gathered with some fellow clergy on Tuesday morning for coffee as I have for the past three years, I learned that one had been victimized by robbery over the weekend, and another’s mother-in-law had just been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. When the ways and words of the world fail to offer comfort amid such atrocities, the Holy Spirit brings a message of hope. Despite the incomprehensible Babel of humanity, the power of the Holy Spirit is able to unify the voice of Good News so that it is heard above all.