May 20, 2018

A Pentecost Message from the Dean

In many ways, 1st century Jerusalem 2000 years ago was like NYC of 21st century. Jerusalem was an eastern crossroads of the known world. It was cosmopolitan with many languages, cultures, religions, races and political sentiments swirling around. That was the setting for the account of Pentecost in the Book of Acts. According to the reading, into the midst and mix of this seething cauldron of people and politics, religions and races gathered in Jerusalem, an amazing moment took place with an event that has been etched into human imagination and history for two millennia.

Here’s the picture: It is not long after Jesus’s resurrection. His disciples were huddled in a room. Suddenly there comes a sound of rushing wind, and tongues of fire settle on their heads. Who wouldn’t have run out of there and into the street? Further amazement follows for the disciples and teeming crowds: the disciples of Jesus began to speak a new language that at first sounded like drunken babbling – but then all those in the street realized they could understand clearly what the disciples were saying. They were hearing the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in their own language.

Now, in the Hebrew Scripture the story of the Tower of Babel tells a tale of the origin of different languages. But in this moment on the streets of Jerusalem, that story was reversed. Everybody could understand everybody else.

That experience and the fire it lit and the vision of unity and understanding that was laid out in that moment was so electrifying that we gather to remember and celebrate it 2000 years later. The vision cast in that moment in the hearts of women and men gathered on the dusty streets of Jerusalem has never been forgotten.

The electric moment of the Day of Pentecost was rooted in the atomic power of love set loose in human hearts and lives. The disciples were speaking in the power of love and love is a universal language – no wonder everyone in hearing distance understood! The disciples were speaking love – love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. They were speaking the native language of the human heart and that language is love – romantic love, yes, but more – love of justice, love of peace, forgiveness for the past and strength for the present and future of life.

That’s the language of love. And since love is a language, love has its own vocabulary and the words of love are expressed in actions and deeds of generosity, sacrifice, justice, hope and reconciliation. We all know this language of love because it is the language of God in whose image every human being is created, and every human being bears the stamp of the divine. The language and vocabulary of love is written deep in our DNA. The language of love is rooted in the divine and the vocabulary of love is expressed in loving human actions.

Love is a powerful language. When love is set loose in human experience as it was on Pentecost, it can never be forgotten. The Day of Pentecost was only a glimpse of God’s loving power – and that power, once experienced is never forgotten. And that power, unleashed in human life by loving actions, confronts all that distorts and disfigures human existence: hunger, fear, hatred, war. In God’s love racism is no more, religious and cultural prejudice is no more. War is abolished and peace is supreme. That’s the language and vocabulary of God's love and your and my place in it.

Now, Pentecost is rooted in the past and points to the present and the future. Pentecost is a glimpse of the world God envisions and that world is coming. The Resurrection of Jesus is about God’s actions in the past. Jesus was crucified, buried, dead for three days. God’s love is so powerful that Jesus was resurrected from that deadly past and given a new and eternal life. Pentecost is about God’s presence in the present and future: through God’s love Jesus’s new life continues and permeates our lives in the present; and into the endlessness of God’s unconditional love for each of us and all of us.

Pentecost happened 2000 years ago. It was such a powerful glimpse into the future that no one has ever forgotten that blazing moment. Pentecost is the foundation of believing that God through Jesus is still present and active in your life and mine and every life on this planet. Pentecost is the assurance that the risen Jesus is alive and active in our world and lives.

We can trust the language of God’s love. Love is spoken here in this Cathedral and through its ministries and worship. The risen Jesus abides forever in the world and in the hearts of women and men, for Pentecost is the assurance that in the end, God’s love will prevail and all will be swept up from death and given new and eternal life. And then, like the first Pentecost, we will gather around God’s table and sing the songs of love and thanksgiving in a language that all understand.