1st Biblical Witness: Joel 2:26 – 28
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; all your children shall prophesy, your elders shall dream dreams, and young ones shall see visions.
2nd Biblical Witness: Acts 10:44 – 48
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Reflection: “Passionate Faith”
The Bible is a book filled with complex and conflicting stories. One of the tensions which runs from the Old Testament to the New Testament has to do with two ideologies. One is that those who follow the God of these writings are to be separate because they are special. They aren’t to mingle with others – and this is for various reasons. The second ideology has to do with welcoming the stranger, the ones on the margins, the ones in need of shelter and food. Those who wish to, may convert and be afforded equal access to the God of these writings. Those who don’t wish to convert are still treated as equals in the community, but religion is not pushed on them.
Pentecost celebrates the latter ideology and teaching, and goes beyond that. The Spirit is available to everyone in an active kind of way. What was promised in Joel is delivered and more. The telling from Acts 10, which is quite a bit after the Acts Pentecost story, says, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” In Acts 2, the believers received the Spirit. Here in Acts 10, in this story of Gentile seekers, the Spirit is poured out lavishly all over the place.
So why is there this other teaching – that we need to be separate, pure and undefiled by those who are other than us? It’s a dangerous teaching because it’s based on one set of people being good and right, while another set of people are bad and wrong, while also having the ability to tarnish and corrupt those who are good and right. It actually renders the so-called good and right as being pretty fragile and easily broken. The holy shine, it seems, can dull quite easily.
Do you believe that? I sure don’t. Neither does Joel, or Pentecost, or Acts 10 since Holy Love doles out Spirit unequivocally without partiality. So, what’s with the xenophobia? This is what I think based on the stories. I’m not making an absolute statement, just sharing how the tellings unfold for me.
We humans can get scared easily. Often, we like power and if there’s a threat to our power … our autonomy … we run away or lash out. In the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament, the Jews were legitimately threatened a lot. There are multiple tellings where they were captured, colonized, banished, and exiled. In order to keep from being totally subsumed, they were to stay to themselves and not be swayed by the dominant culture. Even times when they were doing the capturing and colonizing, they were warned not to engage with or in other practices; culturally and religiously. This is again based on the fear that what they had gained, they might lose without even noticing.
In the Christian Bible we see the religious and political leaders pushing back against this new movement which was unafraid of being unclean and unconcerned with the letter of the law when it conflicted with the spirit of the law.
I believe that the tension between these two ideologies isn’t specific to our writings, but it’s a human tension. We want to be kind and loving. We want to be open and sharing. And we want to protect ourselves; be safe and keep our kin safe. So we set up rules about how and to whom we can be open, kind, loving, and sharing. Sometimes they help guide us, when we hold those rules loosely. Sometimes though, they become the thing itself, rather than the guide.
Celebrations like Pentecost and the teaching from Acts 10 remind us that we are alive and that our faith can be alive too. We don’t have to be contained in a box of fear and concern. Not only is our faith and personhood not fragile, neither is God’s unconditional love and companioning with us fragile. Peter and his friends found that out when they went to Cornelius’ house, the gentile and his family. Their faith wasn’t compromised a bit when God went further than they expected. In fact, it grew in a way they couldn’t have imagined.
Not only is today Pentecost, but it’s also Pride month. On this first Sunday of Pride I want to tell you a story of my coming back to faith and a faith community. I had a falling out with a church whose theology was corrective of my not being heteronormative. I don’t need to go into all of that. You know how those stories go. It was painful. I still held God close to my heart, but I was no longer convinced that I was a person of faith. I also decided that the giving of myself to a faith community was just not worth it. At the same time, I wasn’t particularly “proud” of being LGBTQ+; of my queerness.
I moved to Chicago and every year there was a Gay Pride Parade and celebration. Mostly, it was an inconvenience to me. You couldn’t get around that area of town at all, and other neighborhoods were effected too. But, after a few years I started to wonder what it was all about. Why were people so excited about the celebration? What did they have to be proud of? With a bit of an internal shield in place, I ventured in. It was fine. I can’t say I was impressed, although the people I was standing next to were fun and kind. They offered me water and a sandwich. They asked me questions to get to know me a little. My shield started to go down by increments.
I was starting to have fun, but I still didn’t feel proud. Then I saw a group of people marching with signs. The group was the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches. There were 30 churches represented and they took up two blocks worth with those marching. Sign after sign of churches marched by. Multiple churches from each denomination. UCC. Methodist. Lutheran. Baptist. Episcopal. MCC. and more. I started to weep. In the midst of all that a Pride parade is, with all the skin and music and dancing, there was this cohort of people who I never expected to be there.
It was a Pentecost moment for me. Suddenly I realized that everyone there was presenting themselves in their fullness. In a sense, I felt dared to not accept and love them. I felt dared to be proud, to accept and love myself.
I looked them up afterward and starting volunteering for them. I was making calls to our members asking folks to volunteer for Northalsted Market Days which is a weekend long live music street festival in Boystown, one of the Chicago gayborhoods. One of the calls I made answered this way – Chicago Theological Seminary, Admissions. For about 3 seconds I couldn’t speak. I was thinking about going to seminary and CTS was the preferred choice, but I was really dragging my feet. I was still on a journey to fully accept myself. Didn’t that have to come first?
I asked for the person I was calling for. She was the Admissions Director. When I got her on the phone I said I’d called on behalf of the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, but I probably had to have another conversation with her if she had time. She made time for both.
I ended up getting my Masters of Divinity from CTS and I ended up as Co-Moderator of the CCWC for several years, helping to organize, amoung other things, that cohort walking in the parade.
Since then I’ve been with Christians who are passionate about their faith, showing up for all kinds of important events and moments. The values of the God who crosses boundaries, who sprinkles the spirit liberally on all who desire, and whose spiritual expression comes through those humans in so many diverse ways, is what our faith is all about and why I get passionate to experience it, express it, and proclaim it in a prophetic way.
We need to remember Peter and those with him who were stunned that the Spirit was shared with those they didn’t expect it to be shared it. If we aren’t engaged with our faith in a way that we see evidence of the moving of God in places that surprise us and maybe even shock us, then we aren’t getting out enough. Even if we begin with shields up internally, we have to begin. There’s no end to the goodness of God. More than that, there is no end to the goodness of people. The writing in Joel and Acts, is letting us know that God wants to gift the spirit to anyone and everyone.
The Spirit’s expression is vast and varied. While the Acts stories of the spirit’s presence talk a lot about speaking in tongues, remember what was written in Joel. Your children will prophesy. They will speak truth to power. They will push against systemic violence and usher social justice into existence. Your elders shall dream dreams, and young ones shall see visions. You will all see beyond your current circumstances. You won’t be held hostage by the status quo which want to claim your souls, but instead you will imagine the world as it should be; full of goodness, alive with hope, and daring toward a future of inclusion and equality which you will create together. The result is that all will have enough and more than enough. Not a few on the top, but everyone. And no one will be put to shame. That’s another commitment from the prophetic word from Joel. Shame will dissolve. You will be cleared from that bondage. With that freedom you will be able to see far and wide.
May the Spirit move you the way you are created to be moved. May you find your passion, be released from your burdens, and be surprised by the Spirit’s presence in unlikely places.