“Witnessing the Spirit” by Jacqie Wallen

May 23, 2021

“Pentecost” watercolor by Jacqie Wallen

I’m going to tell you a story I told once before, once before, quite a few years ago, when I preached on Pentecost.  When I was in college, I had a Pentecost-like experience. I was at a party.  It was late at night and I had not slept at all the night before.  I had been up all night writing a paper and I had that combination of jitters and exhaustion you get when you’ve stayed up all night with the help of amphetamines.  I’d also had drunk a lot of beer at the party so I was a little drunk, perhaps even on the edge of being hallucinatory because of the combination of beer and residual speed.  I was lying on the floor with my bookbag under my head, half awake and half asleep.  Some friends of mine were playing guitars and banjos and singing.  They sang the song “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” the song we just heard. As I listened to the song, I was in such an alternative reality that it felt as if the words were true, as if all of the world’s leaders really had gotten together in a big room and put an end to war.  I was celebrating with the people in the streets below, dancing round and round.  I can’t tell you how much joy I felt.  It only lasted a moment, though, and then I realized that it was just a song—it hadn’t really happened.  I was crushed—what a disappointment!  But I’d had that taste of heaven.  I had experienced the end of war.  And I have never forgotten how that felt.

Though I have preached on Pentecost Sunday before, I wasn’t aware until this year that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was in the upper room on Pentecost, along with Mary Magdalene and many other women who had been followers of Jesus since the beginning and went on to witness for him after Pentecost.  But it was the presence of his mother that grabbed me the most.  Imagine what mixed feelings she must have had that day.  Incredible sadness mixed with great joy. As a mother who has also lost a grown son, I find that thinking about Mary’s pain triggers my own. I share that with her.

But it is joy, or even ecstasy, that stands out on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes down on them in the form of tongues of flame.  People often talk about Pentecost as if the disciples were babbling frantically in a language that was foreign to them.  But that’s not really what happened.  What happened was much more wonderful.  Many different languages were spoken in Palestine in Jesus’ time, notably Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and some Latin, though there were many others.  Different ethnic and cultural groups spoke different languages and there were political tensions among the groups.  People looked down on groups other than their own. On Pentecost, people were speaking in their own language but suddenly they could understand the others, too.  They could hear what people different from them were saying.  And the apostles were probably remembering the words Jesus spoke at the time of his ascension as reported in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”

At Seekers, we pray for the commitment to grow together, joyfully sharing our gifts with others in our church and in the wider world.  We ask for the strength and discipline to care for every part of creation, to foster justice, to be in solidarity with those in need, and to work to end all war and violence and discord.  On Pentecost, Christ was no longer on earth, but after his resurrection and before his ascension, he asked his followers to go out and witness to his truth, to be his body on earth.  This is something we try to do at Seekers.

I would like to read the wonderful poem, “Christ has no body but yours,” attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, which describes how to be the body of Christ, how to be a witness:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

To what do we need to witness today? While I was working on this sermon, the white, now ex-policeman, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts of murder for killing George Floyd, a Black man. People in Minneapolis were “dancing round and round” in the streets below.  It reminded me of my “Strangest Dream” vision and of the upper room on Pentecost.  But it was great joy mixed with tremendous sadness and loss, like Pentecost.  And the mother theme is there, too.  Remember that in his last moments, George Floyd called out for his mother.

At Seekers, we act as witnesses in many ways.  Here’s one.  Since Floyd’s murder, Seekers have been holding a weekly vigil in support of Black Lives Matter in particular, and racial and ethnic justice in general.  We hold our one-hour vigil in front of Seekers Church on Friday evenings, carrying signs and accompanied by a musical background of stirring peace and justice songs assembled by John Morris. It is a wonderful opportunity to show up for racial justice and experience unity as passing drivers and pedestrians of all races and ethnicities honk, wave, and raise fists.  This witnessing brings us much joy, though at the same time we mourn the harm done to so many by the continuing racial and ethnic violence and injustice.  I think it also gives those who pass by much joy, though they also mourn.  The unity that we all experience is much like the unity of diverse groups in the upper room on Pentecost, or the people in the streets below in the song, “The Strangest Dream.”.

Brenda Seat recently posted on Facebook an excerpt from a book by John Pavlovitz titled If Your Church is Silent About Racism—You Should Leave it.  He says:

If you’re a member of a predominately white church or led by a white minister, and the leaders there don’t specifically reference the racism on display right now and push back hard against it—you should ask them why they aren’t. Ask them directly, and if you aren’t satisfied with their answer, seriously consider leaving then and there. This may be your greatest spiritual declaration, the most concrete affirmation of your beliefs that you’ll ever make.

It brings me such happiness to know that I belong to a church that witnesses for peace and justice. 

Before I end, I would like to say something about the women in the upper room on Pentecost.  We don’t usually hear much about the women who followed Jesus, but the author of the book of Acts explicitly acknowledges them that day, saying that both the men and the women will prophesy. That’s prophesy spelled with an s, not a c, and it means to speak with divine inspiration or to give instruction in religious matters, not just to predict the future.  This is another special feature of Seekers Church.  People speak and preach with equal authority, regardless of gender.  And, I want to add, this is true regardless of their gender designation at birth.

I would like to conclude with a prayer written by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior:

O God, we thank you for the fact that you have inspired men and women in all nations and in all cultures. We call you different names: some call you Allah; some call you Elohim; some call you Jehovah; some call you Brahma; some call you the Unmoved Mover. But we know that these are all names for one and the same God. Grant that we will follow you and become so committed to your way and your kingdom that we will be able to establish in our lives and in this world a brother and sisterhood, that we will be able to establish here a kingdom of understanding, where men and women will live together as brothers and sisters and respect the dignity and worth of every human being. In the name and spirit of Jesus. Amen.

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