Feast of the Pentecost
Readings can be found here (note, I used the Genesis/Acts/John option)
She had not yet decided, whether to use her powers for good or for evil.
I’m sure many of you have seen the card. A darling child, curls across the forehead, a single finger pressed to the cheek, and a caption.
“She had not yet decided whether to use her powers for good or for evil.”
Meant as wry quip, this card names some truths that we must address.
Each of us has power.
And, it is up to us, to discern how we will use that power.
When our youth participate in the Rite 13 liturgy, we name this. It is part of the covenant they are making with this community and the communities with which they will intersect as they move out into the world.
“it is given to you to share God's power of creation. Human beings, because they are made in God's image, are the only creatures on earth who can choose how to use their creative power—not only to create new life, but also to shape the world according to God's purpose. God calls us to use this gift to build and not to destroy. Are you aware of God's gift to you and the challenge to use it wisely?”
To build and not to destroy.
We have power. And, it is vital that we recognize and out of that recognition recognize our own capacity to transform the world.
This is not merely a pie in the sky, romanticized, liberal notion—the kind of notion that jaded folk might scoff at. Rather, it is a claiming of what we can do with the gifts of God.
And, if we don’t claim this creative gift, what and who fills the space left behind?
If we don’t decide how we each will use our power, it is quite likely that others will decide for us. And, their choosing may in fact be counter to God’s call to creation. That is the point of this reading from Genesis. Scripture is pointing to a time when humanities actions were counter to the purposes of God. Calvin, not often quoted in this context at St. Clement’s, notes that “ as soon as mortals, forgetful of themselves, are inflated above measure, it is certain that, like the giants, they wage war with God.”
This passage, is not just some mythic story rooted in the desire to explain the diversity of languages and cultures, it is a warning. A warning that our actions in this world have consequences—consequences that can so swiftly spin beyond our control.
When I worked at Rainbow Babies and Children’s hospital, there were times when a teenager would be admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit because of the consequences of what seemed an innocuous action, an exercise of power and a claiming of independence that had not yet been granted, had spun dangerously out of control. The beyond curfew that had turned into an inebriated walk along the train track. A dare gone terribly wrong. A simple prank.
And, a family gathers at bedside.
I bring this down to the individual and personal level in hopes of enhancing our own understanding. The use and abuse of power can have deep and lasting consequences.
What we say and do matters—it matters because we are powerful. And, in our power is the hope that we will use it to change the course of creation. To take a scattered people and unite it in common cause. Our longing to participate in the healing of creation is motivation for unity. Our longing to repair the brokenness becomes, with God’s grace, the first step towards actions which will redeem us all.
“God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
And, so this day of Pentecost is a day in which we are asked to own the power that has been given to us. To see the gift of the Spirit and name it and claim it. And to use this gift for goodness. And by goodness, I don’t mean some trite thing of rainbows, puppies and unicorns. But rather the goodness that challenges us beyond ourselves and advocates for those whose power has been systematically taken from them. Those who have been silenced by the very structures we participate in. The goodness that sees a wounded creation and seeks to discern how we might be part of the healing.
So, we mark this day as the birthday of the church. But, more broadly, it is the birthday of our calling as the people of God to carry the light of Christ into the world.
This birthday calls us to a different way of being.
In a letter to the congregation, written as we approached Pentecost in 2014, I wrote
“As we approach the celebration of Pentecost and Godʼs gift of the Spirit into the world, I find myself reflecting on the truth that Christʼs death is not the end of the story. Nor, is the resurrection the end of the story.
What we do in light of the resurrection is the continuation of the story.”
Pentecost is a day in which a gift of power is given. But, it is also the day in which we are asked to remember that it is up to us as to how we will use that gift. And while I have focused on the scattering of Babel and the gift of the Spirit’s inbreaking into all humanity…the Gospel points us towards how our use of this gift might further the purpose of God in creation.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
The Spirit is one of power, but it is also one of peace. It is no surprise that one of the symbols of the Spirit with which we are most familiar is also a symbol of peace. The dove is aloft and as we gaze upwards, we must also gaze outwards and discern where this Spirit of peace will lead us.
Will it be a peace grounded in oppressing and silencing the opposition? Will it be akin to the Pax Romana—in which peace is enforced through bondage? Will it be a peace reliant upon weapons of mass destruction for its enforcement? Will our peace rely on the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few? Will our peace compel by force?
Or will the peace we proclaim be grounded in liberation? In the creative and generative? Will the peace we proclaim be one in which love for our enemies transforms them and ourselves? Will it be a peace rooted in compulsion, or a peace rooted in grace? Or a peace that liberates and accepts the marginalized and the broken.
A battlefield after the battle could be described as peaceful, but the battle does not lead to new life. The temptation we humans face is to make peace through violence—this peace is no peace. Christ offers a new way of peace, one in which power is not used to destroy but to find a path to unity that eliminates the need for violence.
George Herbert, in his volume of poetry, “The Temple” wrote a poem simply entitled “Peace”
SWeet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No:
Go seek elsewhere.
I did; and going did a rainbow note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peaces coat:
I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.
Then went I to a garden, and did spy
A gallant flower,
The Crown Imperiall:1 sure, said I,
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
What show’d so well.
At length I met a rev’rend good old man,
Whom when of Peace
I did demand, he thus began:
There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
Of flock and fold.
He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat:
Which many wondring at, got some of those
To plant and set.
It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth:
For they that taste it do rehearse,
That vertue lies therein,
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sinne.
Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue,
Is onely there.
And, with this, the questions lie.
Will we plant and set this way of peace? Will we use our power for good or for evil?