Day of Pentecost
June 5, 2022
I grew up as a suburban kid in the classic American suburb. Flower Mound, Texas. Once way out in the country, Dallas-Fort Worth grew up around that little town. And when my parents moved me and my sister from Los Angeles, Flower Mound made all the sense in the world. Good schools. Nice houses. You get the drill. I’m not making a value statement or a judgment here, but I was awfully sheltered in my little bubble in Flower Mound.
The University of Texas at Austin, then, was a shock to my suburban framework. I learned a lot, and I had to learn quickly. I had classes with Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Buddhists. I had a Bible professor who wasn’t a believer. I had a geology professor who was a devout Christian. I wasn’t a fish out of water; no, I was a suburban fish learning to swim in a pluralistic pond.
But of course, we all did worship together. All those people at UT, all those professors, all those students of no religion and all religions, we all did worship together. We worshiped every other Saturday at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. Think of it – college football is the American religion, binding together all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations. We have clergy and disciples, we have cathedral and denominations, we have vestments and colors, we have hymns, and saints, and pledge campaigns.
And every other Saturday at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium is a type of Pentecost; it is a shadow of what we celebrate here today. The story from the Acts of the Apostles is that those first disciples were praying together in Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus when the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They start preaching and praying and rejoicing. Their love, their joy, is so real and so palpable that other people from all over the world decide to join their Jesus movement – “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.” In Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, all the old identities are remade. In Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus have a new identity as followers of Jesus. This is now who they are. This is community. A once diverse hodge-podge of random people called together for one common purpose. Living with one shared identity. At the tower of Babel, the peoples of the earth had been separated, driven apart, but here, in the power of Pentecost, they are brought back together under Jesus Christ. A true community.
This, I think, is what the Athletic Department at the University of Texas wants us to feel when we put on our burnt orange and put up our Hook ‘ems. I’m sure that they want us to feel as if we belong, as if that community is the only community worth belonging to. As I’m sure they do in College Station, Lubbock, and Waco. As I’m sure they do in corporate boardrooms across the country. As I’m sure they do at the Democratic and Republican Party headquarters. See, the institutions of this world want us to believe that they and they alone have the power to shape identity and community. Whenever we show up to one of their events or games, or when we buy their stuff, they want us to feel that power of Pentecost. They want us to buy in, to sign up for their brand of tribalism, they want us to feel a part of them and anyone else who goes along with it. But what we have learned, and what we are still learning, is that those institutions are but a mockery of the community that was forged on that Pentecost morning two thousand years ago.
Now, I’m not saying that just because the Church is the Church that we are free from pettiness, tribalism, and all the worst excesses of the world. Of course we aren’t. But we read this story of Pentecost over and over again to remind us of what true community ought to look at, not the shadow communities offered up to us by the world. Because I tell you, when the Longhorns lose, when they stop making that product you love, when your candidate doesn’t get elected, that community you thought you had, won’t be there anymore. They will have taken whatever they could get from you and then they will move along to the next target demographic. Those athletic departments and companies and parties don’t care about communities, they care about creating a quick and easy substitute that will only last for a season or an election cycle.
I tell you, the Church needs to be different. And already the Church is different. Just think of it, the Church is one of the last places of real inter-generational community left in the world. Today, in this Church, we will have people born in the 1930s and in the 2020s. In one place. Equal in the eyes of God. I think about this with my own family, and how fortunate we have been to raise a child in a community that spans four generations. See, the children of this church have the privilege to learn wisdom from people who have lived. They get to learn how to be a Christian from people who have lived as Christians. The shoe goes on the other foot, too. The elders of the church have the responsibility to set a good example for the children of this church. This is what community is supposed to look like. A generous give and take among people who would have no other reason to be together in the same room other than Jesus. That’s why I’ve always been hesitant to create programs or groups just for this set of people or just for that set of people. Because then we’re doing what the world does – dividing us out and splitting us out. The true power of Pentecost, the true power of Christian community is that we are together.
But don’t take it from my Pentecost sermon, take it from Saint Peter’s Pentecost sermon. He says, “In the last days it will be, 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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” So here at Trinity, to those of you on the younger side of things, give thanks to God that you have the wisdom of your elders in the room. Take that as a gift from God. They have lived what you are living through, and you can learn from them. To those of you on the more experienced side of things, give thanks to God that you are in a place where you can help raise up the next generation of Christians. Listen to this. All the studies show that if a child has meaningful relationships with five adults in their church growing up, that child is more likely to be a Christian when they’re older. Think about that – it’s not if the church has a rock band, it’s not if the church has a great youth group, it’s not if the church has other kids their age – it’s if five adults bothered to get to know to know those random kids in the pews. It’s if we bothered to live in a community with each other. This is both the promise and the call at Pentecost.
So in a way, every Sunday is Pentecost for us. A community drawn together for no other reason than to love God and love our neighbors. This is what your favorite sports team, or corporate brand, or political party will never be able to do for you. They want your life, your money, your souls for themselves. But we are drawn together in the power of the Spirit, despite our differences in age, in experience, in place of life, to learn and grow from each other and to praise God with each other.
I know, I know, I’m disrupting that old framework. But as we look around, I think that old framework isn’t doing us much good anyway. That is painfully obvious, as the agonized screams of so many continue to haunt our newspapers and television screams. This is our opportunity, as the Church of God, to stand out in that crowd and to show a different way of being. This is our time to come alongside those lonely and isolated people crying out for help. It is our time to show the world that real community with real diversity is possible, and that it cannot be purchased or manufactured. The world might think we’re nuts for saying that, just as some in the crowd thought the disciples on that first Pentecost were drunk. But this must be our time. The horror, the pain, the violence is just too great for us to not do anything. This is our time, this Pentecost is our time to show the world that a gathering of disparate people can and should be able to live together. We can and should show the world that a life in community, a life with each other is far more beautiful, far more loving, far more life-giving than anything they can offer us. To make the world a better place, to help bring heaven to earth, to bring about that peace and love for which we long, there is but one thing to do. Commit to the Church. Commit to Jesus. This is our time to put away all the old frameworks, to swim in new waters, and to live with the Holy Spirit.