Sermon for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Dan Anderson-Little (my husband!) as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Garland, Texas on Sunday, June 5, 2022, 4:00 pm on Acts 2:1-13. This is a second and different sermon on the Pentecost story (although a similar beginning it diverges from there!)
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” After worshipping by video and on Zoom during the pandemic, just being all together in one place is a great place to start. But then the disciples don’t do much. Jesus has ascended on a cloud up into the heavens, so they go to Jerusalem, devoting themselves to prayer. They elect Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. Things start out "decently and in good order!" But nine days go by and nothing. This book is the Acts of the Apostles, and it starts out with no acts, no actions, no movement, no testimony, no preaching, no witnessing, no sharing about their amazing experiences of the resurrected Jesus!
The reality is that the disciples have never felt more isolated and alone.
• They have gone through so much trauma and grief—Jesus’ violent death was bad enough. But then to have him back again in such a miraculous way after his resurrection—hoping he would stay—only to have him leave again was truly unbearable. Loneliness of grief hung in the air.
• The threat of Rome’s oppression pressed in around them—they could still be victims of unpredictable violence just as Jesus was. Division and fear clung to their prayers.
• Jesus healed their family members and so many in their community. They too, had some success with that, but not like Jesus—what about the illnesses they could not heal? Anxiety huddled in the room.
• They were separated from their larger community. The Pentecost harvest festival 50 days after Passover is happening right there—people from the whole region, and around the world are on the doorstep—what an ideal opportunity to talk about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but the disciples are enclosed and silent. Isolation drove them apart from their community.
Paralyzed from the overwhelming nature of their fragmented, isolating experiences, the disciples could come together to pray and then, nothing. But “nothing” is not in God’s plan that Pentecost day when the whole world is gathered together to celebrate the harvest and the abundance of creation! “Nothing” is not an acceptable outcome for the God who has power over sin, death, and the devil! “Nothing” is not going to work when Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to make his disciples witnesses to the ends of the earth!
So, God turned “nothing” into “something” with the rush of a mighty wind filling the house where the disciples are sitting. The Holy Spirit lights up the house in a technicolor fire of red, orange and yellow flames that land on each of the disciples, giving them the gift of language and culture and power to speak to each person of every single nation gathered around them. With a swift woosh of the fiery Holy Spirit, the disciples move from
• paralyzed to powerful
• form sedentary to spirit-filled
• from worried to worldly
• form praying to preaching
• from isolated to inviting
The Holy Spirit enables the disciples to speak in the native language of every nation living and gathered in Jerusalem—Parthians and Medes, Elamites and Asians, Libyans and Egyptians, Cameroonians and Pakistanis, Hispanics, and Nigerians. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ wants every single person to hear of God’s deeds of power through their own culture and language.
Everyone who hears God’s deeds of power spoken to them in their own language marvels in amazement wondering, “what does this mean?” It means that rather than fear, isolation and separation, the primary mark and character of the Pentecost church is the “scandal of belonging.”
Everyone belongs—every culture, every language, every nation, and every person that God has made belongs to Christ through the power of the Spirit. This is not the belonging of imperialism, of domination, of being white-washed or of having your culture or your language or your history erased. The history of the Western church has done enough of that. For this we repent and turn back toward the fire of the first Pentecost and the call that every language of every nation is a belonging of full identity, a belonging of full culture, a belonging of full inclusion, a belonging of full diversity.
The Holy Spirit’s “scandal of belonging” continues through Acts and into the missionary outreach of the early church, fulfilling Joel’s vision:
• We hear this fiery Spirit in Peter’s vision of all unclean animals being declared clean as he realizes the Holy Spirit falls on Gentiles as well as the Jews—because who are we to hinder God?
• Then the “scandal of belonging” includes the Ethiopian Eunuch, and female leaders in the church like Lydia, and Prisca.
• The scandal of belonging includes youth, like Timothy, and the elderly like Timothy’s grandmother, Lois.
The fiery church birthed at Pentecost is not one of homogeneity—but of hearing God’s deeds of power as they are experienced through each culture, each language, each person in their particularity, and shared for the upbuilding of our community and discipleship in Christ.
First Presbyterian church of Garland, you are a leader and model for us in living out this Pentecost church and the true vision of belonging that the fire of the Holy Spirit holds out for all of us.
• We need to hear about God’s deeds of power in Nigerian experience,
• We need to listen to the testimonies of Jesus from Cameroonians,
• We need to learn what it means to be a Jesus-follower to a Pakistani, a minority faith in Pakistan,
• We can learn from the God-sightings of the Anglo members who have been here at First Pres Garland for years,
• We get to grow from the mission of Hispanic members and their prayers for Spanish-speaking outreach.
• And we are blessed by the 17(!) youth commissioned today for their mission trip!
When we embody this Pentecost church where nations, languages, cultures and people of all ages and abilities are valued, and we build community together—we grow such strong, healthy disciples of Jesus Christ for the kingdom of God. First, it deepens everyone’s walk with Jesus. As we listen to the witness of each other’s faith and culture, our own amazement at God’s deeds of power grows, giving us hope and courage for what the flame of the Holy Spirit can do in our own lives and communities!
Second, when we refuse to isolate as a homogeneous congregation, and instead, grow to embody the Pentecost church, we call individuals to do the same in their own lives. We help teach people how to build diverse relationships, and we provide opportunities for new and deeper community. This means we can help prevent the kind of loneliness that can lead to illness, rigid thinking and isolation, and even the tendency toward violence as a solution to conflict.
Third, when we embody the Pentecost church of radical belonging, we all learn that our way is not the only way. In diverse community the Spirit of Christ tames our ego and our inward focus. It’s about WE and not just about ME--then we bring these spiritual gifts into all areas of our lives as the light of Christ and the fire of the Spirit, influencing our workplaces and neighborhoods, spreading the message of the blessing of inclusion.
Finally, like the healthy body of Christ the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 with all the different parts of the body working together, the Pentecost church of diversity builds antibodies against the diseases of racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
The Pentecost church of radical belonging holds out a vision that Sunday morning does not need to be one of the most segregated hours in America! Rather, it enables us to lean into one another, to deeply listen, and to discover and be amazed by God’s deeds of power in someone else’s experience, and culture, and gifts. Now is the time that our nation needs the Pentecost church to rise up and witness to the “scandal of belonging” that is burning in us and in our church for the sake of the world that God so loves, and for which Christ died and rose again.
So, with a renewed, Pentecost Spirit,
• we want to join the dance in the African offering,
• and we want to sing the Pakistani Psalms
• and we want to pray for Hispanic outreach,
• and we want to build a church that embodies the Pentecost fire—
so that one day, every nation and culture belonging to one another, and worshipping together will no longer be a scandal, or surprise. And until that day the Pentecost Spirit is our fire, the Pentecost Spirit is our power, the Pentecost Spirit is our desire, the Pentecost Spirit is our vision--to be part of the amazing deeds that God can do through all of us together.
First Presbyterian Church of Garland, the Holy Spirit gives you the power—with celebration, and gratitude—not only to be this Pentecost church, but to witness to the world, that you already are this Pentecost church—for we need your firelight to show us the way.