When a people share the same language and speak to each other and listen to each other, then words can be a powerful instrument for healing and wholeness, for finding a place of deeper forgiving and forgiveness. The right words, combined with a spirit of gracious listening, well, they become more than words.
They take on marks of the sacred and the Holy Spirit. Through my words and your words, or my listening and your listening, the Spirit makes us One. The Spirit heals what was broken or neglected and in disrepair. The Spirit is a translator and speaks all languages and gives us the wisdom of a common tongue.
When a people do not share the same language, then words can cease to be tools for understanding and instead become weapons that only add to the distance between us. In attempting to communicate to you, I only create a greater chasm between us. I am not getting through. My words are pushing you away while adding to the hurt.
When you and I understand each other and can speak to each other and can listen and learn from each other, then our hearts also grow close to each other. Like Jesus’ reminder this morning, the heart of the believer is an open heart, with living water flowing from it.
Now I realize in the language of modern medicine, a leaky heart valve is not a good thing and you should call your doctor now. But as believers who follow in the Way of Jesus, our hearts, our open hearts, are also leaking hearts, with water that overflows from my personal life into the communal life of our neighborhoods and parishes and country and world.
You and I are to be leaking heart Christians.
This past week has been a hard week.
At the beginning of the week, we passed the threshold of 100,000 deaths in the United States of America from COVID19. We have seen video images of the final minutes of George Floyd’s life and are faced again with the knowledge that we live both with the invisible virus of COVID 19 and the enduring virus of racism in a country that still says it believes in freedom and liberty and justice for all.
We pray for those seeking to find a vaccine for COVID 19. We desperately hope they will find that vaccine in record time.
We should also pray for the vaccine to cure racism. For centuries in this country, we have had moments when we believed we found it and we were all cured. Then, racism spikes again, and we realize we have only treated the symptoms and not truly found the healing medicine that would allow us to go deeper into the wound of racism and clean out all the infection and repair all that is distorted by the disease.
This past week has been a hard week.
At the end of the week, the news was not global or national. The news was local. The St. John’s community received word of the death of Dr. Frank Gray. So, those hearts here which are called to be open and flowing with living water, well, they are also broken open this day, grieving and shedding tears of sorrow and loss.
This past week has been a hard week.
So, thank God it is Sunday. Thank God it is Pentecost.
Thank God Jesus is the Word that can translate and create a new place where all of us who speak different languages and live in different worlds, through the Spirit, can find a common ground and learn and listen and speak with a new tongue.
Speaking a new language and being able to understand a new language, well, in the Acts of the Apostles that ability came to the people present in an instant. In record time, a diverse people possessed a mastery of languages and found common ground. The Spirit made them one.
The disciples were not filled with breakfast beer. The disciples had been given the gift of many tongues in order to communicate God’s story, which is one story for all people. It is a story for the sons and the daughters. It is a story for the old and the young. It is a story for the free and the enslaved.
It is a story, finally, of healing comfort, but a comfort that only arrives with change. Deep change.
How deep? The kind of deep that causes the sun to turn dark, the moon to go bloody and a smoky mist upon the land. That is an unnerving image. It is an image of a changing, disrupted world.
But the vision of the prophet Joel is not intended to make us afraid. It is intended to get our attention. There are things we need to attend to. We need to find common ground and learn a common language. We need to listen. To listen more deeply.
As a bishop, I have many opportunities to speak, to preach, to share a word. In this time, I still need to do that. But I also need to listen, especially to those who have no help, who have no advocate. Jesus cries out to those who are thirsty and offers them a drink. He can see, when we so often do not, those who have no help.
When we tell the story of Pentecost, we tell a story of divided tongues, as flames, descending upon our heads. This year, perhaps, the more important image of Pentecost is of living waters offered to the thirsty, to those who have lost hope, whose hearts have grown cold and hard and set against each other. This is not a time for false hope. This is a time to realize, for many of us, hope has dried up and is withering. The waters of Pentecost are arriving just in time, to bring back hope from the brink.
As a follower of Jesus, as a believer, as one whose heart is more open than closed, I remain an optimist about the American experiment. I remain an optimist that God’s Spirit has not brought us here, only to abandon us now.
If the sun turns dark and the moon goes bloody, we do not have to consider that this might be the End. Rather, we know what that sign means. God is still moving through the land.
God has not left us. God, however, does plan to change us, to take us from a divided place to a common place. The Spirit is to teach us a new language, to give us a new tongue, to be patient with us as we learn a deeper way of listening, as we learn how to tell and hear the whole truth and nothing but truth.
This past week has been a hard week. We need help. We cannot do this without help.
Unlike the Pentecost of Acts, this transformation we need as the people of God will not take place in an instant. It will take time for us to learn this new language. It will take time to learn to listen more deeply. It will take time to make amends and set things right.
So, thank God it is Sunday. Thank God it is Pentecost. The Spirit is still here, still descending upon us. And we are in a house. A house of prayer for all people.
All people. There is room in this house for more. There is always room for more.
Today, we can begin with words. Words of lament. Words from the ancient psalms, asking God to heal what remains broken in our land. We ask the Spirit to breathe upon us, to change us, to move us, to stay with us until all who have a voice have been heard.
The miracle of Pentecost was that all who were present heard God’s story in their native tongue. And in hearing that story, they saw that they were included in that story.
God’s story is not for one tribe. God’s story is for all that God has made. God has made us all.
Come Holy Spirit and heal us and give us the courage and the humility to sit together and listen, with hearts open, turned towards each other. May living waters renew our land.
Let us be found worthy of the ideals of this nation. And let the Church be a house of prayer for all, all, all people.