Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Glorious Conspiracy: A Sermon for the Day of Pentecost

Scripture can be found here...

You know what it’s like. A whisper in your ear. A story passed along from one to another, or maybe a plan.

Maybe a wonderful plan, a plan for a birthday party, let’s say. A plan for what time to get her there, and how to get her into the room, and who will be waiting… the decorations, the music, the streamers! The shout of “Surprise!” and the laughter and the applause.

It all starts with that whisper in the ear. It’s a lovely conspiracy.

Of course, that word, “conspiracy,” has its negative overtones. Those are the meanings we’re more familiar with. “Conspiracy theorists” are crackpots, we tend to believe, who claim everything from the notion that Apollo 11 never really landed on the moon to the conviction that the CIA is monitoring them through the fillings in their teeth. In the movie “Conspiracy Theory,” Mel Gibson played a cab driver, suffering from paranoia, who believed that his apartment was bugged and that guys in black helicopters were going to come and take him away and torture him. Of course, when he actually becomes the target of the black helicopter guys, he has to figure out which one of his crackpot theories was on target.

That word, conspiracy. It sounds dangerous. But do we know what that word really means? It’s about breath. It means, “breathing together,” in the way that you do when… you whisper with someone, whether your whispers have to do with bringing down governments or throwing wonderful celebrations.

So now imagine with me what it was like to be among the friends and followers of Jesus…and family too. His mom was there, we are given to understand, in that room upstairs, hidden away from the prying eyes of those who imagined conspiracies in them. Imagine them whispering together in those rooms. “On Pentecost they gathered,” we sang a few minutes ago, “quite early in the day. A band of Christ’s disciples, to worship, sing and pray.”

And it is very likely that the friends and followers of Jesus in that upper room were participating in nothing either more or less dangerous than a bible study. Pentecost was the Greek name for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a festival just observed this past week. It commemorates God’s gift of the law to the people. The customary way to celebrate Shavuot is to study Torah, all night long.

And that is how I imagine Jesus’ friends, whispering together, breathing together. And their whispering was all about Jesus. What did it all mean? they wondered as they pored over the scriptures together, their breathed questions causing the candles to flicker. Was Jesus God’s prophet? they whispered to one another, as this verse and then that one was lifted out of scripture. Was heGod’s anointed one, God’s messiah?

They remembered when he stood in the synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted..”

They remembered when he taught them the greatest commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your stength; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And then they remembered a story he told them that burst open their tiny and limited notions of who their neighbor was forever.

And on and on it went like that, all night. Whispering together his words. Breathing in wonder at his miracles. Leaning together in awe-struck silence at his rising, his appearing to them, their recognizing him on the road and at their tables.

And suddenly, it was not they alone who were breathing, but the entire world began to breathe with them: the blowing, panting Spirit of God blew through the room and through every one of their hearts and bodies, extinguishing the small flames of the candles, and kindling the flames in their heads and hearts.  And suddenly their small conspiracy of quiet wondering and waiting became a glorious and noisy one that tumbled out into the streets and took a deep, cleansing breath as the church was pushed out into the world, newborn.

And the chief action of the breath of God that day, the hard and groaning labor of the Spirit was understanding. It was communication.

The friends and followers of Jesus poured out of that room into a crowded Jerusalem filled with Jews from all over the world. They were there for Shavuot, the Pentecost festival. And they had come from Mesopotamia and Elam, and from Judea and Egypt, and from Libya and Rome. They were from distant places with disparate languages, which the largely illiterate crew of Jesus could not hope to know.

But they spoke anyway. They stood up and they told about Jesus. They told what they knew. Peter said no, we are not drunk, and yes, you are hearing words from God, because

In the last days it will be, God declares,
… 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. Acts 2:17-18

And even though Jesus’ friends and followers from Galilee are not language scholars, and even though most of them probably can’t even read or write, what they say is heard, and what they proclaim is understood. The gift of the Holy Spirit is that our breath can be used to unite us with others through our words. The gift that brings to birth the church of Jesus Christ is the ability to give testimony to one another, that the Lord is risen indeed, and our rising hearts and voices bear witness.

The Spirit blows and breathes through us still, in our gentle conspiracies of compassion and commitment. In three different gatherings this week people of this congregation discussed how to support those who are living with illness, how to prepare to travel to another state to rebuild homes and lives damaged by hurricane winds, and how best to use our resources to care for our beautiful sanctuary.

The Spirit continues to blow and breathe through us this very moment, as seven people take the step of uniting themselves to this congregation through the words they will breathe and the promises they will make.

The Spirit has given us this gift, the gift of God’s breath, breathed in and through every one of us as we speak and listen to one another.

You know what it’s like. A whisper in your ear. A story passed along from one to another, or maybe a plan. We are part of this glorious conspiracy, breathed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are invited to spill out into our streets and neighborhoods, but maybe we begin in our own homes and workplaces.  We are challenged to find those least likely to understand us, but maybe we start with those with whom we seem always to have misunderstandings and fretful communication. We are inspired to breathe with one another the old and ever-new story of Jesus and his love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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