All Means All

(Sermon given at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waldorf, MD May 31, 2020)

In the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the celebration of Pentecost! Were we all meeting together in the church, there would be balloons and streamers. We would all be wearing our colors of red, orange, and yellow. I would be wearing “that awful red watch” that Vicky just hates. I even bought a pair of red sneakers this winter off a sale rack to wear for this day.

We would be processing into the church with the hymn, “Hail Thee Festival Day” playing loudly on the organ as we all sang with the music. There would be the normal parts of our liturgy; the Opening Acclamation, the Gloria, and the Collect we pray and sing together at the beginning of the liturgy.

Then we would hear the story of Pentecost from the Acts of the Apostles, what is often described as the story of the birth of the church. Luke’s account of Pentecost provides  a theological basis for the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Pentecost, the “fiftieth day” after Passover, was a harvest celebration associated with the covenant renewal. 

I do so like this story that we heard read this morning. The story itself is exciting and inspirational and at the same time, it evokes questions of trying to understand what is happening. There are 3 primary themes to the story as it is written in the scripture.

  • Power of God
  • Diverse community gathered together
  • Level-headed thinking

First, where do we find the power of God:

“…a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind…”

“Divided tongues of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

“…we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

The description of a wide and diverse community:

“They were all together in one place.”

“Parthians, Medes(meeds), Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia(fridgia) and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs…

The level-headed thinking in the midst of some quite bizarre and hard-to-believe things that happen in the words we hear Peter say.

“Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed these are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet, Joel:”

“…God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…”

“…sons and daughters shall prophesy…”

“…young men shall see visions…”

“…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.”

“Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

It would be easy to go on with this story about the birth of the church. I could cite scholars and give you some wonderful insight and knowledge that has been shared throughout history about Pentecost.

I could have done that easily enough and ignored everything else that has taken place this week. But, to do that and ignore the events of racism from the week would be wrong and contrary to my ordination vows and the baptismal vows we all share.

The week started with the news of a birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, an African-American man in Central Park who asked a woman to observe the law and put the leash in her hand on her dog. This simple request to the dog-walker, Amy Cooper, resulted in her becoming argumentative and calling 911 and reporting an “African American man threatening me” that she screamed into the phone. 

A couple of days later, in Minneapolis, George Floyd, an African-American man spent $20 in a deli. The bill turned out to be counterfeit and a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes while he pled for his life, suffocated, and died.

Ahmaud Arbery, also African-American, was out jogging when he was chased down, shot and killed in Glynn County, GA

Breonna Taylor was asleep in her bed when police shot and killed her on a raid to her apartment in Louisville, KY. 

Three black men tried to use the gym in the office building they in fact owned. A white man called the police on them for trespassing.

An American family, originally from the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico celebrated Memorial Day in a Florida public park this past week and was subject to a white woman telling them to turn off their offensive music and go away so she could enjoy the park and not have to listen to their trash.

CNN Reporter Omar Jemenez, of black and latino heritage was arrested Friday morning while on live TV reporting on the protests in Minneapolis along with his producer and camera crew. His white colleague and camera crew standing a couple of hundred feet away were left alone.

In Bethesda, MD earlier this week, a black man parked his car to pick up bagels from a local bagel shop and a white man using racial slurs told him to go back to where he came from and called the police.

Tragically, I could go on and on.

As I kept up with all of this during the week, I read this statement on Twitter made by an African-American man, Robert Monson, as he characterized his feelings through his own tears, after the death of George Floyd. I share it with you with his permission:

“Tomorrow morning, all across this nation, black men and women will wake up, put on clothes, feed their children, and push through fear and depression and be brave even with the news of this past week.

I am overwhelmed with that.”

I take you back to our reading from Acts. There is another theme that we did not discuss in our initial conversation about the words of the reading and it is a strong message to us.

Listen as I read these words again.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

“…we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

They were all together in one place.”

“Parthians, Medes, Elamites, 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…

Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed these are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet, Joel:”

“…God declares, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…”

“…sons and daughters shall prophesy…”

“…young men shall see visions…”

“…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.”

“Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Do you hear what this reading is telling us?

Everyone.
All of them.
Men and women.
Sons and daughters.
Young and old.

All Means All.

Where are the words of exclusion or qualification as to who is worthy? There are none.

There were people from 18 named geographical areas and ethnicities in the story of Pentecost. It was a community of many. There was no exclusion or profiling.

God’s message was clear. All means all.
Jesus said over and over again. Love each other.

Pentecost was a harvest celebration associated with the covenant renewal. 

It is time that we must call ourselves to a covenant renewal of love. It is the time for us to dedicate ourselves to this love of inclusion. Just as God poured out his Spirit on all, we are being called to share the spirit of his redeeming and unending love to all.

We are not only being called to love, we are being called to name the injustices and come to stand with those who are the victims of injustice. 

The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas said this in her book, Stand Your Ground, Black Bodies and the Justice of God, after the death of Trayvon Martin:

“After the events surrounding the murder of Trayvon, one thing was clear to me: this time in the life of the country is a kairos time. Kairos time is the right or opportune time. It is a decisive moment in history that potentially has far-reaching impact. It is often a chaotic period, a time of crisis. However, it is through the chaos and crisis that God is fully present, disrupting things as they are and providing an opening to a new future – to God’s future. Kairos time is God’s time. It is a time bursting forth with God’s call to a new way of living in the world. It is God’s calling to us to a new relationship with our very history and sense of self, and thus to a new relationship with one another, and even with God.”

It is kairos time friends. The time is now. We cannot continue the way we are as a society. We have to be better. We are called by our God to love everyone.

God is pouring out his Spirit. He is laying tongues of fire on each of our heads. We are being filled with the Holy Spirit to speak to this cancer of systemic racism. 

It is really now up to each one of us to be the change. We have to be the ones who change this world of systemic racism. It is no longer okay to use the excuse of ‘I don’t know how or I don’t know where to start or I don’t know what to say.’ And, let me say this…

It is not up to people of color to educate you. 

Put in the work and the effort. Find out what racism really is. Learn how to see it in yourself. And if you do not know the words, educate yourself. Read books. Join discussion groups. And be honest with yourself and recognize your own racism and name it.

These likely may not be easy conversations. Put aside your fear or awkwardness of addressing race. Be vulnerable and relatable and speak from your heart. There is no time left friends to put off these conversations and the work of learning to see each other equally, value each other equally, and treat each other equally. Men, women, and children of color are dying. Literally, right before our very eyes.

We must see race in each other in the context of who we are as individuals and we must recognize that everything is not equal. We cannot say race does not matter or profess that we are color-blind.  It is disrespectful to the person of color and it is disrespectful to God, for God made all of us in his image. A person of color is a beautiful and beloved child of God. A white person is a beautiful and beloved child of God. And, not recognizing each other for who we are is just plain wrong.

God said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Everyone. 

Every
Last
Beautiful
and
Beloved
One.

All means all.

Amen

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