This is Pentecost

by Lowell Chilton in , , ,

This is a sermon I gave at University Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA on Pentecost 2013.


Today we invite the spirit to come into our midst. What are we really asking for when we make that invitation? Are we asking for the comforting, consoling Spirit that surrounds us with the warmth of God’s love? 

Deep down, we probably are. 

This is not Pentecost. 

In 1905, a black Church of God pastor in Chicago heard of a white preacher giving a lecture series on speaking in tongues as a sign of the Spirit. Because of the racism of the white preacher, he was not allowed inside the lectures. For ten-weeks William Seymour sat outside the lectures and absorbed it all. Overwhelmed by what he heard, he moved to Los Angeles and began preaching on speaking in tongues. In early 1906, he and several worshippers in his house church began speaking in tongues. The news of this event spread quickly and pretty soon the church moved out of the home and the Azusa Street Revival had begun. 

The Azusa Street Revival had an astounding embrace of diversity. Persons of African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and other ethnicities joined the assembly. Women preached and led worship. People of all ages gave testimony of God’s Love to the community in whatever language they were moved to speak. 

This is Pentecost. 

In the beginning, the earth was a formless void. A homogeneous uniform void. And God’s breath swept across the water. The Spirit disrupted the void with creative chaos. 

This is Pentecost. 

The people of the earth settled in the land of Shinar and stopped moving over the earth. They built huge city and a tower with its top of the sky and wanted to never ever be dispersed. God came to them and disrupted them with diverse languages and sent them all over the world. 

This is Pentecost. 

In the room where the Apostles gathered, the Holy Spirit howled through their midst. Suddenly they were speaking in languages unknown to them and spreading the Gospel to the people gathered in Jerusalem. 

When the disciples, who were Galilean, went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began speaking the word, the people heard their own language. They were a homogeneous group of Galileans, but now they were able to reach a diverse population in Jerusalem. 

As the disciples spoke to the people, they were united in the message of God’s works through Christ. They were united in the Gospel and propelled by the diversity of the Holy Spirit. 

This is Pentecost. 

Uniformity is not necessary for unity. Even God is not uniform, but rather God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit join in the Triune God. United in diversity, not uniformity. 

Just as Christ was sent to bring unity in God’s love to the people, the Spirit is sent to shake things up and ensure that that unity does not become complacent uniformity. 

It is natural to reach an equilibrium. We like things to be done certain ways. We go to the same places for dinner and talk to the same people and have the same fights. This equilibrium is dangerous, for it blinds us to the pain of the world around us. It keeps us safe, but safe is not the way of Christ.  

Throughout human history, whenever people become complacent. Whenever we strive to maintain the status quo, the Spirit comes and disrupts the world. The status is made not quo. 

This is Pentecost. 

Most of you know that I work for Microsoft. Every day I interact with Indians, Russians, Israelis, and Asians. My boss is Brazilian, his is Israeli. This sounds awfully diverse right?

But is it really? 

We’re all highly educated, skilled in technology, with an approximately similar socio-economic position, and the fortunate upbringing that allowed us the opportunity to get this education and skills. 

Within the apparent diversity, there is a cultural homogeneity. 

The Holy Spirit that blows into our midst today convicts us of our uniformity. It challenges us to look deep into our hearts for where we are drawn toward the status quo. 

Where is your uniformity? Perhaps it’s even in the church? 

Today we are celebrating the founding of the church of Christ. Sadly, the Church of Christ today is fractured. We are split along theological, political, and social issues. 

There are many churches that insist on uniform doctrine in order to reach unity. There are others that insist on uniformity of Liturgy. Sometimes we reject the worship of others because we simply don’t like it. We judge the music, or the content of the message, as being “other.” And not like ours and we put it down. 

The movement of the Spirit urges us to embrace diversity. It opens our eyes to the beauty of variety in expressions of the Divine. It gives us ears to hear the wind blowing through the new songs. It gives voice to our lips to join in these songs.  

When we embrace the movement of the spirit, we become agents for making the status not quo and instruments of God’s continued creative work in the world. 

This is Pentecost. 

While the Azusa Street Revival is no more, the Pentecostal movement it was instrumental in growing is alive and well. Around the world, especially in the Global South, Pentecostalism is rapidly growing. The Spirit is moving through the world and disrupting the way things are, just as it always has done. 

As we call upon the spirit today, let it be a call to be disturbed. Let it be a call to have our eyes opened to our complacency. Let it be a call to be shaken to the core by the howling wind. Let it be a call for the strength to carry on with clear eyes and full hearts.  

This is Pentecost. May it be so every day. 

Amen and Amen.