Pentecost, Year B
My youngest brother is a braumeister, who opened a new pub Friday night in California. It’s in an old West mining and logging town that was founded around 1850. The inhabitants have been buzzing with anticipation for months, while he and his partners have remodeled a historic building, installed brewing and kitchen equipment, painted, and even fixed up the old neon sign outside that says, Pioneer. The pub and restaurant are signs of new life and hope in a place that has been economically depressed for years.
Think about the gospel we just heard: a great noise sweeps through town, and a flashmob gathers, all hearing the same message, in French and Gaelic, Basque and Arabic, Süddeutsch and Swahili. Everybody knows the great news, even though we aren’t told exactly what they heard. Some of the bystanders think they’ve all been tippling the Beaujolais nouveau, but Peter says, no, no, it’s too early in the morning.
What we’re doing here this morning is most centrally about signs of new life. Elliot and Benjamin are being added to this body in a public recognition of the good news that you have been hearing in this community for years. What would you tell these two as they grow up? What message do you take to people in Frankfurt and neighboring areas? “Good spirits here, friendly community, will transform your life”? Could you get a flashmob here on that news?
My husband went to the soft opening of the Lassen Ale Works on Thursday night, and the story he tells is about the 300 community leaders gathered, absolutely ecstatic that this new watering hole was opening to the public. In a small town it’s not so much about the food and drink – which do have to be decent – it’s about the opportunity to build community. If this brewpub makes it, it will be because it becomes an essential part of the heart of the town, a place for socializing, making and keeping friends, working out business deals, and dreaming dreams of growth and transformation.
Christ the King is a deeper vision of the same dynamic. This part of the body of Christ is a community of relationships, dreams, and transformation. That’s what Pentecost is all about. When everyone is able to understand the good news it promises the possibility of even more. None of us knows exactly where the spirit is going to take us, which is probably why the gospel doesn’t tell us exactly what all those travelers heard. We are linked by the possibility of being changed into what God is still dreaming.
We’ve shared some of that dream for as long as we can remember. It’s always about a restored, reconciled, healed community. It’s got something to do with these children’s hunger for food and shelter, and families and friends who will love them enough to help them grow up. It has to do with the yearning we share to live in peace. It bears our hopes for enduring justice. That dream also has to do with conflict and tensions, here in this community and in surrounding circles of relationship. We shouldn’t expect those tensions to be resolved in this life, for if and when they are, it will mean that we have arrived in the beloved community, that everlasting dream of God. Until then, they are a source of creativity and a motivation toward transformation.
The promise of Lassen Ale Works, or of Kloster Eberbach[i], or CtK, has to do with a repurposing of the past and the present, toward that dreamed of future. Part of the attraction of each community is the connection with history, with something remembered and valued about how things used to be, especially how the past has blessed and healed us. Vital communities have to maintain and foster the transformative gift in the present. The world continues to grow and shift, and old history merely gathers dust if it doesn’t keep growing. Nor do babies grow up unless they change and develop.
The Jesus community is capable of leading enormous and powerful transformation toward that dream of God when it sets people free to use their passions and gifts. The great witness of Pentecost says that all sorts and conditions of people, each with his or her own language or skill, can dream the same dream together. The commonweal of God looks like all those varied people passionately on fire with the same dream – in those tongues of fire on the heads of everyone present that Pentecost day, and in the fires that are relit in each gathering and each generation. The passion for a transformed world comes from an experience of the passion of Christ, an experience of suffering transformed into new, resurrected, and abundant life. We sang about it yesterday – This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine! That tongue of flame has lit on each one of us here; how are we going to let it shine into the world around us?
I’ve just come from Haiti, a nation that has had more than its share of suffering over the centuries. The nation was born of a slave revolt in 1791, and its leaders played a significant part in other revolutions in the Americas – Haitians fought in the American Revolution, and supported Simon Bolivar in liberating parts of South America. The people of Haiti dream of a free society, and they have enormous hope and resourcefulness, even in the face of terrors that would shut most of us down. The diocese is filled with examples of passion being put to work in service of that dream of God.
Dr. Gladys Menon is running an old hospital that reopened two weeks after the earthquake, and has now been expanded and remodeled, and is about to open a much larger, new section. They serve 20 inpatients and 150 outpatients a day, and host a filariasis research program[ii].
Hilda Alcindor retired from 30 years of nursing in the US and returned to Haiti to start a nursing school near the same hospital. This year she increased the size of the entering class from 25 to 60. She did it on a hope and a prayer because nurses are so desperately needed across Haiti – to serve as community health workers, in clinics, and in growing and emerging medical facilities.[iii]
Monsieur Jojo[iv] lives and works at St. Vincent’s Center for handicapped children[v]. He uses a wheelchair because he has no legs and only part of his upper arms. He told me, in English, that life is good and full of joy. His passion is sharing the good news he knows, both in the art he paints with a brush strapped to his upper arm, and in the words of encouragement he offers children: ‘God is good, and he is blessing me!’
Those tongues of fire are still lighting on the friends of Jesus. They start fires that burn in our hearts, urging us on toward that dream of God. The hard part is opening our sometimes stony hearts to that fire, and letting it meet other tongues of flame that together will light up the world. Where and for what is that fire burning in you? Find your passion, share it with Benjamin and Elliot, and go help light more fires! With the spirit’s fire, we can transform this world! You know those famous words, Burn, baby, burn! Well, they’re for adults, too!
[i] A significant group from the parish spent Saturday at Kloster Eberbach, a 12th century Cistercian abbey that was deconsecrated in 1803. It is being restored, and functions as something of a public park and museum, with event space, restaurants, and vineyards. The church is used for services only once or twice a year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eberbach,_Cistercian_monastery