June 4, 2017
Acts 2:1–21; John 20:19-23
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
The disciples are yet again being tested by unexpected events. Before it was the return of Jesus to them for a time – now it is even more dramatic.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
Tongues of fire. The word for tongue in Greek is glossa. It means the tongue we speak with and also the tongue we speak. It means language.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Suddenly, everyone could understand the disciples. They were speaking in a manner that allowed everyone to comprehend what was going on. This was a surprise. Visiting Jews from many lands were there at the Temple and they could make out what was being said. Some were amazed and perplexed, confounded by what was happening. And some others sneered at the disciples, claiming they were drunk.
Pete comes to their defense saying they cannot be drunk because it is only nine in the morning. This is not the most persuasive of defenses. Perhaps he could have said, being drunk does not usually allow you to be better understood by people – the opposite is typically true.
This moment is known as Pentecost because it happened 50 days after the events of the crucifixion. Pente means 50 in Greek, so it is the Festival of the 50th day. The day commemorates the moment the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples before they set forth in the name of Jesus, to spread his teachings and to act in his memory.
As I was getting ready for this morning, I realized that it was going to be a busy day, though not quite as busy as the day mentioned in the reading. This morning our intern Greg is off giving a sermon at another church. No he did not oversleep. And I received some help with the readings. My thanks to Olivia for her assistance. For some reason, when we mark the passage of Sunday school children into their teen years, we make them get up in front of the congregation and say the hardest reading of the entire year. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia…this amounts to hazing in my view.
And today is also a communion service, as you may have gathered from the set up on the table. A time for us to recall the gathering of Jesus and his followers as they broke bread together and blessed their time with one another. One more thing this morning, many moving pieces.
And lest we forget, I am in the midst of a sermon series. And today is the last day. Even so, I thought about skipping until next week. I really did. But if I can make poor Olivia get up here and talk about Mesopotamia, then I should be able to handle one more moving piece.
So this morning we also consider that Seventh Principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Maybe I should have skipped until next week.
The Seventh Principle is about Creation. It is about human beings realizing that they have a place within Creation, one marked by interdependence. We are in Creation, not perched above it, not lording over it. We are within Creation as we are ourselves created beings. Put another way, we are contingent beings.
What does that mean? Contingency is a philosophical term. Something that is contingent is not required to exist. A contingent event could occur, or it might not. A contingent being could come into being, or it need not. It depends on other things, other matters.
I am contingent because if my parents had never known each other, I would not exist. Their meeting was also contingent – one wrong turn and my dad might have never met my mom. This sense of contingency is true for everything in the world, for everyone. The only exception to that term is God. God is not contingent within Creation because God was necessary for it. Another term for God is the First Cause, meaning God caused all else to happen, God made all else possible.
But everyone else, every single one of us, we are all contingent. We are all dependent. No one can exist on his or her own. We sometimes have this sense of independence, of rugged individualism.
Well, I am my own man, self-made. Self-made – think about that. That is of course not true, utterly impossible really. Each of us came from somewhere, we come from someone, meaning our parents. We were dependent upon them. We are contingent upon them because they caused us to become. Children are in this sense dependent. In time they may become independent, one hopes. And those children may then become parents, beginning this cycle again.
But that does not end our dependency, even if we like to imagine ourselves as independent. We are dependent upon others for much of what makes life possible: food, shelter, clothing. We need others for our lives to be possible, for no person exists fully independently of others. The farmer may grow food, but does not grow tractors. The contractor builds houses but probably did not hand make the nails or the wires or the tools used in that project.
This interdependency is not merely among human beings. We exist in concert with the world, with the plants we eat, with the animals we care for and who care for us, with the air we breathe and the water we drink. We cannot in any way exist without the world, without its many blessings, without its many gifts. Without the many blessings and gifts from God that we call creation.
I thought about the disciples in that moment when fire came down upon them: the fire, the spirit, the energy that prepared them for what was ahead, that opened their minds and hearts. That gave them voices ready for the challenge of speaking to all those people, from far away, from places they had never heard of let alone seen. They knew there was much more for them to do, more to be said, more to be tried, more to be attempted. Much more than for themselves alone. They were in no way independent from these many gathered people, even though they were total strangers. The disciples were called to speak to those around them, for in that miraculous moment the disciples came to realize that they were all tied together, tied together as children of God.
In one sense, we are dependent upon others and in another we are to be depended on as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and family. But even more than ties of kinship or friendship, even more than a wider sense of common humanity, there is a connection among all living things, a shared place and a shared existence. In this sense, there is a communion of all living things, an interdependence of life, a web of connection. A shared world and a shared fate.
What was that Seventh Principle? Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Respect for the interdependence, respect for the relationship. Relationships to each other and a relationship to creation. We were given life, we were given breath, we were given Creation.
It is a sacred obligation to take care of children, ours and those of others. And we are all children. We are all children of God. More so, we have the same obligation, sacred and eternal, to care for the world in which those children will live. To care for what God entrusted to us. To care for God’s gifts, those great gifts of life and breath, of earth and sky, of root and branch. We must care for these and so much more.
When the fire of the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, they could be understood by all those gathered around them. And that is quite miraculous. It is a miracle because human beings are more likely not to understand each other. Sadly, they are more likely not even to care about each other. When so many suddenly stood understanding each other, even for a moment, it was a miracle to be celebrated.
And it may seem funny to say, but I think it could also be a miracle of our own making. Can we understand each other? Sometimes. Could we strive to understand one another more frequently? Of course. Might we work toward an ongoing process of trying and listening and learning? Trying to be open. Listening rather than always trying to be heard. Learning about what is needed, what is required, what is possible in a world that we all share and a world that needs us more than ever before. Yes, yes, and yes.
We have one home. One place, one world in which to live and love, to rise or to fall. We can imagine that the world is a place of fear and anger, competition and struggle. We can do that, believe me we have seen that we can do that.
Or we can embrace the fact, the undisputable fact, that we need each other. We need to be with and work with one another. Together trying to cherish and to maintain the creation of God, the miraculous gift of this world granting us life since the dawn of humanity. We need the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part and of which we will always be a part. And we cherish that shared creation by understanding that connection, striving to work together, to be together. To be the children of God gathered together to God’s purpose and for creation itself. May it be so. Amen.