I was going to make the connection between Pentecost and peace during The Time with the Children in worship on Sunday. But it turns out, Sunday School is making a field trip to The Gift of Life, the organ donor program they raised money for during Lent.
My guess is, the kids won’t be back until later, after when the children’s story is usually a part of the service. So we’ll find something else to do with kids who are in worship — there will be a baptism of a little girl named Siti, so we’ll work with that. And I’ll use this E-pistle to make my point about peace instead.
As part of our Pentecost celebration this Sunday, May 15, you will be asked to name a place for which we want to offer a prayer for peace. Wherever you think peace is needed!
~ In a difficult relationship in your family or between friends.
~ In Syria and Iraq.
~ In your own heart.
~ In the campaign for our next President.
…There are plenty of places that need a godly peace… and therefore our prayers.
These prayers for peace in Sunday’s worship will also involve a flight of doves and red helium balloons, and invisible wind and very visible movement over our heads in the Sanctuary! If that doesn’t get God’s attention for our prayers… (And you don’t want to miss this one!)
But preparing for all this, could you make some connections between peace and Pentecost? Perhaps you might begin by making a list before Sunday of all the places in the world, far and near, where you’d like to pray that God’s peace reigns…
Back in May 1983 and May 1985, Sojourners’ organized “Peace Pentecost” rallies in Washington, D.C. — prayer services and inspiring speakers and nonviolent demonstrations against war and injustice. I wasn’t present, but have read about them. And even secondhand, they sound to me like some of the most faithful, contemporary Pentecost experiences the church might know and share. The police hauled hundreds away because they proclaimed God’s reign of peace.
About the same time, at its Fifteenth General Synod in 1985, the United Church of Christ declared itself a Just Peace Church. In so doing, the General Synod challenged every local congregation in our denomination and all its member Christians individually to doing justice to make a real peace is our God-given assignment from God’s shalom vision. This UCC commitment also developed a new theological language or paradigm of peace theology, moving beyond the three historic paradigms — pacifism, just war, and crusade.
As we come to Pentecost in this year when violence seems closer and more prevalent than ever, I want to invite you to consider again the ways of peace as the ways of Jesus and God.
Pentecost is recorded in Acts 2, a dramatic, amazing — even scary — event.. The commotion begins with an inexplicable, frankly frightening, loud noise, as if an explosion. It’s described as a thunderous rush of wind. Then fire, we’re told, settles upon each of the disciples — the author’s literary image signifying that their lives were purged, transformed, liberated by fire from the culture’s violent presumptions.
Notice, a careful reading makes it clear, that fire was not just purging, but also empowering. I sometimes think of it a God’s new wind in their sails. But it was also “tongues” that looked to be made of fire. Tongues that enabled speech.
And suddenly, Galilean peasants locked in a room in the big city come out of hiding and begin to proclaim “the mighty deeds of God.” Pentecost isn’t just some nostalgic, private birthday party for the church. Rather, it marks the beginning of the Christian community’s worldwide witness, our publicly speaking out about Jesus and the nonviolent way of service, justice and peace he invites us to live.
Out the disciples go into the streets, speaking out. They gather crowds about them — foreign as well as their fellow Israelites — and tell of Jesus, of his love and peace, of his death and resurrection, of his new kingdom of nonviolence and justice, so unlike all the empires of this world. And as always, preaching “for” involves taking a strong stand “against” — against empire, against its violence and wars, against executions and exploitation.
Soon the Sanhedrin and other authorities get the gist of the message — it’s the church leveling God’s judgement against the way of the world and all the evil it countenances. Taking their stand, the disciples find themselves in trouble. Some land in jail, some go off to martyrdom. All enter God’s reign of peace.
I’m focusing in my sermon on Sunday on an other biblical recounting of the giving of the Spirit this year, John 20:19-23. It tells of a visit of the Risen Christ to the disciples locked up in their fear. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and added, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Their mission, empowered by the Spirit? To forgive, heal brokenness, restore wholeness and effect God’s shalom.
Last Sunday, celebrating Kam’s Bar Mitzvah the day before, we used the Hebrew word Shalom in the passing of the peace. Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is more than just an expression of simple greeting. When we say to each other: “The peace of the Lord be with you,” we are wishing each other much, almost blessing one another towards — contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being, justice, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquillity, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony as well as the absence of agitation or discord.
Pentecost is the church’s celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the power and protest, the witness and works the Spirit promises and requires of the church. Pentecost reminds us that God’s very life, breath and energy lives in, with and among us. Those who are Christians experience this life through Jesus because we see the God’s Spirit so fully manifest and active in him. And as such, we are sent to share peace, mercy and wholeness with all God’s world.
Please be ready Sunday, as you enter the Sanctuary,
1) to grab one of the doves the Midday Meeting prepared for us;
2) to write on it the place (or places) for which you are praying for peace;
3) to carry it into worship with you, and hold on to it tight until during the opening of worship, in the first hymn, you are given instructions what to do next…
See you in church,
P.S. We also often try to wear some red to worship on Pentecost, as a sign of recognition of the Spirit.