Today is Pentecost Sunday – it’s the Birthday of the Christian Church!
For those who may not be familiar with it, Pentecost is derived from a Jewish holiday (Shavuot) that is celebrated 50 days after Passover. According to the Book of Acts (chapter 2) on the day of Pentecost that took place 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ followers (only about 120 at the time) were all gathered in a large upper room of a dwelling in Jerusalem. The room was locked because they were afraid of being persecuted themselves. On that day, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and literally inspired (breathed into) them and they shed their fear and went out onto the busy streets packed with folks from all over who had come to that city to mark the holiday. They boldly proclaimed the good news of the God’s gift to the world in Jesus the Christ. And many hundreds of people became Christians that day. And, though the early Church was harshly and brutally persecuted, the more they were terrorized, the more they grew. And it took off like wildfire. In time, the Roman Empire that had killed Jesus was dissolved – and the Church lived on.
At its best, the Church has been a massive blessing to the world inspiring mercy, compassion, justice, compassion, love of our fellow man (humans), and stewardship of the earth. At its worst, the Church has endorsed and manifested the opposite of those things.
Today is a day to celebrate the best of Christianity and to remind the Church of the best of who they are.
The following is a sermon by a friend of mine. To my mind, he’s “received the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Enjoy.
Pentecost: The Day God Came Out!
By The Rev. Robert Coats
The First Sunday of Pride
The Day of Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. Suddenly they heard what sounded like fierce, rushing wind coming down from heaven, the extreme noise completely filled the house in which they were sitting. Something, which seemed to them as if they were tongues of fires, appeared to them. Each tongue of fire seemed to separate, coming to rest on the heads of each individual. They were all filled with the Spirit of God and each began to speak in another language as She enabled them.
(Adapted from the Inclusive Bible)
Divine One, bless our Pride. Bless our celebration. Bless our laughter, our joy, our exuberance. Bless the memories of those who came before us. Those who lived, worked, experienced persecution, suffered, were tortured and died for us so that some of us may have a measure of freedom. Bless those, Divine One, who oppose us in the hope that one day your blessing will help bring about peace. Bless our differences and may we learn to celebrate that which is the unique spark of Grace in each one. Bless those for whom it takes great courage to be out. Bless those who have lost family, friends, jobs and homes because they found the courage to be proud. Bless our calls for equity and freedom. May we honor you in our pursuit of justice.
There is nothing new under the sun.
I received an very angry missive last week from an individual, who among a litany of other things of which he criticized me, asked of me, “WHAT kind of minister are you!?”
He, like most who read my scribblings, made the fundamental mistake of thinking that they can define and pigeon hole me in terms of the popular perception of a “minister.” Again, he, like most others, makes the assumption, based on my writings, that they know beyond a certainty my political affiliation, my views on politics, which policies I support and which I don’t support, those political issues to which I lend my name and those which I don’t, my stance on nation states, my patriotism, etc.; yet for anyone to do so, they would be making a ghastly mistake.
As I have tried so often to explain, yet seemingly though, unable to break through the human foible of needing to see things in neatly defined categories, “I am not your Momma’s minister!”
Unlike my spiritual cousins of the religious right (as well as many of the religious left) I am NOT called to be involved in politics. I am not called to classify any political party as being the correct “Christian” party and any other political party as being “non-Christian.”
My calling is not to support any political candidate because that candidate supports “my” issues.
My calling is not to wave the national banner and inspire the country to “Rally ‘round the flag!”
My calling is not to support empire, wars for empire or the military might of empire.
Most surprising to everyone, my calling is not to advance “gay” issues.
My prophetic calling, as a follower of Jesus Christ, is, to the best of my ability, be an interpreter of the teachings of Jesus in application to matters of justice and injustice.
There’s nothing new under the sun.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, one of the proofs of a prophetic calling being genuine was that the individual whom God had called didn’t want the job! For someone to seek out the office of Prophet was an indication of someone being a false prophet. A second proof of a prophetic calling from God was that no one would listen to your message. As God told Isaiah “…they will hear you, but they won’t understand you. They will see you but they won’t perceive your message. Their hearts are calloused, their hearing dull and their eyes are closed.”
Prophets literally ran from their callings. One tried hiding in a wine vat. Jonah tried hiding from God. Moses asked God to send his brother, Aaron, in his place. Even Jesus asked of God to be released from his call. Prophets were commissioned by God to go and do things which seemed incredulous. Isaiah wondered the streets of Jerusalem naked in the snow. One prophet was told by God to marry a known sex worker. One prophet sat in the streets of Jerusalem baking cakes made from animal dung. Prophets where thought to not to be in their right minds. At one point in the Gospel narratives, the family of Jesus comes to “take him home,” because his family saw him as being mentally deranged. Imagine your brother, or sister, the person with whom you grew up, shared a room, played with in the dirt and sand, to one day announce that not only their Divine Prophetic calling, but in fact, they are, themselves, Divine!
Is there any wonder why no one would seek out the office of a Prophet!? It would be much easier living a life of anonymity. A life of not drawing attention to yourself. A life of not being the one who has to speak up or as the Prophet wrote “my throat would turn to dust.” Having a Prophetic calling is not a good thing! It is not something to be envied! Even in modernity, think of people like the Rev. Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks. Their actions and words had them arrested and imprisoned.
Most prophets, in time, however, learned to accept their calling and embrace it to the best of their abilities. They, like Jesus, would prefer that God would “take this cup” of their calling from them, none the less, they echoed Jesus, in deeds if not in words, that the will of God be done.
I knew God had called me from every early in my life. It was recognized by my family first, my church second, but only lastly did I acknowledge God’s call. The paramount reason of my not accepting God’s call to ministry was fear. God had commissioned me to have a specific ministry and a specific message to Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bi Sexual and Queer people. I was to tell them of God’s unconditional love and Grace, that they are created in perfection in the image of God, and that their Creator approves of them as they are without need to change or to conform to society’s hetero-normative stereotype of what a person should be, and paramount in import, God wanted them to know that their unique sexuality was a gift from God.
Yet for me to do this meant that I would need to come out as a gay man and this was not something which I was able to do – I was terrified. I ran from my call for 37 years. I did everything I could think of to avoid it: I worked at a myriad of jobs all of which contained some element of service to others, in the hope that this service to my community would satisfy God’s call. God’s inner voice, however, did not lessen. The prompting of the Divine did not soften. The “Hound of Heaven” pursued me, until I was tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of being afraid and I finally stopped, turned around, and told God “OK, I’ll do it. I wish you’d ask someone smarter, someone who is a better speaker, someone who is by nature isn’t shy and wants to fade into the wood work, but I’ll do it.”
I still remain fearful. I’m afraid of the one day the physical attacks with which I am threatened will come true. I am afraid that the person who messaged me this week and told me “People like you shouldn’t exist!” will act on their hatred. Yet, at the risk of sounding immodest, and I am in no way equating my meager efforts at ministry to those of the Hebrew Prophets let alone to that of Jesus, I have embraced my calling and I pray “not my will but Yours be done.”
I know too that my message is limited in scope. If a day passes in which someone doesn’t tell me “you are of the Devil!” it is a rare day indeed. My preaching a message of God’s universal love and Grace for all of humanity offends very nearly everyone equally! Many in my own LGBTQ community tell me that I am a “sell out” for claiming Christianity as my faith. This is understandable, after all, in that historically the greatest enemy of gay people has been the Christian church which has sought their imprisonment, torture and deaths. I receive criticism from liberal (progressive) people some of whom don’t care for my “God talk,” as well as some of who don’t care for my “targeted ministry which offends straight people and makes them feel unwelcome.” Of course, needless to say, I offend Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who routinely and gleefully pronounce my condemnation to hell as well as routine angry threats of physical violence.
There’s nothing new under the sun.
Jesus knew this and also recognized that his message, his ministry, his words were not understood by those who heard him including his disciples. He even told them that they wouldn’t understand the meaning of his life, ministry, work and words until after they had received the full Breath of God: That event which the church refers to as Pentecost.
The amazing thing about Pentecost is that this event reveals a nature of God which is hidden from most of those who name the name of Christ.
The root word of “spirit” is breath. It is the Breath of God which, in its might, sounds like the proverbial “freight train” associated with an onslaught of vicious wind. The Hebrew people would have understood this reference because it is replete in the Hebrew Scriptures especially in regard to the references to the Spirit of God (the Breath of God) throughout the narratives.
The other amazing aspect of the Pentecost event is that the Breath of God is female.
This, again, would not have been anything new to the followers of Judaism.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, whenever the term Spirit of God or Breath of God is used, the Hebrew descriptive pronoun is female.
When the Breath of God “moved over the face of the deep” in Genesis, “She moved over the face of the deep.”
When the Spirit of God “came upon Sampson,” “She came upon Sampson.”
There’s nothing new under the sun.
This doesn’t change with the arrival of the Common Era. The attribute of God’s Spirit being female, does not change.
It’s one of the many reasons why I prefer the use of the Inclusive Bible. Most people make the false assumption that the Inclusive Bible is a work which strives to feminize the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Inclusive Bible is a scholarly work undertaken over 25 years by a group of Catholic Priests, Biblical scholars and language scholars. Instead of trying to “feminize” the Bible, they have actually done just the opposite: They have taken out the intentional use of male pronouns which were put in place by earlier misogynistic interpreters who made the intentional decision in their interpreting that female pronouns used to describe any attribute of God were not acceptable and therefore would be removed.
Similar practices have always been, and continue to be, in place when interpreting the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The famous, or infamous, NIV version of the Bible which is so mightily embraced by Evangelicals made the decision to use certain interpretative words in their version which do not occur anywhere in the Biblical text. Most particularly the use of the word “homosexual” in their version. The word “homosexual” did not exist until the end of the 19th century. It was an invented medical term used to describe acts of sexual intercourse between persons of the same gender. The term is not found anywhere in any Biblical text of any age until the 20th century when, for business reasons as well as the personal theological prejudices of the publishers, the decision was made to insert the word into the text. The harm and damage done to gay people because of this horrible, non-scholarly, decision has been incalculable. People have been physically harmed and abused because of the dastardly decision by the publisher who publicly stated that by the intentional use of the term, the NIV would sell better to their target audience, specifically North American Evangelicals. I hope the publisher’s “thirty pieces of silver” helps to ease their conscious every time a gay person is assaulted based on their version of the Bible.
So, historically, how could a church which did not ordain women, by any stretch of the imagination, use a female pronoun to describe this pivotal moment in church history as the Breath of God descending on the “Church Fathers” and anointing them for ministry!?
It’s truly sad that God reveals a Divine attribute of God’s self in reference to being female, yet it is seen as threatening to the power of men, so it, therefore, must be removed from the narrative.
Yes, so tell me again how you believe “every word of the Bible” to be “the WORD OF GOD?”
One of the passages of the Christian Scripture which helped me in my coming out process is just a few chapters beyond the Pentecost narrative, the narrative of the Jerusalem Counsel.
Paul and James are at odds with each other over the inclusion of Gentile Christians into the church. James is insistent that the Gentiles must first convert to Judaism before they can then become Christians. Paul is just as adamant, especially in that Paul’s specific call by God was to the Gentiles, that the Gentiles where not under the Law but under Grace and as such they did not need to become Jews in order to become Christians. It is Peter who steps forward and adds his authoritative voice to debate, and it is Peter’s words which I embrace.
Peter says of the Gentiles:
“God who reads everyone’s hearts, has borne witness to this by giving to them (the Gentile Christians) the Breath of God which is the Holy Spirit; this same Spirit which God granted to us. God made no distinction, but granted them purity of heart by the filling of the Breath of God…Just as we believe that we are saved though the Grace of God, so too are they.”
When I read Peter’s words, I knew that they were descriptive of me! I knew that the Breath of God was fulfilled in my life. I knew that Her gifts functioned in me. I knew that by Her Grace, I was saved. God did not make a distinction between me and anyone else, Jew or Gentile, Gay or straight. Just as the Gentiles did not need to become Jews in order to become Christians, I did not need to “become straight” in order to become a Christian.
My prayer for you this day, this day of which commemorates She who is the Breath of God anointing the people who would be the leaders of the Church, is that you too would find in Her Grace the love, peace and comfort which is affords to all of humanity.
May She bless you and keep you. May She make her face to shine upon you. May Her Breath fill you and may Her gifts function in your life.
The Rev. Robert Coats is an Ordained PCA Minister with an educational background in regard to Queer Theology, Pastoral Counseling and Counseling Psychology. His blog, A Prophet in Pink Sneakers.
I believe that the Spirit still blows mightily in our world. One very recent example of this is what is taking place in Omaha, Nebraska (of all places).
have signed a statement stating that homosexuality is not a sin. Granted, a group of clergy in Nebraska do not a Church Council make, but it’s a great start – and right in America’s supposedly conservative heartland. God still busts into “locked” places with fresh winds of love. Can I get an Amen?
xx - Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity
(The artwork featured here was created by Douglas Blanchard)