Sighs Too Deep For Words
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 20, 2018 – Pentecost Sunday
It is Pentecost Sunday. It is traditional to wear red today to remind us of the tongues of fire that appeared among the Apostles that day and rested on each of those present.
It is the birthday of the church, too. The day the Holy Spirit became visible to those gathered is the day that the Word moved forward in the world, not only by the will of God, not only by the grace of Jesus Christ, but through those who were present who were open to the Spirit.
But it is not a…just…Christian celebration. The day of Pentecost was a day-long harvest festival that was celebrated every year 50 days after the Passover…50 days after the day Israel celebrates its deliverance from captivity in Egypt.
“Pente-cost’ Pente=50. It was also called the festival of weeks…seven days in a week…seven times seven plus one day is 50…so it was a week of weeks…after Freedom had fallen upon them in Egypt.
We can find it in Deuteronomy, written seven centuries before Christ and based upon early oral traditions going back thousands of years before that…It is in Exodus, written in six centuries before Christ, based on events reported to have happened fifteen centuries before Christ.
It was written down in the period of the Babylonian Exile, as was most of the Hebrew Bible, what we Christians refer to as the Old Testament. But it goes back to Moses. It is a Jewish holiday, a Judaic celebration. And it is, appropriately, a harvest festival… thanks to God for the blessings we receive.
And the tradition developed that Moses was given the Law on Mount Sinai fifty days after the Nation of Israel came out of Egypt. That observance became part of the Pentecost celebration long before Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census decreed by Caesar Augustus.
But in our reading today, the author has to tell us when it was that this Holy Spirit filled the room they all were in…people from every nation, we read, were there…and those tongues of fire rested upon each of them. It was on Pentecost… Out of Bondage Day…the day God gave the Law to Moses…the day the Holy Spirit was given to the church.
It was also ten days after Christ ascended into heaven and that was forty days after Christ arose from the dead…so it is fifty days from the Resurrection to Pentecost… just as it was fifty days from the Exodus …to Moses being given the Law on Sinai…to the coming of the Spirit.
Pentecost was not named after the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost…just happened to fall on that same day. It was just a coincidence …sort of.
Mark Twain said that history does not repeat itself, but it tends to rhyme a lot. And here we have the day of the giving of the Law to Moses, being approximately the same day that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and all who were gathered there.
And it is a harvest celebration. I think I hear some rhyming here.
I think I also see the reversal of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis, people all spoke one language and they got so full of their own smartness that they decided to build a tower to heaven, but God saw them coming and God said, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
Out of one language many different languages erupted, confusing the mortals and stopping the tower of Babel in its tracks…like a good game of Jenga.
But on this day of Pentecost, when the Apostles were all gathered in one place and a sound like a rushing wind descended upon them from heaven, they were all speaking different languages, but they could understand each other as if everyone was speaking in the same language. The curse of Babel is repealed.
E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, One. It was just a coincidence, I suppose …sort of.
And like the Holy Spirit being poured out on the household of Cornelius…a Roman Centurion…a pagan…that we read about two weeks ago, the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone present on this particular day of Pentecost.
The astonishing thing about the Holy Spirit coming to everyone in Cornelius’ house was that non-Jews ‘got it’ just like the disciples and others had ‘gotten it’ by then.
The astonishing thing about the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost was that people speaking different languages could understand each other.
Jesus prayed last week that his disciples should become One even as he and God were One…in spite of their many differences in background and traditions. Here we have people speaking different languages becoming one.
There is a great scene in the movie Joyeaux Noel. The whole movie is pretty good. It is about the Christmas Truce in No Man’s Land in World War I in 1914.
We have Germans on one side of No Man’s Land, and French and Scots on the other side. A German soldier begins singing Silent Night in German and all the German soldiers begin to sing it.
Well, the Scots and the French know the tune and they begin to sing it, too, in their own languages. They don’t speak German, but they know the words from the song and everyone…on both sides of No Man’s Land…know they are singing one song about one Savior to the one true God. They are one.
They come out of the trenches and begin to share the things their families have sent them for Christmas…and they become one all the more.
Then it becomes irresistible for the chaplain of the Scottish troops to say the Mass…and he says it in Latin…they way they all heard the Mass in those days…a dead language comes to life…is resurrected…and they are one with each other, one with Christ, and one in ministry to all the world in the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine…the breaking of the body and the pouring out of the blood... which they have all been doing so much of lately.
It is just a coincidence, you might say, but it is more than that. It is a magic moment in a magic movie. And the Holy Spirit provides the magic…and the magic makes us all one. As Jesus prayed for his disciples to be one, strangers are one…like the ‘devout Jews’ of every nation that we find in our reading today.
The Bible is an ancient text, but it is not an old book…confined to the day it was written and relevant only to that day. It is an eternal true in words…unconfined to any day and relevant to every breath we take.
We can see the wind on our bulletin cover today, the breath of God, on the waters of Lake McDonald.The Holy Spirit is the wind that makes us all one. It breathes on us all, calling us into community with each other…and Christ…and God.
And it is active today. This day… this hour…this moment. The Hindus have a fable Diana Eck retells in Encountering God – from Bozeman to Benares about breath, that makes clear that it is in the breath that our spirit or soul resides …it is in the breath that we move and live an have our being.
The ear and the eye, speech and the mind…and the breath…get into a quarrel about which one of them is the most essential to the spirit of life in all mortals. So they agree to do an experiment. They will each leave the body for a whole year.
Speech leaves and comes back. Hearing leaves for a year and returns. Sight goes away and is restored. Even the mind stops then starts again. “Then Breath was about to go off. As a large fine horse of the Indus-land might pull up the pegs of his foot tethers together, thus indeed did it pull up those vital breaths together.
“They said, ‘Sir, go not off! Verily, we shall not be able to live without you!’”
We can live without many things, but we cannot live without our breath. All these senses are given life by the spirit of God within in us.
So God breathed life into Adam. God breathed the word of life…Let there be light…and our world…and all Creation…was rescued from the darkness.
I have had some work done at the parsonage…at my expense. There is a place between the garage and the house that grows only mud and moss. I have some bricks that are just about big enough to fill that space in.
Some of the bricks are light in color but some of them are from the old chimney at Huntley United Methodist Church where I preached before coming here. We had to put in a new furnace and the old chimney was so rickety that they decided to take it down before it fell down and hurt someone.
They gave me the bricks, which I used here and there in my yard, but when I moved to Bigfork I decided to load them up and bring them with me. So I hired a guy to use those bricks to make a pad between the house and the garage…so I wouldn’t have to mow a muddy area any more.
It turned out that the only time he could do it was last Sunday and he came about 8:00 a.m. I told him I would appreciate it if he could make a pattern with them. That was all.
When I got back from church last week I was pleasantly surprised.
He had used them beautifully, and completely on his own he had fashioned a cross in the middle of the pad and outlined it with the red chimney bricks.
But it gets better…
The great cathedrals of the world are built in the shape of a cross and you walk into the bottom of the cross and progress to the other end of the cathedral.
The convention is to have the doors of the cathedral pointing west. At the front doors you find symbols of chaos…swirling winds and floods of water. At the other end, all the way into the cathedral…you find the Madonna and Child…the symbol of human perfection.
The door is always to the west and Mary and Jesus are always to the east. That is exactly how this young man oriented the bricks he used to make a cross at our parsonage.
He thought I would be pleased that he used the bricks to make a cross, but he had no inkling that he had nailed the correct orientation for a little cathedral that I will walk by every day for the rest of my days with you.
When I explained it to him he was as surprised as I had been. ‘How did I do that?’ he wondered. ‘How did we do that?’ I wondered.
I don’t think either one of us did it. We did it, as one…with the Spirit… I think. I know it is just a coincidence…but it is such a coincidence.
Paul writes to us today that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…and the Spirit intercedes for the saints…those who call upon God for meaning in their lives… according to the will of God.
So we can preach the Word all we want. We can hear the Word all we want. We can see the Word all we want. We can read the Word all we want.
But it is when we begin to live the Word in our every word and action that we are made alive and we hear the rushing of the wind and see the tongues of fire resting upon each of us…even a bricklayer hoping to pick up a few extra dollars on a Sunday morning.
It is just a coincidence, I know. But it is such a coincidence that it fills me with sighs too deep for words.
Thanks be to God for the spirit of life we have been given and in which we move and live and have our being, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.