Meg Peery McLaughlin
May 31, 2020
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Today is Pentecost,
50 days after Easter,
the day we Christians celebrate the birthday of the Church,
and in worship all over the globe today,
what we proclaim is that the Holy Spirit gathers the church,
we read this story of the Spirit doing just that from the book of Acts,
and we hold on to the truth that the Spirit is not done yet; she is still on the move.
I love how Luke, in the telling of this story of the Spirit rushing in and lighting things up, and bringing all different kinds of folks together, and opening mouths to speak truth and having it be understood, I love how Luke can’t just leave it the reaction to one singular adjective.
He says that the crowd, hearing the languages in each person’s native tongue, the crowd is amazed and astonished. And right before a few smart alecks presume everyone there is drunk at 9am, he says they everyone is amazed and perplexed.
Luke gets it. When it comes to the Spirit, one adjective just doesn’t quite cut it. Even if that adjective is AMAZING.
In this story Spirit shows up in the form of the rush of a violent wind,
like how, way back at the beginning, at creation, a wind blows over the face of the deep.
And here, the Spirit shows up as divided tongues as of fire,
like how, Moses took off his shoes because that bush was burning bright,
and he was then sent to do that Spirit-freedom-work. That’s how it goes.
Luke narrates the Holy Spirit showing up as wind and fire, so why, you may be asking, am I standing in front of a giant dove? Did Kim and Nancy who facilitated this art installation for this Sunday just get it all wrong? Uh, do you know them? Think again.
The dove is another way we depict the Spirit.
You’ve probably noticed the presence of a dove in our online worship, maybe more so now that – no matter where you’re sitting – you have a front row seat to everything that happens in worship. There is a dove that is perched atop our baptismal font. When Luke tells the story of Jesus baptism, he says the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. So, ours here at UPC is aptly placed.
It’s a dove that returns to Noah and the ark with a sprig of green, signaling God’s promise of new life. Doves are symbols of atonement and forgiveness, they were commonly sacrificed at the Temple as prescribed by the Torah. Luke tells us that after Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph come to the Jerusalem to present their son and they bring two turtledoves.
Doves show up all over ancient art, even Andy Warhol uses the symbol.
The PC(USA) logo includes the dove too.
Our youth are wearing them all around town and blowing up Instagram with them.
So, yea, Kim and Nancy didn’t go off brand here at all.
My friend Joe Clifford preached a sermon at Mo-Ranch referencing this creature that led me to an article put out by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
All I really knew about doves was that they cooed and they mated for life.
And that picture of these birds gave me warm associations of the Spirit as Dove.
Gentle and loyal and soft.
But did you know that mourning doves fly at about 45 mph, and they’ve been clocked as high as 55 mph. That’s alarmingly quick. They don’t soar on air currents like eagles and hawks. Doves are more like the sports cars of birds because of their long, pointed wings and long pointed tails. They fly with powerful wingbeats, making sudden ascents, descents and dodges.
That’s a little more intense, intense and powerful. I’m not too sure I’d be all that comfortable with a dove descending on me.
This makes me think of something my little friend Owen once said.
Owen Thomas Hyland is our own Kathleen Jasinskas and Charlie Hyland’s most wonderful son.
Owen is named after our Minister of Music Tom Brown, who concludes his career with us today.
Please take time to watch the tribute video the choir made for him, and join us in the prayer of thanksgiving for Tom’s ministry, and hear a presentation of his favorite hymn, the trinity of which are on our website. Oh, how we will miss him. Oh, how we honor him.
Tom likes to say in regards to Owen Thomas Hyland, that the “Owen” is silent.
Truth is, Owen is delightfully NOT silent, and once, when he was but 2 years old,
Owen was sitting up in the chancel on Kathleen’s lap and he noticed the dove on the font,
but Owen didn’t recognize it as a dove. So he announced to all who would hear:
Mama, a Pteranodon! Look, a Pteranodon!
And you, know, I’m not sure Owen Thomas is wrong.
On that Pentecost day, when the Spirit blew the doors where the disciples were all gathered;
and descended on them with enough fire to fuel an episode of Game of Thrones,
I bet they thought it felt more like an awe-inspiring dinosaur than some gently cooing dove.
They were amazed and astonished; amazed and perplexed.
When the Spirit gathered the church back then–
It was noisy and it was beautifully diverse.
It was confusing to some and crude to others.
It fulfilled what had been spoken of the prophet: that women and men, young and old
will tell the truth
will see what can be
will dream of how the world should be, could be, will be in God’s hands.
And friends, the same is true today.
It’s our birthday, and we are still alive and kicking.
The Spirit still gathers the church
now, we can work a bit more at the noisy and surely the diverse part,
but we are indeed women and men, young and old,
still truth telling, still dreaming of what is not yet, but will be.
It doesn’t always feel like cooing, sometimes more like chaos.
And, well, that’s the way with birds, sometimes.
My brother was once unloading groceries out of his minivan,
and forgot to close the trunk for a few hours.
The next morning it was rainy in Charlotte, NC
where he was driving my young nieces and nephews to school.
He was driving down Randolph Road and all of a sudden,
a bird starting flying and flapping all around the car.
The kids were screaming,
they brought traffic to a stand-still as they
opened all the doors in the pouring rain
so this small but fierce creature could spread its wings and take flight.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s what God had in mind,
sending the Spirit like this:
to bring everything else to a stand still;
to get us to focused on what matters most.
It seems to me that right now,
there is this attempt to use the church as a pawn
in a terribly sad political game.
But we know that we don’t have to go to church in order to be the church.
We’re worshiping on screens,
discussing gospel stories via zoom,
wearing masks to love our neighbor,
tying prayers onto chicken wire
comfort o comfort the hundred thousand grieving families
and empower those who heal and help
end, o please end, white supremacy
and heal our divided nation
awaken us to your call
and send us to the places and people who long for your redeeming love
Every year on Pentecost we read this story about a Dove-Turned-Dinosaur Holy Spirit that breathed the Church into existence with a mighty wind and with fire.
And so on this, the 50th day after Easter, that is precisely what we will celebrate – the Church’s birthday; that the Holy Spirit is not done with us yet. She is still on the move.
So, watch out.
She’s not as gentle as you may expect,
be prepared to be amazed