The Great Embracement

by | Jun 5, 2022

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Jarrett McLaughlin
The Great Embracement
June 5, 2022
Acts 2:1-12

 

Prayer for Illumination

In the reading of this story, God, blow open the doors as you did on that Pentecost day. Clear out the cobwebs of our assumptions about who you are and what you want. Breathe your Holy Spirit into each and every one of us, we pray. Amen.

Scripture/Sermon:

When the day of Pentecost had come, [the disciples] 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…

I don’t usually do this but I’m going to pause at this point in the Scripture reading here because I think it is crucial for us to focus on what the disciples say. This is a critical juncture at the very birth of the Church. These are going to be the very first Spirit-inspired words uttered by the Apostles. What will they possibly say and who will they say it to?

Did they say anything like author Renaud Camus, whom we have to thank for the term the Great Replacement that keeps showing up in the screeds of mass killers…did any one of those Apostles say things like:

“The Great Replacement is very simple…You have one people, and in the space of a generation you have a different people…but people and civilizations cannot and cannot even want to blend into other peoples, other civilizations.”

No – Christ’s disciples didn’t say anything like that.

Did they speak the 14 words coined by the domestic terrorist David Lane…14 words so well disseminated that they have come to be known as THE Fourteen Words, a set of racist marching orders for white nationalist groups around the world:

“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children?”

Is that what the Spirit spoke through these very first apostles?
No – Christ’s disciples didn’t say anything like that.

Did they say anything remotely like what Anders Breivik posted just weeks before he murdered 76 at a camp near Oslo, Norway. Did they say anything like this:

“I prayed for the very first time in a long time today. I explained to God that unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic takeover to completely annihilate European Christendom within the next hundred years he must ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail.”

No – Christ’s disciples didn’t say anything like that.
They had their fair share of spiritual shortcomings, but the disciples wouldn’t have the audacity to go into prayer telling God what God does want or should want. Even ones as flawed as they understood that the very name of God – Yahweh – means “I am who I am…I will be who I will be.” Even they knew that God will not fit neatly in anybody’s box.

Did they grab torches as white shirted men in Charlottesville did and walk through the streets of Jerusalem chanting “You will not replace us?”

No – Christ’s disciples didn’t say anything like that.

Did they say anything like Brenton Tarrant who, before killing 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, wrote that he did it “to show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and as long as a white man lives, they will never conquer our lands.”

No – Christ’s disciples certainly didn’t say anything like that.

Did they say anything like Payton Gendron who, before opening fire on people of color in a Buffalo grocery store, wrote that he wanted “to add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further destabilizing and polarizing Western society in order to destroy the insanity that has taken control.” The “insanity” he speaks of being that some secret, leftist cabal is funneling immigrants into the country in an elaborate plot to alter the electorate to the point that white people no longer have a place in this country. Did the disciples go that direction with their first Spirit-inspired speech.

No, no…the Spirit didn’t say anything like that at all.

That was just a small sampling of the dangerous ideas that are radicalizing too many to commit horrifying crimes. There are times when God, Jesus, the Christian faith, etc. are invoked to justify it all. I am not entirely certain how those dots connect for people. It’s almost as if we’re reading different Bibles because I can’t figure out how you get there after reading this fairly pivotal story for constructing Christian identity.

To resume our reading:

All of [the disciples] 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 people 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?”
This the Word of the Lord
THANKS BE TO GOD

That is the question, isn’t it? What does this mean?

When the Apostles are possessed by the Holy Spirit of God, of all the things they might do, God chooses to have them speak in every language so that every kind of person could hear and understand.

For the life of me I cannot square that at all with the narrow nationalism and race wars encouraged by these terrorists.

That’s not to say that Pentecost isn’t challenging.
I am sure that those disciples were not fully prepared for this.
It’s not as if they were naturally drawn towards radical inclusion.

I feel confident that they expected to stick to their own kind – that whatever came next it would be among their own people. But then the Spirit blew the doors off their hinges and they found themselves speaking a language they didn’t even know – connecting with all these foreigners from all over – when a week before they probably wouldn’t have given them the time of day.

I imagine the disciples were every bit as surprised by this as any.

And so come to think of it, this Renaud Camus character might be on to something…he might have a half-truth on his hands.

Peoples may not want to blend with other peoples. Civilizations may not want to blend with other civilizations. The mere notion of it perplexed that rag-tag representation of the world gathered in Jerusalem on that Pentecost morning.

However, if I understand this Pentecost story, there’s just one problem. It would seem that GOD very much wants this blending.
It would seem that the Spirit of God has been conspiring to draw the whole human family together for a very long time.

We can resist that all we want.
Many of those named above have resisted it in some very violent and heart-breaking ways.
But at the end of the day you cannot resist the Spirit.
As James Weldon Johnson once said “young man, young man, your arms are too short to box with God.”

Here’s the thing though – it’s not a replacement…or an erasement…or a debasement…it’s actually a gracious, wide-armed embrace of all humanity – the full family of God.
May our arms be long enough to do the same. Amen.

Invitation to the Table

Preacher Fred Craddock told a story about the first church he served in the hills of East Tennessee, near Oak Ridge. When Oak Ridge took off with the nuclear power industry the little town became a booming city. In every hill, valley, and grove there were RVs, trucks, and tents. There were hard hats with their families and children, paddling around in the mud of quickly thrown together trailer parks.
The church was not far away. It was a beautiful church with a white frame building—112 years old. There was an organ at the front. Miss Lois played the songs as slow as anybody. Every pew in the church had been hand hewn from a giant poplar tree.
After worship one Sunday morning, Craddock asked the leaders to stay: “We need to launch a campaign to invite those people in the trailer parks to church.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they would like it here. They’re only here temporarily. They’re just construction people.”
“But we ought to invite them, make them feel at home.”
They talked about it for a long time and when time ran out, they decided to vote the next week. After the next Sunday’s service, one Elder made a motion: “I move that in order to be a member of this church you must own property in the county.”
“I second that,” said another
Fred spoke against it. They reminded him that he was just a kid preacher and he didn’t get a vote. It passed.

Years later, he wanted to take his wife to see that first church he served. The roads had changed. He had a hard time finding it, but finally he found the state road, then the county road, then there back among the pines, that shining white building, but it was different.
The parking lot was full – more full than he’d ever seen for a Sunday service. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles were packed in there. Out front there was a great big sign: “Barbecue—All You Can Eat.” It’s a restaurant now. They went inside. The pews are against the wall. The organ is pushed to the side. There are aluminum tables and people eating pork and chicken and ribs. There are all kinds of people—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia. Fred said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore, otherwise these people wouldn’t be welcome here.”
The Church has not always embodied the wide welcome that Pentecost calls us to, but the breadth of that welcome is something we re-enact every time we celebrate communion; every time we say this isn’t my table or UPC’s table but a table the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. He sets this table and so he decides who is invited and the guest list is more expansive than we could ever imagine on our own.
So come – all of you. Whether that wide welcome comforts you or makes you deeply uncomfortable. Come because God has saved a seat for you from the foundations of this world. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good and filled with grace.

Benediction

It seems to me that the Spirit’s marching orders are clear. Go to the World…not to stiff arm its people, not to build defensive walls to keep them in their place, and certainly not to destroy them. Go to the world and embrace the full family of God.
May the Lord bless you and keep you in a grace amazing enough to do that – this day, every day. Amen.