Based on Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-16:15
In their book, “Reconciling All Things”, authors Katongole and Rice tell the following story: “…In 1964, in Trosly-Breuil, France, two men with mental disabilities woke up in an isolated institution, shut off from a world that had little time for them. Useless to the economy that determines success for most of us, these men were destined to be little more than the recipients of mental health services. Meanwhile, in the same French town, a former naval officer and promising young academic named Jean Vanier had just finished his doctoral dissertation.
Although to all appearances successful, Vanier was lonely. Like the men in the mental institution, he was isolated and unsure whether anyone loved him for who he was. Vanier had no idea that he shared anything in common with men in a mental institution. Nothing had taught him to question society’s division between “normal” people and the disabled…In the small French town where the mentally disabled men and the lonely academic lived, a parish priest offered a bit of pastoral guidance to Jean Vanier. Vanier asked the priest what he should do with his life.
The priest said, ‘Invite these two disabled men to live with you.’ This small act of trust and hospitality birthed the first L’Arche (the Ark) community. Today in some 130 L’Arche communities throughout the world, thousands of people with disabilities and long-term assistants share daily life in family-like homes within neighborhoods and towns. While L’Arche certainly works to help disabled people reach their full potential in society, Vanier maintains that the heart of their vocation is “communion” between the disabled and ‘temporarily-abled,’ across their mutual isolation, as they eat together and transform one another in the process….”
On this Pentecost Sunday – this birthday of the Church of Jesus the Christ, our scriptures speak to us of how God miraculously created community. From the community of all living things that were created in the beginning as lauded in Psalm 104, to the miraculous works of God the Holy Spirit interceding, building unity across artificial human divisions, providing hope to those who find themselves hopeless, God’s love creates and recreates God’s desired order. Before we go farther, let’s go to God in celebration, praise and awe for all that God has miraculously done, is doing and will do…
Paul’s eighth chapter to the Roman believers is all about living life in and through the Holy Spirit. In our reading for today, Paul is speaking metaphorically about the birth of something new. We await the return of the Messiah in patience and in hope – because God always fulfills God’s promises. We wait in patience and hope while the love of God through the Holy Spirit works in us to transform us into the adopted children of God who then go to work with God to bring about a new creation – a miraculous community of diversity which honors and takes care of the whole world.
Jesus is teaching His disciples about the coming of the “Advocate” the Holy Spirit. Jesus will send this Advocate and guide to speak truth to the Disciples and to lead them forward into God’s planned future. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, “…will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned….” A new/old world order will come to pass that is made possible by the miraculous love of God through the Holy Spirit.
Likewise, the story of the first Pentecost in the Book of Acts shows that the Holy Spirit’s entrance into the world is neither meek nor mild. Rushing wind, flames on heads, speaking in languages unknown to the Disciples – and all who witnessed this miracle were “amazed and astonished”. With one great act of love, God abolished the disorder and division created by the Tower of Babel judgment and allowed all persons to understand and to hear the good news of God in whatever language they understood. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, delivers his first sermon and three thousand people are converted and baptized. The Church of Jesus the Christ was inaugurated and a singular community is miraculously created which was quite diverse, but wherein all are equal and valued and loved.
Jean Vanier writes of the vision of Jesus in a book entitled, “Living Gently in a Violent World”. He offers that, “…We live in a world of immense pain. We have to ask what it all means, who we are within it and, most importantly, how to break through our systems of protection…Jesus has a vision – a very deep vision – for how to overcome our divisions. Knowing something about history helps us to see the vision more clearly. People with disabilities, particularly the lepers, were totally rejected in Jesus’ day. Strong social barriers stood between the Jewish people and the Romans. The world was broken up into little groups defined by the Romans as it had been by the Greeks before them. This is the way of empires. There used to be a British empire, now there’s an American empire and soon there will be a Chinese one. So the world goes on. Empires rise and fall. They want to dominate the world by imposing their ‘peace’ on it.
The Word became flesh to bring people together, to break down the walls of fear and hatred that separates people. That’s the vision of the incarnation – to bring people together. In his prayer for unity [aside: John 17 from last week] Jesus prayed that we might all become one. We have this incredible vision of peacemaking, two thousand years in the making…Christ is always working to bring people together. The danger is what Martin Luther King, Jr, said: we have this tendency to push some people down so that we can rise up….”
The miracle of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power and majesty is that a diverse community was created through the Almighty love of God. People from across the known world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest festival of Shavuot. They spoke many languages – but suddenly, all these diasporic Jews were simultaneously united by words of love and praise for YHWH in their native languages. No matter who they were, they were all connected in a manner that had not been true for a very long time. They were amazed and awed and some thought that all this was occurring because a few had started drinking early in the day. This kind of public display of the power of God had not been witnessed for centuries.
Here we are today – some 2000 years removed from that first Pentecost. We are slowly coming back out of our pandemic-induced exile and examining what has happened to our world. People are united in their sorrow, fear and anxiety about an unknown and unknowable future. They are shaken and uncertain because they have lost the confidence that came from believing the lie they were told about being in control of their lives. What does Pentecost have to say to us today? Will God through the Holy Spirit once again turn timid, terrified, ordinary people into heralds of the gospel truth? It has happened before, after all!
The miracle of the community that was formed at the first Pentecost was that it was diverse, egalitarian and equitable. It was characterized by unity not uniformity. God’s love through the Holy Spirit reached out to those gathered for the festival and met them where they were. The same powerful love of God reaches out for us in our day. The question before us is, will we allow the love of God through that same Holy Spirit to transform us so that we will learn to love and accept ourselves and others wherever they are in their journey with God? We can only if we find the faith to expect that God’s love is at work transforming all of us into a miraculous community reflecting the mind and heart of Jesus.
Almost 60 years ago, Jean Vanier’s priest invited him into loving community with two men who were differently abled. Jean discovered the way to transform his loneliness was to allow God’s Holy Spirit to transform him into a new creation, empowered to live in right relationship with the most diverse people. That legacy lives on across the world in L’Arche communities. God’s love through the Holy Spirit will create equally miraculous community in this place and time as well, if we are willing to put down our fear and hatred of others and immerse ourselves in God’s unifying, unconditional love. May God make it so…amen!