05/20/18 – The Marriage of Love and Diversity

THE MARRIAGE OF LOVE AND DIVERSITY

May 20, 2018
Pentecost
Sermon: Acts 2: 1-21; John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

You would have had to turn off every source of news media yesterday to miss hearing about the royal wedding. I was not one of the ones that got up to watch it live – that’s why we have televisions that can record shows and watch them at a more convenient time. So, before I saw any of the weddings, I heard the commentaries. Diversity and love were the themes for the day.

Much was made of the differences between the ethnic cultures of the bride and groom — American versus British; African-American versus Anglo. For one thing, Brits learned that African-American Episcopalian clergy preaches longer than English Anglican clergy. They also learned that African-American style gospel choirs put a little movement to their singing as opposed to the manikin –like erectness of English choirs. Though English was the common language of the guests, onlookers, and TV commentators, the accents were notably different.

Bishop Curry brought it all together with his sermon on the power of love. He used a variety of biblical texts, but his theme was very “Johannine” — God is love. Bishop Curry spoke about the kind of love we have heard about in our readings from John and First John these past few weeks – agape love. The kind of love that brings two people together in marriage changes each of them; but, agape love has the power to change the world. Curry quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says:

 “Dr. King was right: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love.
And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world, a new world.
Love is the only way.”

Reading the Acts passage describing the gift of the Holy Spirit, I was struck by the thought that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in a common language, the language of love. The story is strange to be sure. A group of Jesus’ followers is gathered in a house. A violent gust of wind fills the house – a sign of God’s presence in a powerful way. Divided tongues of fire appeared over them. We are told they spoke in different languages, even though they were all Galileans. We assume they must have gone out of the house because we read that a crowd of people celebrating the Jewish Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks, heard them.  – yet they could understand one another. The gathered crowd heard these Galileans speak in different languages, yet all could understand what they were saying. There were two equally significant events to this miracle, the speaking and the listening. Being open to the Holy Spirit requires both.

The languages they spoke were from areas Jews had lived up to that point in history. The followers gathered even spoke in tribal languages of Canaanites, the people the Jews who escaped from slavery in Egypt subdued and took their land as their own. The languages of these adversaries were heard and understood. Something powerful, something not worldly, was happening here. But, it is important to note that they were not speaking the same language, there still was diversity, but the people gathered understood one another despite the diversity of their languages.

The royal wedding yesterday demonstrated a diverse group of people coming together. The ceremony did not homogenize the different cultures but celebrated the differences. This is supposed to be the mark of Christ’s church. Sadly, we have a dark history of peoples trying to subdue cultural differences and force the majority culture on others. We are seeing a resurgence of this in our society today. The arsenal of weaponry employed depends heavily on words. In our divisive state, we have created code words to subdue and oppress opponents. We now know that a foreign adversary used social media to divide our nation during the last presidential election. The common language used were words of hate.

But yesterday, for a moment in time, at Windsor Castle, the word of the day was “love.” Bishop Curry passionately preached:

 “This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s a game changer.
Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way.
Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.
Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way.
Imagine our world when love is the way.
No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that
Poverty would become history in such a world as that.
The earth would be as a sanctuary in such a world as that.
We would treat one another as children of God, regardless of differences.
We would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside
to study war no more.

                                                 – from the homily by Bishop Curry at the Royal Wedding, May 19, 2018

John’s gospel tells us ‘God is love. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.’ Jesus told his disciples about the gift of the Holy Spirit he would send in his place to empower them to be his body in the world – the church: “15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:15)

The miracle of Pentecost offers us a different way than our divisive tribalism. Pentecost is where the Spirit affirms our differences, speaking in ways that each of us can understand—and yet drawing us together, around the same table, into communion. That’s how the day of Pentecost ends, with all these strangers eating together. “So those who welcomed [the] message were baptized, [and] they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:41-42); “they broke bread from home to home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (2:46).

Through the Spirit, the difference is made holy. Peter reminds the crowd of the prophet Joel’s words: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Notice the Old Testament prophet said not some, but all. Not to make everyone the same, but to declare their value as God’s children, to affirm where they came from, to proclaim that what makes them different is good and holy. As a voice from heaven tells Peter later in the book of Acts (10:15), “what God has made clean, you must not call profane.””

Our Christian faith promises more than redemption from something, it promises that, through the Holy Spirit, to change us into something. With forgiveness and steadfast love, we may see beyond the regrets of our own lives and to see beyond the negative labels we have used to define the neighbors we deem to be not like us or of less value than us. When we affirm one another’s humanity, we also affirm the divinity that God has placed a pilot light in our being. Through the power of the Holy Spirit that awakens God’s love within us, we can see that light in others. Bishop Curry proclaimed that the power of love is like fire. May we stoke that flame of divine love that lies within each of us and sees that same fire burning within others.

Communication is putting communion into words and actions. When we come to Christ’s table we listen to the Holy Spirit and hope for the miracle of knowing God in a meal and in each other. Communion is an invitation to come together around a table and to let Jesus create relationships with one another, with people who are alike and different. We come together as we struggle to understand God, to find that Spirit of truth and to understand one another. May we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that we speak and hear words of love that translate into any language and culture of the world.

All power honor and glory to our Triune God.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois