A reflection on Acts 2:1-21 for the Day of Pentecost
John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, has written memoirs of his days working with Martin Luther King, Jr. These books reflect Lewis’ deep spirituality and describe how faith, hope, and love have been the guiding principles of his life. In his book, “Across That Bridge, Life Lessons and a Vision for Change” Lewis tells a from the early 1960’s, which I paraphrase here:
On day Lewis entered a restaurant and ordered a meal. As a black man he was not allowed in the restaurant and was asked to leave. He gently refused and tried again and again to order his meal. Finally the waitress brought him his meal. Just as he was about to take his first bite, the waitress proceeded to pour disinfectant down his back. She then poured water all over his meal. Then restaurant owner proceeded to spray Lewis with an insecticide intended to kill cockroaches. The owner sprayed Lewis until his skin was burned. All the while Lewis offered no resistance. Instead he looked them in the eye, reminding them that he was a human being. Lewis believed that the sheer act of putting his body on the line, in peaceful resistance, manifested the reality that the love in his soul, had already overcome hate.
Lewis extended love to these two because in his mind’s eye he was seeing them as the innocent babies they once were. He saw them as one of God’s beloved. Grounded in that deep love of God, Lewis understood that the hatred they were exhibiting was a shell, something learned over time. This shell of hate and anger covered their inherent goodness – a goodness equally bestowed by God on all human beings. Lewis lives to this day with the deep belief that:
“Life is like a drama, and any person who is truly committed to an ideal must believe in the authority of a divine plan. Not a rigid, micromanagement of human behavior that predicts every step of every individual, but a set of divine boundaries that governs the present, the past, and the future—a set of principles humankind does not have the capacity to override, no matter how far we attempt to stray from its dictates.” (Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change).
In the early 1960’s members of the Civil Rights Movement, were actively and consciously learning how to utilize the power of their faith to move society forward. They used faith as a shield that literally protected their spirit and sense of integrity against the false notion that anyone had the power to inflict pain, limitation, despair, or any condition upon anyone else.
They decided to actualize the belief that the hatred they experienced was not based on truth, but was an illusion in the minds of those who hated them. Through intentional spiritual formation from the teachings of Gandhi and Thoreau, Lewis and others like him, learned to access a deep and abiding sense of love, patience, and hope. This spiritual practice was based on teachings about the nature of God. God’s love gave birth to creation. God’s love runs through all of creation including each human being. This teaching states that hatred and is an illusion we humans put on to mask our fears. Ultimately this illusion, this fear, limits our full potential to live in God’s love thus limiting our ability to be fully human.
We have just travelled in the seasons of Lent and Easter. We have journeyed through the life and brutal death of Jesus. We moved into the resurrection and Easter and experienced the fullness of God’s love in response to the violence and hatred that led to the crucifixion. The Easter season is a time to remind us of the deeply profound, pervasive, ceaseless, unconditional love that God offers. God’s love was birthed into creation itself. God’s love is known in the beauty of nature, in acts of kindness from one person to another, in the love we share. This love, God’s love is not the kind of love romanticized on television and in movies, nor even the kind of emotion we feel from time to time. God’s love, the love Jesus speaks of, is a verb – love in action. How we treat one another and care for this planet and all creation reveals love in action.
Our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles reveals this very same notion – that God has created all beings to be equal. In Acts the people sudden speak in many languages, and understand one another. In Acts we hear again that God created diversity in all its forms and calls us to embrace our differences with love. We, each of us, are made in God’s image, made good to do good.
A large crowd had gathered in the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. People were wondering what now? What comes next? Peter the disciple came forward to speak to the crowd. Peter spoke from foundational texts of Jewish history so people in the crowd could identify with him. Peter’s words revealed and affirmed that God is a God of history. Peter tells the crowd that today, Pentecost represents the in-breaking of God’s purposes for all humanity, bringing humanity together in understanding, despite our differences.
Pentecost tells us the good news that our humanity, distorted when we distrust, is revealed to us in the fullness of God’s love manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s radical love in human flesh. Thus the cacophony of voices on Pentecost and in our daily lives becomes a chorus of praise, babble becomes communication, and community is fashioned out of potential adversaries.[i]
The work of love, peace, and justice will always be necessary, until their realism and their imperative takes hold of our imagination, crowds out any dream of hatred or revenge, and fills up our existence with their power.
Over the last fifty years or so, much hard-work has been done here in Dearborn and at Christ Church to embrace the diversity of this world. However, we are not yet perfect. Pentecost reminds us to appeal to our similarities, to the higher standards of integrity, decency, and the common good, rather than to our differences, be they age, gender, sexual preference, class, or color. [ii]
There’s an African Proverb that says, “When you pray, move your feet.” Love is a verb calling us to do something, to live our faith fully, to live now – as if the fullness of God’s desire for creation were already here.
Pentecost reminds us that in God’s kingdom all are loved, equally, by a generous God. In God’s kingdom we are called to go and love as well. In every aspect of your life, look people in the eye, see in them the face of Christ. In their eyes see your reflection back as the face of Christ. Look and see Christ in one another. And most of all, on this day of Pentecost, let’s celebrate the gift of the church, for it is here that we come to practice our faith, to restore our selves with prayer, and garner the resources to go out into the world, and as Christ’s body, move our feet in love.