The Lord be with your spirit this Pentecost Sunday.
A reading from the book of Acts, Chapter 2 verses 1-6 as written to us by Luke the evangelist.
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, filling 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 … each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
May the Holy Spirit bless the reading of Scripture.
I want to share some thoughts this Pentecost Sunday about the "Pentecost Stretch." That's right, the "Pentecost Stretch."
There are four basic types of stretches for different situations. The first three are active, passive, and dynamic stretching.
The fourth type of stretching is PNF, short for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
. PNF stretching is very focused and aided by a physical therapist or trainer that specifically targets muscles that need stretching by holding you in position.
The question for us this Pentecost is how much and how far the Holy Spirit is stretching us as individuals, local churches, and a denomination beyond our comfort level with people different from us. This includes stretching us toward people we do not like and even those who dislike us. Is the Holy Spirit stretching us so we can move toward others rather than away, to change our perspective, and change ourselves instead of trying to reform the other person to our way of seeing things?
Sociological studies report that we tend to self-separate and segregate ourselves according to our own socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, cultural, educational, language, and political allegiances. Often, we perceive others different than us as unsafe, dangerous, and enemies.
We live in gated communities, neighborhoods, suburbs, barrios, and inner cities filled with others of like minds and social status. We assemble along separate media streams where we find mostly what we want to hear and little else.
Social media companies reinforce self-filtering messages through algorithms to predict what we want to see and read based on past clicks, moving us farther away from information streams that don't fit our ideological, cultural, or political bent.
Our tendency to self-separate also occurs in our choice to belong to monocultural churches without the need to cross racial and cultural barriers to embracing others different than ourselves.
There is a principle in church growth known as the "homogenous unit principle." This principle asserts that local churches grow fastest when the gospel does not have to cross ethnic, cultural, racial, language, or class barriers.
Our Pentecost scripture reading sets forth a different vision for the local church that challenges our tendencies to group ourselves according to our racial, ethnic, and cultural affinities. Such homogenous groupings amid a diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural context are an affront to the gospel and antithetically opposed to the apostolic vision of the Church.
The story of the early Church tells of Jews from all over the known world, from different cultures, ethnicities, and nations speaking other languages, gathered for the pilgrimage festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, a Jewish feast celebrating Moses' giving of God's law at Mt. Sinai.
The Risen Christ pours out the promised Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in prayer to give disciples the power to go to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, to "proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins" in his name.
The Holy Spirit begins the work of reconciling the estranged human race to God and the fractured human race to each other.
The risen Christ achieves unity in diversity by sending the Holy Spirit to enable everyone to hear the gospel in their own language, not in a single universal language. Diversity of language, culture, and the like is something to be celebrated!
Faith in Christ exploded the social barriers and boundaries that separated people. David Smith, in his piece The Church Growth Principles of Donald McGavran
says, "It was precisely the heterogeneous multi-ethnic nature of the church which made an impact on the divided Roman world and led to the growth of the Christian movement."
In a world of colliding cultures, the early Church, by divine grace, was a single human community, new humanity, living a common life – this was a new thing God was doing!
"A new kind of family," says NT Wright in his seminal work Paul: A Biography
, "had come into existence. Its focus of identity was Jesus; its manner of life was shaped by Jesus; its characteristic mark was believing allegiance to Jesus."
The apostle Paul proclaims that the Holy Spirit incorporated and made Gentiles "fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel so that the church in its rich diversity and unity would manifest the manifold wisdom and glory of God."
From Babel (Genesis 9:9), peoples are scattered in judgment; from Jerusalem, they scatter to spread the gospel, driven by the apostolic vision that will eventually bring about worldwide healing, peace, salvation, and unity with God and one another.
Multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-racial local churches - especially in diverse communities - are more faithful to Scripture and more fully display the glorious reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is because the boundary of a local Christian church is marked by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of all, not class, culture, language, nation, or race. By faith, all persons, regardless of their differences, have full access to God's new covenant as expressed in a local church.
In Christ, our "otherness" to each other is surpassed by our "oneness" and shared faith and life in Him.
As members of distinct people groups, defined by language, culture, ethnicity, race, nation, or the like, we struggle to think beyond the affirmations and prejudices of our own tribe or our own family. The "otherness" of others is threatening to us, and we find it challenging to deal with anyone except people just like us.
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh on Pentecost, in large part, meant to undo our self-segregation! The Holy Spirit is Christ's gift that leads us into more profound prayer and deeper love that diminishes our own prejudices and fears of the other for the gospel's sake.
The Holy Spirit of God stretches beyond our boundaries. It leads us into a new relationship with Jesus Christ, new connections with people different from us, and new worlds beyond ourselves.
Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came, the world would be convinced about sin and guided into all truth that glorifies him. Perhaps part of the Holy Spirit's work this Pentecost season is to lay the ax at the root of our ethnic and racial pride and call us to repentance for the way we
barricade ourselves from others who are different than us, especially when we gather as local churches.
Friends, every day, our world is rapidly diversifying. This can be seen as a threat that will tempt us to cling to people groups we are familiar with. But this Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, like a PNF therapist, bends, holds, and stretches us beyond ourselves toward others different from us.
How is the Holy Spirit stretching you and your local church? Does your local church's membership and ministries reflect your community's demographic? Does your local church include children, youth, and adults from differing cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds who accept each other lovingly and live in harmony?
What new worlds is the Holy Spirit calling you and your local Church to enter this year? If we can't go beyond our racially homogenous and monoethnic tribes, the church of today and tomorrow is in trouble. Our apostolic witness is diminished to a world in desperate need of a tangible expression of a reconciled diverse humanity united in Christ, serving one another, and worshiping God in unity and harmony.
I leave you today with Credal reading written by Dr. Justo Gonzalez, a Cuban Methodist theologian, titled The Hispanic Creed (El Credo Hispano). I would often use this Creed in Spanish and English during worship when I pastored local churches along the Texas/Mexico border and would always use it on Pentecost Sundays.
The Creed is found in the United Methodist Spanish Hymnal, Mil Voces Para Celebrar! (For a Thousand Tounges to Sing!). The version below is the Spanish to English translation.
The Hispanic Creed
We believe in God the Father Almighty
Creator of the heavens and the earth;
Creator of all peoples and all cultures;
Creator of all tongues and races.
We believe in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord,
God made flesh in a person for all humanity,
God made flesh in an age for all the ages,
God made flesh in one culture for all cultures,
God made flesh in love and grace for all creation.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
Through whom God incarnate in Jesus Christ
Makes his presence known in our peoples and our cultures;
Through whom, God Creator of all that exists,
Gives us the power to become new creatures;
Whose infinite gifts make us one people: the body of Christ.
We believe in the Church.
Universal because it is a sign of God's Reign,
Whose faithfulness is shown in its many hues
Where all the colors paint a single landscape,
Where all tongues sing the same praise.
We believe in the Reign of God – the day of the Great Fiesta
When all the colors of creation will form a harmonious rainbow,
When all people will join in a joyful banquet.
When all tongues of the universe will sing the same song.
And because we believe, we commit ourselves:
To believe for those who do not believe,
To love for those who do not love,
To dream for those who do not dream,
Until the day when hope becomes a reality. Amen.
On this Pentecost Sunday, may the Holy Spirit enkindle our zeal, revive the power of the gospel in our hearts, and stretch us beyond ourselves toward others different than us. May our local churches manifest God's manifold wisdom and glory to a culturally clashing and divided world.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.