Just like all those gathered there on the day of Pentecost, we all hear the gospel in our own language.
For those of us who are charismatic Pentecostals, the day of Pentecost is the promise of seeing signs and wonders, of prophesying and dreaming the reality of God.
For those of us who are social justice Christians it is about caring for the poor so nobody is in need, and for Christian socialists it is about having all things in common, sharing what you have with each other and building a new kind of community.
For evangelists it is about numbers being added and the good news being spread to all nations. For the preachers it’s about Peter’s epic sermon – some of which we did not read today - introducing Jesus in such a compelling way that it draws thousands to the good news of God. For those waiting for the fulfillment of Old Testament promises, it presents Jesus as the culmination of their hopes.
For some of us it’s all about repentance and the forgiveness of sins that leads to new life.
For others the baptism of the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to do supernatural things.
Sometimes it feels like instead of the Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost allowing the singular message of the gospel, given in all the languages for everyone to hear the same thing, this story just opens the door to lots of different messages, the gospel fragmented and parsed out, for everyone to hear what they most want to hear.
But this passage is really about one thing: This is about being saved. They are being saved.
When I say this text is about being saved, I am aware that I am opening a can of worms. A surefire way to light up the divisions between Christians is to talk about the concept of being saved. Because we hear that through the filters of all our differing strategies, goals and the meaning we assign to the saving, who needs it, who does it, how it happens and what it’s for. Some people cringe and hear it as condemnation toward those who are not saved. Others hear the message of eternal security in heaven and being protected from an eternal punishment in hell when we die as the core of the gospel, and find it to be a deep and abiding hope. And for others, faith and following Jesus is about obedience and action in this lifetime and they don’t even know what to do with the word “saved” so it makes them wiggly in their pew hearing it said aloud today.
But here it is – they were being saved. Paul talks like this all the time, (and we will get into that this summer, and throughout this upcoming year). That is what happens at Pentecost – they were being saved. And it is why we are sitting here today, celebrating the day of Pentecost – we too are being saved.
We’ve been in the season of Easter, telling stories of resurrection, (aka, stories of being saved), leading up last week to the Ascension – the moment when Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain 40 days after his resurrection, gives them some words and vanishes into the clouds, is Luke’s dividing point in the story he is telling. He gives us that scene twice- at the end of the book of Luke and just before this in the beginning of Acts. He uses it to end the first of his letters- the one about Jesus being here with us in bodily form. And then he uses it again to transition us to his second letter, the book of Acts, which is all about usbeing Jesus’ body. When Jesus’ in body leaves, the Holy Spirit comes and we become the Body of Christ. Luke has moved us out of the story of Christ in the flesh, to the story of Christ enfleshed in community, from God alongside, with and for, to God in and through and between.
Pentecost is the very beginning of what we now call the Church.
And Pentecost is the story of us being saved.
Being saved from the way of fear for the way of God.
Being saved for nothing less than full participation in the very life of God.
This also means being saved from thinking the story is about us, about what we do or believe or don’t do or don't believe. The verb, the action, in this story is not human action, it is the action of God – the Holy Spirit is the verb of the love of the Trinity. It is the very energy between the Father and the Son poured out on us and drawing us into that union of love.
God is saving the world. The rest are details.
You and I, every one of us, we are made for intimate connection with God – made for this. We are children of God, which means not only do we belong to God as our very core purpose and source and the relationship that defines us and makes us who we are, but we also belong to each other; we are sisters and brothers in the human family – all of us.
We are made by love to love God and love each other.
Bishop Curry talked about this at yesterday’s Royal wedding- (did you really think you’d come to church – any church – today and not hear a reference made to Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon?). He asked the crowd to imagine our pained weary world if love were the way of things. And then he painted a picture: nobody would go hungry, nobody would be poor, war and violence would not exist, and the earth would be stewarded with care. Love is so powerful, he said, that living with its power would transform us so much it would be like discovering fire for the second time.
We are being saved for this, into this.
God is forging a new community that reflects God’s own being – a community that bears witness to and takes on the shape of the love that makes up God’s own being.
We are saved into that love, for that love, to find our being in that love and live out that love in the world God loves.
This is the birthing of a new humanity. And it means the death of the old one.
It means, as Franciscan priest, Father Richard Rohr puts it, “life is no longer about you, now you are about Life.”
This is a losing of ourselves completely. Belonging fully to God and to others, means that propping up ourselves and pursuing our own causes over against others ceases to matter entirely.
This is also, therefore, paradoxically, a finding of ourselves utterly. As we belong to others we find we are most fully alive; as we love and receive love we discover our unique humanity, fully participating in all its uniqueness, not losing its distinctiveness but gaining it.
We find ourselves more fully belonging to ourselves, even as we more fully belong to God.
Every person standing there that day, in every language, heard the gospel that set them free, whatever it was they needed to hear that allowed them to claim deeply that they were being saved for belonging to God and others, for conscious and joyful participation in this new reality defined entirely by love.
Being saved looks like letting love’s fire cleanse us and burn away what is killing us, and fan to life what wants to live in us. It looks like repentance of sins and the ways we hurt each other, and forgiveness and new life between us. And it looks like supernatural power that comes out in courage (which is always hand in hand with vulnerability), and abundant generosity, and inexplicable miracles as the Holy Spirit moves through us.
We are the community of those whose lives have been lost that they might be found, those who understand themselves as “being saved”- every day saved from our own hatred and selfishness, freed from our own judgment against others and ourselves, saved from patterns of thought and behavior that dehumanize ourselves or others, freed from an existence emptied by apathy, or filled on gluttonous rage and irritation. Saved from the compulsive fear and avoidance of death that ultimately serves death.
We are being saved for Life – as Life truly is, as it is meant to be, that is, intimate connection with God and life-giving connection with others, in the honest and humble acknowledgment of our true selves, so that even while we are dying we know we are being saved, and even as we are being saved, we know we are dying.
And here’s the power of it all – when we are living in this new reality, when the Holy Spirit meets us the way it did the disciples that day and all the people who heard the message spoken right to them, when we have an encounter with love that sets us free to love more, when something we thought we were dies and what we are becoming is being born in us -
the result is that some will see signs and wonders and some will prophesy and some will dream dreams of God’s future reality breaking in. Some will give up all they have and share in common. The poor will be claimed alongside us as our own and together we will work for a reality where nobody is in need. The promises of old find their fulfillment, not only in the embodied Christ who walked the earth, lived, died and was resurrected, but also in the Christ now embodied in, through and between us.
This “being saved” is timeless and eternal, it is not stopped by death, nor does it begin at death. It begins right now with obedience to Jesus and concrete action, joining in the activity of God here and now, caring for the poor and building true community, and it continues, drawing us into eternity with God in deep, abiding hope. The good news of this reality spreads from us and to us, from and to all nations. And, it turns out, epic sermons are occasionally preached to millions that draw people to the good news of who Jesus really is.
We are one in Christ, beloved and bearers of love.
We are being saved for full participation in the life of God each and every day.
May we welcome the power of the Spirit, however it comes to us today.