June 4 2017 Sermon Pentecost Sunday – Pride John 7:37-39
Jesus gives the living water which is the Spirit.
On the last day of the festival, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of that one’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
To be one in the Spirit
While this is Pentecost Sunday, it is a time when we can all celebrate who we are as individuals in God’s family, with pride, with self respect, and with the knowledge we are all loved. That’s the hard part.
All too often over the decades, evil people with evil intentions, often in positions of respect and authority, and even in clergy, have been telling people just the opposite. They don’t measure up to their ideal, they deviate form their plan or moral base, they upset their little world by their differences. Because of that, and their own inability to understand God’s love of diversity, they have used every means foul at their disposal to condemn, shun, marginalize, and even find excuses to kill.
It has been a long and hard struggle for the outsiders, but gradually, they are making some progress towards that inclusive love for all that Christ Jesus brought to this world. True, there are still a number of frightened people who still don’t get it, and placed around the world where being different still can get you jailed or killed, but it is changing.
A half century ago, just being transgendered openly would have been putting your life at great risk, and yet here I am, living my life openly, with respect and dignity. People change, and so do the times. Love is what causes this change in how people react to others around them. When we love, we are open to the living water, the Holy Spirit, and feel compelled in that love to love others, no matter who they are. We want to have for them what we feel in ourselves. We do not want to suffer from want, to feel pain or loneliness, and therefore, we do not want others to endure that either.
That is the power of the Holy Spirit within us. That is the living water that lets us thirst no more. What we had been thirsty for was God’s love, and the hope that love brings. We live with the innate knowledge of something better after this life of suffering, where our spirit again comes before God in love. We come to understand that our physical life is only temporary but our soul is eternal.
In that knowledge, we find that in life, we can do great things. We can move mountains, even if that is a metaphor, by surmounting great odds to enact changes in our world. As I said before, 50 years ago, being openly trans was nearly unthinkable. But a few brave souls dared the odds, braved the insults and ignorance of others, and took a stand. Gradually, others followed, until I am able to be who I am today, to stand here and be what I am, with pride in who I am. Even today, an open transwoman sits as a superior court judge in the Bay area of California. We’ve come a long way baby.
For the gay and lesbian community, heroes also arose, taking up the battle and winning hearts and minds and breaking down barriers. From Harvey Milk to Barney Frank, and a host of others, gays have entered politics, elected because of who they are, not what they were. But because of what they are, changes have happened. In California, transgender children can now openly attend school, with the law to protect them. That is pride. That is also the Holy Spirit at work within the hearts and minds of people who believe love is stronger than hate, compassion greater than indifference, and that doing what is right for others pays dividends many times over.
What is Pentecost though, exactly, and why is this significant to us now? The Book of Acts describes the day, when the disciples were all assembled in Jerusalem, and a mighty wind came upon them, and as it passed through, each of those assembled had received the Holy Spirit within them, and the knowledge and gifts needed to continue Jesus’ mission. This was symbolized by tongues of heavenly flames above the heads of each disciple, showing they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In addition, they were enabled to be understood in any language, and when they emerged to a gathering crowd, when each disciple spoke, all those around them heard those words in their own language. At first they thought the disciples were drunk, but Peter assured them they were not, but only filled with the glory of God’s gift. It is from this day that the Pentecostal church derives their origins, and the ability of members, filled with the spirit, to speak in “tongues”.
It also marks the real beginnings of the Christian ministry, even though many of the disciples still struggled with the conflicts of being also Jewish. Pentecost, which comes 50 days after Passover, coincides also with Shavout, which was originally a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest, and has its own roots with Moses. Both of these special days in the Christian and Jewish church calendars, celebrate a form of thanksgiving to God; one for the Harvest, and the other for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It somehow seems fitting then that the modern celebration of Pride should come at this time also. To celebrate Shavout, the harvest, was a recognition of continued survival for any agrarian society, since everything depended on that harvest for food and physical life of the society and people. For the early Christians, Pentecost becomes that celebration of spiritual awakening through the Holy Spirit given to all those who welcomed it. It was a recognition of our connection in the spirit with God. Pride now is that social awareness and awakening of the “self”, in who we are as people, and as children of God, freed from the oppressions of others and a coming out of the real person within. It matters little really if you are gay or lesbian, or transgendered, or even a straight person who is seeking recognition of their own individuality and uniqueness in society. It is a time to take Pride in who we are as Children of God.
Such Pride can also speak of any element of our own heritage also, from our ethnic origins and cultural customs, to language. In short, it is a time, a festival if you will, when we should all celebrate what God has given us through that infinite love and open acceptance.
For this is in essence what Pentecost is for Christians. It is that recognition of our place with God through Christ. It is that third element of the triune deity we all accept today with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is God entering us, touching and connecting with our own spirit in an undying union. This gift is not just limited to those disciples either. It is given to all of humanity equally in love.
As much as some groups, and even churches, might like to deny this gift to some, especially those they personally disagree with, it is not their place to say who God graces or not. God gives to us all that same grace, that same spirit, and that same love in equality. You see, God really doesn’t care what you look like on the outside, or what you wear. God looks beyond the superficial and deep into our soul, and that is what God touches. That is also where we are measured from, by our actions and behaviors towards others. That is the essence of the Holy Spirit at work within us towards all of creation.
Celebrate this day then, for all of its many significances, both in the gift of the harvest for our physical sustenance, to Pentecost for our spiritual union with God, and now, Pride, for our emotional and cultural emergence. Revel in God’s love, for who and what you are, that gift of the Holy Spirit, and show your own pride in that gift, with compassion for everybody you meet.