Beloved in Christ, today is Pentecost Sunday. Our paraments are in red and the clergy are wearing red stoles. Many of you are also wearing red. For us, red is the representative color for fire that signifies the presence of the Divine. You can see it artistically illustrated by Sadao Watanbe on our bulletin cover where a “divided tongues, as of fire” are dancing on each of the disciples’ heads.
The settling at Pentecost begins first as the Jewish feast of Weeks where our Jewish siblings celebrate the remember the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Pentecost is a Greek word for “fifty,” thus signifying the fifty days or seven weeks after Passover. Originally, an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the spring harvest, the feast of Weeks was in the Roman era associated by various strands of Judaism with the covenant. The covenant of giving the law and building of this divine relationship between God and the human family.
In this setting, Jewish people scattered by the Greek invasion in the fourth century and other conquering forces throughout other centuries, all gathered back in Jerusalem for this important festival. In order to survive against the hegemony of their day, which dictated uniformity and dominance of one language and one culture over and above others, the Jewish Diaspora were the original code-switchers and thus existing in multi-cultural and multi-lingual practices. That reality is still with us today where people of color and indigenous people alternate between two or more languages and cultures.
With this context in mind, let us hear the power of the rushing wind in Acts 2:
Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Indeed what does it mean?
This rush of the Spirit’s power initially enabled the disciples to proclaim their gospel message in the tongues of the diverse and scattered people as promised by Jesus in his great prayer in John 17 and Joel. Where once in the story of the tower of Babel, the division of languages was imposed. The gift of the Spirit broke down this dividing wall. With this barrier removed, the outpouring Spirit share her gifts with us abundantly.
Apostle Paul, through his multiple letters, expands an elaborate and creative theology of the Holy Spirit. For example, Holy Spirit is one who “help us in our weakness” with our prayers (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit sends spiritual gifts to equip the church for its ministry (1 Cor. 12). The Holy Spirit reshapes the character and temperament of cooperative believers (Gal. 5:22) with multiple gifts of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit also empowers such mysterious worship and edification gifts as speaking in tongues and interpretating the meaning of such speech (1 Cor. 14:1-25).
Now as for this last gift of the Spirit, we Presbyterians are not very familiar with this unique expression. I tell you; it is okay. We can stay in our lane of being frozen and chosen.
We also see throughout the entire book of Acts, the Holy Spirit pours out her power over the believers in three other chapters, and the recipients of such power were all people outside the expected norm and system of power. The outpouring of the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit continues today in our lives. So perhaps, there is hope for some of us to speak in tongues after all. I wonder which one of my dear colleagues will start first.
Today is also Memorial Day weekend, and we are witnesses of the power of Holy Spirit to bring peace, joy, and comfort into this day.
In the spirit of the Memorial Day weekend, our Magnet Senior Center is gathering on June 5 to watch a PBS film titled “Armed with Language,” a documentary about a little-known military intelligence school in Minnesota during WWII that trained over 6,000 Japanese Americans to be translators, interrogators, and military specialists. Primarily recruited from internment camps, these men and women bravely served the country while their families remained unjustly imprisoned, in many cases, in extreme conditions.
While serving a congregation in Seattle, I met many Japanese Americans who endured such cruelty and racism, and yet, they boldly stepped forward to fight for a nation that did not count them as equal. Alongside with other African American soldiers who endured the violence of racism, and violence of war, the Japanese American soldiers fought and died for our freedom.
When the police and soldiers came to gather one family a young woman and her family were taken to the internment camp. As a young woman of fighting age, she signed up to serve our nation in the European theater. During the war, her first husband gave his life for our nation. After coming home and rebuilding her family, she passed her spirit of tenacity and strength from one generation to the next. When I asked her why she served, she said, “I was not going to be locked up by them.”
For us here at Westminster, we also have selfless members who served our nation in the Great War. Along our cloister hall, the hallway between the library and the courtyard, you will see all their names, minus one, on those great big bronze plaques.
Tim once invited us to take the moment to visit Fort Snelling national cemetery during this weekend, so perhaps we can take in the immensity of the sacrifices of these young people, and the heavy cost of our war making nature.
During the past seven and half years of serving this congregation with you. I have had the absolute privilege and honor to preside over services for members who came home from the Great War. The greatest joy was to hear their families’ retelling of their lives as young men and reading the letters they sent home.
Just a few weeks ago, I presided over a memorial for one of our members who fought during the bloodiest war in the Pacific theater when the US and the ally forces took over the island of Okinawa. This battle was crucial for the preparation of the invasion of Japan. This member, who missed his parents and twin sisters, wrote letters regularly. They offered a touching glimpse into the mind of an eighteen-year-old person missing home and thinking deeply about the war.
With the memories of the Greatest Generation in mind, we also come this day seeking the comfort and peace of our Holy Spirit as we hold the memories of our loved ones who had died before us.
In our faithful reading of the scripture, we seek collective the Holy Spirit for comfort and peace. One of the universal experiences of being a human is to love and to grieve. Grief, while can be unimaginable painful, it is also powerful as you recall memories, embrace joy, and receive love.
Cultures around the world have a common practice of remembering their deceased loved ones. In some of the Far East and Southeast Asian cultures, it is called the tomb sweeping day. This is the day when families gather back together by the gravesite of their loved ones. There they tidy up the gravesite, bring new flowers, and even their favorite food as offering. It is an intentional effort to remember and to grieve. Grief never leaves us, so we attend to it.
Following the worship service, we have an opportunity to do the same. We can remember our loved ones and seek the Spirit for comfort and joy. Join us at the Upper Plaza for fellowship, and the Memorial Garden to remember our loved ones even if you don’t have a family member interred there.
On this Pentecost Sunday, we gather in our red paraments, stoles and red clothing. As for me, I am wearing a red tie from Tim’s closet. We are renewed with the living power of the Holy Spirit. Especially in a time such as this, on this third anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we know our city, our country, and our world are in great need of healing, unity, and restoration. It can only be done if we stand in the truth of God’s love, which will lead us to goodness, and we serve the bring changes and transformations together.
Rev. Otis Moss III spoke at Plymouth Congregational Church this past Thursday night, he calls on the congregation to be co-conspirator with each other and with God for greater good. For we all stand on the shoulders of giants who had gone before us and guiding us to walk faithfully in this moment.
As we do, we lean on the Holy Spirit, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield of foreign wars and in the streets of our country, and we remember and celebrate our loved one with the living of the Holy Spirit.