Destruction & New Creation: A Sermon for Pentecost

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Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the one who makes all things new, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

One of my very favorite classes that I took in seminary was a theology class all about the Holy Spirit taught by Dr. Lois Malcolm.  I took the class because the Holy Spirit has always confused me a little bit and as Lutherans, we generally don’t really seem to know what to do with this person of the Trinity. The Spirit often feels elusive, impossible to define or pin down. And I have always liked a little bit more certainty, so, I showed up in Dr. Malcom’s class with a stack of textbooks and a Bible and a laptop, ready to be enlightened on the mysteries of God.

But, like most of my classes in seminary, I did not come out with a whole lot of answers to the questions that were burning within me. The Spirit of God given to the people at Pentecost is still largely a mystery to me in many ways. Instead of giving us hard and fast answers, Dr. Malcolm helped us ask more thoughtful questions. And I’m endlessly grateful to her for that.

But she did make sure we walked away knowing these things:

The Spirit of God is a Spirit of Life.

The Spirit of God is a Spirit of Truth.

The Spirit of God is a Spirit of Freedom.

The Spirit of God is a Spirit of Love.

The Spirit of God is wild and always moving and dancing and breathing into this world’s most hurting places. The Spirit of God is not owned or controlled by the church or the government or any particular nation or anyone in power. She is endlessly creative, always giving birth to something new in the wake of destruction, refusing to let death have the final word. She creates hope. She sustains community by placing us at the feet of Jesus, whose crucified and risen body holds all things together.

I don’t know about you, but I need to rest in knowing that we are being held together after this week. I need to know that the Spirit of God is breathing in us and through us and stirring up life in the midst of death because as a society we are hurting and we are broken and we need to know that someone or something bigger than any of us is creating all things new.

Last Monday, a Black man named George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. It is and was horrifying and unjust and the righteous anger of the oppressed is rising up in protest. People are sad and angry and hurting and scared.

George Floyd is far from the first of our African American siblings killed by a system rooted in white privilege.  We often don’t like to admit it, but our society has been built on the premise that some people are more worthy of life and freedom and love than others.

But the Spirit of God disagrees with this premise.

Life and freedom and love are meant for every person, every race, every nation, every creature. And the Spirit of God will not stop moving and dancing and creating until that is the case and we are all united in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

I find it striking that the images connected with the Spirit in today’s texts from Acts and John are wind, fire, and breath.

Wind and fire are forces of both destruction as well as new creation.

I was moved this week by words from another one of my favorite seminary professors, Dr. Kathryn Schifferdecker. She wrote this weeks ago before most of us knew George Floyd’s name, and yet these words take on even more meaning now.

“So perhaps it is entirely appropriate that fire and wind are signs of the Holy Spirit in this well-known Pentecost text. Perhaps they are also particularly appropriate symbols of the work of the Holy Spirit in our time. As we wait in the wreckage of what was, as we wait for the birth of what will be, we are called to see visions and to dream dreams. Thus, we might ask questions such as these:

What of our old lives, personally and communally, needs to be burned away? What needs to be renewed?

There are obvious answers revealed by the pandemic in the U.S.—economic inequality and racial inequities have led to disproportionately more deaths of people of color; mass incarceration and an industrial food system have created hotspots for the pandemic; too many workers considered “essential” are not compensated fairly for their labor; and equal access to health care is not considered a human right.

But we have also seen unprecedented cooperation between scientists and researchers all over the world. We have seen healthcare workers and many others work sacrificially to save people’s lives. We have seen people of faith reaching out to their neighbors in creative and caring ways. And we have also seen the face of the ground (and the sea and the sky) renewed.

So, again, what of our old lives, personally and communally, needs to be burned away? What needs to be renewed? Or, to put it more theologically, of what do we need to repent (Acts 2:37-38)? And in what ways do we need to witness to God’s life-giving work in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:32)?” [1]

The Spirit for God is in the business of making all things new.

We might want to rush to that newness, but first we might need to let some things die. The systems that are broken. Lies about our neighbors that many of us have been taught. Unlearning can be painful, intimidating, or awkward. We will mess up. We aren’t going to do it perfectly.

But we don’t have fear because when those things are wiped away, there is a new thing already being born.

Life. Truth. Freedom. Love.

Like many of you, I have seen images of the destruction in Minneapolis and our nation. We see fire that destroys. We see systems crumbling that we thought were sturdy. This is scary. And we need to wrestle with the destruction we are witnessing.

But as people of God we are also called to testify to new life rising from the ashes. Recently my social media feed was taken over by other images that are less widely circulated than those of buildings on fire. They were images of people coming together to rebuild communities. Businesses releasing statements that put people and the hard work of justice over profit. Everyday people donating food for those in need, so much food that churches serving as drop-off sites have had their entire lawns covered with bags of groceries. Churches and temples have opened their doors as emergency medic stations or makeshift offices for trauma counselors. People have raised their voices in solidarity, insisting that we can create a more just and loving world. Neighbors are supporting each other, checking in on each other, praying for each other, refusing to let death have the final word.

For that same Spirit that descended in fire and breath and wind on that first Pentecost long ago is here still. She breathes in us and for us, drawing us together, sending us out into a hurting world with a fiery passion for justice, love as strong as any windstorm, and with commitment to the truth that will ultimately set all of us free. We can’t control this mysterious Spirit, but we can trust that even here and now God is making all things new.

Amen.

[1] “A Pentecost to Wait, Hope, Pray and Trust” by Kathryn Schifferdecker. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=5435