WELCOME to this ‘post’ for Christian Pentecost Sunday! More news and prayer concerns can be found in the Bulletin.
Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth
with Your glorious light. Come, Holy Spirit.
Come from the four winds, O Spirit,
come, breath of God; disperse the shadows over us,
renew and strengthen Your people. Come, Holy Spirit.
PRAYER led by Angela Outhouse
SONG Medley: There are thousands of congregations named “First Baptist Church;” this one happens to be First Baptist Church, Grass Valley, California. ‘Surely the Presence’ & ‘There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit’
Our preparation for hearing the first of two scripture readings today is this quotation from Frederick Beuchner (originally published in The Magnificent Defeat). ‘No Telling What You Might Hear’
WHEN A MINISTER reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson—something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen—and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 10 (yes, all of chapter ten) – read by Jeff White
HYMN: Spirit of God (M. T. Winter) – sung by Sharon and Jeff White
SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:1-13 – read by Peter Dickie
SERMON: Isolate! Us Away From Them? A pastor friend asked me once if I knew where in the Bible is the first time Baptists are mentioned. I knew it had to be a joke; I did not know the answer. “No, where is the first place in the Bible that Baptists are mentioned?”
“Genesis 13: when Abraham says to his nephew, Lot, ‘You go your way and I’ll go mine.” 🙂
All stereotypical joking aside, there are a lot of people not getting along in this life, and going their separate ways. “This town isn’t big enough for the both of us.” Or, as was the case in Genesis 13, the land where they settled was just not big enough for Abram’s family and flocks and herds, and Lot’s family and livestock.
The story of separating, of isolating from others, of Us Against Them by getting away from Them, is a story we keep repeating. To use traditional language, we can say this is a result of our sin, our fallen nature. When there are lots of us, and we are different, we don’t all get along.
When we get to this moment in the Church year, we celebrate Pentecost, and the story of Acts chapter 2. The Christian Church gets born that day, when a diverse group of Jews get to hear preaching about Jesus in each of their own native languages. The cultural barriers are broken down by a special arrival of the Spirit of God.
I like to call God a Spirit of Communication. There can be so much violence in our speaking; there can be so much tenderness and healing in our communication. Our talk so often divides us and puts up walls between us; our talk so often shares real love and understanding and care. Oh, for the Holy Spirit to break through among us when we isolate ourselves from others with words!
Peter Dickie read the Acts 2 story for us today, dealing nicely with all those names of different places the Jews were from who had gathered in Jerusalem for a festival. Though they were of the same religion, they were from many different cultures and places around the Middle East and Mediterranean and Africa. You might have a sense, from Bible days, what they meant by Asia (we call it Turkey today) and Egypt, and Libya, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. When the Spirit ‘filled’ the disciples, and they spoke in each of the languages of these peoples, it was a miracle that broke down all those barriers. This news – about Jesus – was for every culture, every language, every people. The story of the rest of Acts, here in the Bible, tells how the Jesus story went out farther, to everyone, not just to the Jewish people dispersed around the world.
This moment has often been seen as a reversal of the events recorded in Genesis 11, where the tower of Babel is destroyed when all the people building it get their language confused, and they all start speaking differently from one another, and separate. I told a children’s story about this a couple of weeks ago.
But today I read for you Genesis 10. This ‘table of the nations’ lists, in a specially organized way, seventy descendents of Noah and his three sons: which become seventy nations of the earth. And as it says right here, they each develop their own language, land, and nation.
So the tradition is here, all through scripture, that all people – all the very different people of earth – all are the same family, one family. Even all the ‘enemies’ the Children of Israel faced and displaced in the Promised Land were their distant cousins. The Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, and so on… they were considered children of Canaan, who was the son of Ham, one of Noah’s three sons. So Pentecost is a breakthrough: a sign that God wills to break down the language barriers that separate us, for we should not be isolated.Indeed, we know how we talk to one another is a key part of our divisions, and at the heart of how we are healed. We know the old proverb is a lie: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ What we say and how we speak are powerful.
Songwriter Ruth Bebermeyer said:
I feel so sentenced by your words,
I feel so judged and sent away.
Before I go I’ve got to know,
Is that what you meant to say?
Words are windows, or they’re walls,
They sentence us, or set us free.
When I speak and when I hear,
Let the love light shine through me.
About a decade ago now, Sharon and I got introduced to Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Even the name of it makes a point: how we talk can be violent, or nonviolent. We tend to think of violence as actions that are physical. But how we talk can be just as violent. Jesus wants peace and reconciliation among us.
We were introduced to Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication through a series of workshops we had in the Windsor Church, led by a deacon from the Falmouth Church. The very basics of it are these points, these four steps:
- Observe what is actually happening in a situation. The trick is to be able to say what we see without adding any judgement or evaluation – to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.
- Secondly, we tell how we feel when we see what’s going on: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated?
- Thirdly, we say what our needs are that are connected to our feelings.
- The fourth component is a specific request. This is saying what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life better for us.
Let me give you an example of all this from Marshall Rosenberg’s experience of mediating and of teaching communication skills. Twenty years or more ago, he was presenting to about 170 Palestinian Muslim men in a mosque at a refugee camp in Bethelehm. Attitudes towards Americans at the time were not favourable. As Marshall was speaking, he suddenly noticed a wave of muffled commotion fluttering through the audience. “They’re whispering that you are an American!” his translator told him, just as one gentleman leapt up and hollered at Marshall, “Murderer!” Immediately others joined in: “Assassin!” “Child-killer!” “Murderer!”
Marshall felt fortunate he was able to focus his attention on what the man was feeling and needing. He’d had some clues, such as empty tear gas canisters near the camp, clearly marked ‘Made in the U.S.A.’
Marshall asked the man who had first spoken, “Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently?” He didn’t know whether his guess was correct–what was critical was his sincere effort to connect with the man’s feeling and need.
“Damn right I’m angry! You think we need tear gas? We need sewers, not your tear gas! We need housing! We need to have our own country!”
“So you’re furious and would appreciate some support in improving your living conditions and gaining political independence?” Marshall said.
“Do you know what it’s like to live here for twenty- seven years the way I have with my family–children and all? Have you got the faintest idea what that’s like for us?” the man responded.
“Sounds like you’re feeling very desperate and you’re wondering whether I or anybody else can really understand what it’s like to be living under these conditions. Am I hearing you right?” asked Marshall.
“You want to understand? Tell me, do you have children? Do they go to school? Do they have playgrounds? My son is sick! He plays in open sewage! His classroom has no books! Have you seen a school that has no books?”
“I hear how painful it is for you to raise your children here,” Marshal responded, “you’d like me to know that what you want is what all parents want for their children– a good education, opportunity to play and grow in a healthy environment…”
“That’s right,” the man said, “the basics! Human rights –isn’t that what you Americans call it? Why don’t more of you come here and see what kind of human rights you’re bringing here!”
“You’d like more Americans to be aware of the enormity of the suffering here and to look more deeply at the consequences of our political actions?” The dialogue continued, with the man expressing his pain for nearly twenty minutes, and Marshall listening for the feeling and the need behind each statement. He didn’t agree or disagree, he simply received his words, not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with him.
Once the gentleman felt understood, he was able to hear Marshall explain his purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, that same man who had called him a murderer was inviting him to his home for a Ramadan dinner. (M. B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication, 2003, pp. 13-14)
There is a lot to learn about the process of Nonviolent Communication, yet it is clear, and simple in a way. The hard part is the personal part – and it is all personal! It is about getting in touch with our own thoughts and feelings, and our real needs. It is about being honest about these things. It is about listening well to others, to discover their thoughts and feelings and needs. Then, be ready to hear what people are asking for, & to make your own requests.
God has blessed each of us with some skills in this during our lifetimes. It comes with living. It comes from the school of hard knocks, and from the school of love and compassion that Jesus teaches us. If God is a God of communication, we should expect miracles of understanding when people talk.
The Spirit of God is One who can inspire us to speak and to listen better than ever. I think about another perennial problem we have: people from here and people who have ‘come from away.’ It is an Us Vs. Them problem we Nova Scotians have. We are the friendliest people when you come as a tourist to visit; we are often not welcoming or including at all when you move in next door!
This happens at the local level too. Move to a new place in the province and you might always be considered ‘from away.’ It comes out in the habits of our language. I could tell someone new to town that my Church is right across from the old Canadian Tire. Uh, where? Or: beside the Wharf Rat Rally headquarters. That is not there anymore either, though one sign is still here.
Would the Spirit of Jesus prompt and train us to be more sensitive and sensible in how we talk to newcomers? Yes, surely yes. There is, of course, a time and place for ‘in house’ talk, using the familiar places and phrases that are local, and throwing in an inside joke. But the welcome of the outsider, the love of ‘strangers’ demands we use our spiritual gifts and good communication. Clear communication. Nonviolent communication. Words and listening ears that do not make Us and Them. Know thyself. And know others. Let us rely upon the promised Holy Spirit when we communicate. So it will not be a matter of us away from them, it will be Us With Them.
PRAYERS of the People: O God, who breaks down barriers of hate and mistrust, who binds us together with unbreakable compassion, who saves us when Jesus stretches out His arms upon a cross: hear Your people praying this weekend, from every place.
On this weekend of celebrating the Queen of Canada, we pray for rulers and all in authority. May they have wisdom, good sense, and strength of spirit for all their responsibilities and all the harsh criticism they face.
On this weekend when choristers would have been singing in Digby and St. Bernard, we pray for us all who have missed making music together for more than a year.
On this weekend when many would have gone to their cottage or a campground, we seek the best and safest ways for recreation, and rejoicing in creation around us.
On this weekend when Atlantic Baptist and Wesleyan youth have met online for the ONE Conference, may there be real continuation of the fellowship, discipleship, and faith developing among the youth, guided by You, Spirit.
On this weekend when Wayne and Dottie are home from our hospital, and we have hopes Marie will get home too, we pray for all who suffer illness or injury. When the recovery time is long – too long – may there be gracious strength and hope from You. When the prognosis is not good for someone, let the big picture of Your care, Your purpose, and Your eternal plan be clear. When there are long term disabilities or pain, emotional upset or mental illness, let Your protection be gracious and Your servants be always caring.
On this day that You have made, we rejoice and are glad in it! Rain down, rain down, rain down You love on Your people! In the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
HYMN: Spirit of Gentleness (James J. Manley) – recorded by some Methodists in Tacoma, Washington, USA, at a nice energetic pace.
Remember when God the Spirit has been closest to you:
may you be blessed to know that again in your soul.
Remember when we saw that we are one, all from God:
may we be blessed to know that again, in our bodies.
Remember when others were blessed by true fellowship:
may they be blessed to know a gracious welcome.