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May Your Knowing Be Undone

This weekend is special for Jews and Christians alike. In the words of Rabbi Arthur Waskow, “Shavuot is a festival that echoes both the successful completion of spring wheat and the direct encounter with God at Sinai. For Christians, Pentecost echoes what happened when a group of fervent Jewish followers of Jesus met for Shavuot and were surcharged with the Ruach, Hakodesh, the Holy Interbreathing Spirit.”

The birth story of the Christian Church begins with a “rush of a violent wind.” There aren’t cards, cake and colorful candles, no our genesis story, the story of how this whole idea began, commences with the “rush of a violent wind.”

Christian Teachings have mostly highlighted the Holy Spirit as a dove, a gentle Cosmic giant that works like water on a rock, gradually molding us. And yet as David Lose writes, “The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter… The word for Holy Spirit is” Paraclete- a compound Greek word that literally means, “to come alongside another.” The Paraclete can come along side to defend and counsel, or to come along side to provide comfort and encouragement. But the one who comes along side might also do so to strengthen you for work, or to muster your courage, or to prompt or even provoke you to action.” 1

The Paraclete, the Holy is the great disrupter. And our story today begins with a “rush of a violent wind.” It doesn’t start in a field, evoking the pastoral scene of the shepherd with a flock, no the birthday of the church is basically a dramatic disruption….

As the story goes, after this sacred, but wild wind arrives, things change suddenly. And what happens is more than surprising. The text says that those gathered became bewildered.

Because the scene that is described includes the truly miraculous. I mean imagine this right now- that people can understand each other and be heard alone is special, but the people were hearing and speaking and listening across barriers of language and gender and age and culture and class. It is such a departure from the normal course of things, it catches them so completely off guard, that one person yells out, “how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt?”

Magic is in the air, connections are being made, the circle has been drawn wider, a new thing is being formed, being born right then and there, in front of their eyes…and the people are like, “Why?”

“Why is this happening?” “What does this all mean?”

In the middle of God’s spectacular new thing, often the first response of we human beings have is, “What’s going on?”

Instead of savoring the moment in its mystery and meaning, instead of tuning into to the possibilities emerging, some of them shout to the Universe, I need to know what the hell is going on?!!!

That would be me. Anyone else?

If you give me the map, I will follow (or lead.) Give me the explanation, I will understand. Tell me how this is going to go, then I am in.

But it turns out the rush of the violent wind does not wait for an invitation… Can I get an Amen? It just shows up. Sometimes suddenly.

This weekend many of us met in Grand Junction as United Church of Christ congregations from Colorado, Wyoming and Utah gathered for the Annual Celebration of the Rocky Mountain Conference. We were gifted with the words of longtime Jesus scholar and historian, John Dominic Crossan. He started by showing images of iconography from around the world. And in his talk that followed, he made a case that the whole point of Jesus’ life and crucifixion was to show the way to overcoming escalatory violence. Jesus aimed to disrupt the idea that heaven was somewhere else; he disrupted the idea that some people are less worthy; he disrupted the idea that more pain, more suffering, more killing will eventually triumph over all of this. Jesus was executed because he was a threat, a disruption to the economic and political powers of his time.

Jesus points the way and as Crossan said toward the end, “It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we are afraid of it.”

Part of this new thing God wanted to, this idea called the Church, was for a group of people to be willing to be moved, and for what they thought they knew to be unraveled….

As we heard from the poet and theologian Jan Richardson,

“On the day when you are wearing your certainty like a cloak and your sureness goes before you like a shield or like a sword,

may the sound of God’s name spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.

May your knowing be undone.”

It is easy to be confused. In mainstream culture, we could easily think that the spiritual path, that a Jesus path, is all about our own comfort, that being the Church is about knowing and understanding God’s hopes, as a way of getting there. And yet… maybe our call is be disrupted enough, to let our knowing be undone, to be accomplices in God’s work of disrupting injustice and suffering within and for the whole.

Because after the questions from the crowd:

“Why is this happening?” “What does this all mean?” “What’s going on?”

Peter speaks up and reminds them what many would have known from the Prophet Joel in the Hebrew Bible. “God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Sometimes dreams that change things, God-sized dreams, often begin with disruptions…

As David Lose writes, “We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so!”

The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is one who prompts us, provokes us, surprises us, disrupts us, invites to be participants.

So maybe when we feel these things individually and as a faith community, when we feel stirred and bewildered, filled with uncertainty, when our knowing has been undone, maybe this is a beginning, a sign of a Divine disruption, perhaps something new, just might be trying to breaking through.

In this season of Pentecost, on this day where we celebrate the beginning of all of this and that we are here, convened by a Higher Power, infused with a Spirit of love, across boundaries of all kinds, we remember that our story starts with confusion and questions.

It doesn’t begin with a palatable presence of the Divine. And it doesn’t begin with clarity. It begins with disruption, unknowing, in order to welcome the surprising something new that just might be trying to breaking through.

On this Pentecost day, let us look to Jesus and to the Paraclete, our Holy Spirit, for what it means to be the church. Because in this time of ecological devastation, economic disparity and war, the question for the Church is this: are we willing to be disrupted? Are we willing to disrupt the status quo of our individual and communal lives so love can win? in this time of loneliness and despair, the question for those of us who claim Jesus as our teacher is this: are we willing to be disrupted? Are we willing to disrupt our privilege to uplift? Are we willing to embrace unknowing to see the path ahead? Are we willing to disrupt our own way of thinking to connect across barriers? Are we willing to not let our uncertainties block us from seeing God’s dreams unfolding before our eyes?

The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is one who prompts us, provokes us, surprises us, disrupts us…

“On the day when you are wearing your certainty like a cloak and your sureness goes before you like a shield or like a sword,

may the sound of God’s name spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.

May your knowing be undone.”

May it be so. Amen.


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