I wonder what the Roman Reporter Daily News (Jerusalem edition) would have reported about Pentecost? Let me suggest a headline: “Dangerous Drunken Mob Occupies Jerusalem.” “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretans, Arabs joining in mass frenzy.” “Slaves and women are told that they are part of the vanguard!”
Since we are imagining things: I wonder what the Jerusalem Jewish News would have written? Something like this, perhaps: “Outrageous and Unorthodox: New Sect of Fanatics breaking loose.”
Social commentators and those who hold social, religious and political power don’t like it when the status quo is shaken, when people organize themselves, when the people lead and so the leaders have to react and follow, when the Spirit bubbles up and gives people voice; Very disturbing.
I wonder how I would have reacted had I been there on the day. I would like to think that I would be Peter – leading the way, delivering the stirring address. But I suspect I would have been one of the on-lookers, with eyes wide open asking myself nervously, “What the hell is going on here?”
And as a Presbyterian? Holy cow – we don’t DO Pentecost – Presbyterians do things decently and in order! We form committees! We are not given to irrational exuberant displays of religious fervor.
I have never spoken in tongues, I have never spontaneously spoken in a foreign language, I have never been slain in the spirit. I know it happens. I know people for whom these are spiritual gifts. But the most I get is a shivery tingle down the back of my spine when I feel especially inspired – that is about as Pentecostal as this Presbyterian gets!
As I was preparing for this sermon I came across this headline. And this one’s not imaginary. It was from the Wednesday, April 18, 1906 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Times. Headline: ” Weird Babel of Tongues.” “New Sect of Fanatics is breaking loose.” “Wild Scene last night on Azusa St.”
Maybe some of you have heard of the Azusa Street event. It began when the Rev. William J. Seymour, an African American preacher started proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and like the first Pentecost, turned everything topsy-turvy for a long while in Los Angeles and in fact throughout the world to this day.
And listen to this! These are the words written in the LA Daily Times:
“Outrageous and unorthodox!” “Colored people and white compose the congregation!”
A resident of the neighborhood described the happenings at 214 North Bonnie Brae with the following words:
“They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near the house. As people came in they would fall under God’s power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt.”
By mid-May 1906, anywhere from 300 to 1,500 people would attempt to fit into the building. People from a diversity of backgrounds came together to worship: men, women, children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, illiterate, and educated. People of all ages flocked to Los Angeles with both skepticism and a desire to participate. The intermingling of races and the group’s encouragement of women in leadership was remarkable, as 1906 was the height of the “Jim Crow” era of racial segregation and fourteen years prior to women receiving suffrage in the United States. (Wikipedia)
Charles Parham, a sharp critic, wrote: “Men and women, white and blacks, knelt together or fell across one another; a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big ‘buck N-word,’ and held tightly thus as she shivered and shook in freak imitation of Pentecost. Horrible, awful shame!”
I am agitated by this and I want you to be also.
Really, what are we to make of these things: The Pentecost in Jerusalem and the Pentecost of Azusa Street? Would you be open to a Pentecost on the corner of Monticello and Lee?
Did you notice anything similar between the Pentecost reported in Acts and the Azusa St. Pentecost in the LA Daily Times? Besides the utterance of foreign languages?
Did you notice the racial mixing? Did you notice the gender equality? Did you hear the radical way in which the Spirit DRIVES the church to blend folks of varying status and incomes?
Last week Clover preached on the “reign of God” – that the post-resurrection church is to move towards this vision of God’s kingdom present, real – and the Pentecost moment is confirmation and affirmation, it is a declaration that the TIME IS NOW. The time of waiting is over.
And we may not be a church that speaks in tongues, or is described as Pentecostal – in the way of modern denominational speak…. But oh my, we will be a church that seeks to be outrageous and unorthodox – and we will continue to agitate each other to BE that which the Pentecostal church always is: open, ready, expectant, powerful, joyful – overflowing with the spirit…. And I dare say there are signs even now within these walls “that somthing’s happening here, what is it ain’t exactly clear.” (CSNY)
First YOU have to be open to the surprise of the Spirit – don’t be too intellectual or too rational – yearn for the Spirit, pray for the power, get into small groups and OPEN your mind, your heart and your mouth and speak up. I double dog dare you to pray for the spirit in your life.
Because – and this is the second fundamental common theme in all Pentecostal experiences of the Spirit – new voices are raised, new visions are seen, new dreams are dreamed; and the movement of history will ALWAYS move ahead and bend towards inclusion, hospitality, grace, forgiveness and risk – ALWAYS!
So in the year ahead – listen to your OWN voice! Trust that God wants to use YOU! What is stirring? Pay attention. What headlines will be written about you?
In the year ahead at Forest Hill Church – What outrageous and unorthodox things will happen to us…here… as the Spirit descends and the voices are raised? What headlines will be written about this community?