A More Light Congregation

Bethany Presbyterian Church

One year during college, I took classes away from my usual university, and took a class at the University of Illinois Chicago Campus.  I was working full time so any class I took needed to be at night.  I needed a science credit, so I took a basic Astronomy class.  Stars, planets, the sky, etc.  I knew nothing.

It was an amazing class for neophytes like me.  As a musician I had played Gustav Holst's The Planets, and I knew about Music of the Spheres, and of course the theme from 2001 Space Odyssey, otherwise known as Also Sprach Zarathustra!

For our final project, we could do anything we wanted.  With a few exceptions:  The professor didn't want any model rockets because he already had too many; and he didn't want any more black canvas representations of black holes.  

I decided I would write a piece of music.  I played a piece on the piano, wrote out the score, and recorded it onto a cassette tape – which took a gazillion takes because I'm not a piano player.  I called it Solar Wind.

I loved the entire class, but I was most fascinated by the concept of wind coming from the sun.  I think of the sun as something so huge and hot and ever present.  And I think of the wind as invisible.  Something about the juxtaposition of both of those two opposites being one and the same was truly awe inspiring to me.  

There are solar flares which are events that happen when specific circumstances are in place.  But solar wind is a normal part of the functioning of the sun and is happening all the time.  According to Nola Taylor Redd, writing in Space.com, “The corona, the sun's outer layer, reaches temperatures of up to 2 million degrees.  At this level, the sun's gravity can't hold on to the rapidly moving particles, and they stream away from the star.”  If the wind is faster, the temperature rises to up to 1 million degrees F.  Those are the cooler spots!  If the wind is slower, the temperature rises to up to 2.9 million degrees F.  The temperature differences are accounted for by how much pressure that particular location on the sun is under.  A slower wind is under more pressure, so the temperature rises.  A faster wind is under less pressure so the temperature does not rise so high.

Pressure generates the heat that generates its own wind.

Try to imagine that kind of wind and that kind of power within the story we read today.  That's power.  That's force.  That's the promise of God.

It was a force that changed the people there.  The people gathered that day were in Jerusalem to celebrate one of three pilgrimage feasts where the entire household of Israel gathered in Jerusalem.  Known as the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, this day was celebrated 50 days after Passover.  The nations gathered there represented basically an international gathering.  

They began speaking in other languages.  This is not the scripture about speaking in tongues.  This is the story about talking in languages others could understand.  This is the scripture that tells how the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled and the purpose was for communication.  Barriers to communicating were gone.  There isn't anything here that is private, unintelligible, or ecstatic.

This is the roaring wind of Spirit that fuels us with a fire big enough to embolden us beyond what we consider our limits.

Take Peter for example.  We know about Paul because of all of his letters.  We know about him going from Saul the great persecutor to Paul the great apologist.  But here and throughout Acts, its Peter who makes a great change.  Peter, the disciple who was always questioning and was not really known to be someone who understood scripture.  Peter the one who was first a follower of Jesus and then denied Jesus three times.  This Peter goes from follower to denier to preacher.  This text today stops at verse 21, but verse 21 is near the beginning of Peter's speech so I'm going to talk a little bit about the next verses which were not read today but are appropriate for us now.   Beginning in verse 14, Peter speaks for 22 verses in total, expounding on the story of Jesus and quoting scripture, until verse 36.  Because the barriers to communication had been removed, the people could listen and understand what Peter was saying.

Boldness of Peter was fueled by that fire.  The wind of the Holy Spirit generates that heat, that boldness in us. Peter finished speaking to them in verse 36, and verse 37 reads, “When they heard this they were cut to the heart.”  “They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter told them to repent and be baptized   And then we read, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 persons were added.”  

Peter was bold, he spoke persuasively, and people changed.

Repent only means to turn another way.  It means to go from one direction to a different direction.  People were changed, so they changed.

This week was a very difficult week for many.  The news about George Floyd put me over some edge that I didn't know I was near.  It disturbed me a great deal this week.  I'm sure it did you too.  I had to turn off the news, get away from news sources.  I'm going to talk about Mr. Floyd now for a few minutes.  I tell you this so that you can take care of yourselves as you need for the next few minutes.

I feel I have to talk about him by name, because the same Spirit that we celebrate today, is hotter and brighter and blows so much further than the fires of rage that burn in Minnesota and Chicago and L.A. and everywhere right now.  

Look what the heat of rage generated?  The wind of destruction.  The boldness of that raging wind has been is not the wind of the Holy Spirit.  It is not the same wind that fueled Peter.

The Spirit that filled Peter, is the same Spirit, the same promise from God that we have.  The Holy Spirit we're talking about brings a boldness not for destruction, not for hate, and not for racism.  That Spirit that we celebrate today is the Holy Spirit and it fills us for a specific purpose – to increase God's work here on earth.

At the last General Assembly in 2018, the year George Floyd moved to Minnesota incidentally, our national church named the struggles of racism as one of its primary focus' for the two year period before the next General Assembly meeting.  That next assembly will begin in a few weeks.  It is more than fitting that for today, Pentecost Sunday, 2020, we speak boldly against hate and racism.  I will do that today by speaking not against hate alone, but FOR the life-giving person that George Floyd was.  Most of the following about George Floyd is taken from an article in ChristianCentury.com.

Back in Houston, Floyd spoke of breaking the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in [Houston] the Cuney Homes housing project, the Third Ward locally known as “the Bricks,” where he spent most of his life.

“The church expanded its involvement in the area, holding Bible studies and helping out with groceries and rides to doctor's appointments. Floyd didn't just provide access and protection; he lent a helping hand as the church put on services, three-on-three basketball tournaments, barbecues, and community baptisms.  One friend said, “He helped push the baptism tub over, understanding that people were going to make a decision of faith and get baptized right there in the middle of the projects.”

One of the pastors that held services at The Brick said, “George Floyd was a person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward in a place that I never lived in,”  That same pastor said that George “was [in Minnesota] for a discipleship program including a job placement, according to pastor Ngwolo. “A 'Bricks boy' doesn't just leave the Third Ward and go to Minnesota!” he said. He was known as a gentle giant, an inspiration to his neighborhood, and a positive force for change.   Floyd had plans to return to Houston this summer.”

Clearly Black Lives Matter.  Of course all lives matter.  But Black Lives Matter, as a movement was built by and for black families who have suffered far long enough from systemic racism and injury and death and humiliation and wrong assumptions.  That same pastor who was quoted in the article in The Christian Century, wrote this on his instagram page:  

“The fact that you have to build a narrative for a man to be loved and given justice is repulsive to me. Even if he was a capital criminal he deserved to be treated as someone created in his image. I'm done coddling Christians that can only love ppl they deem to be lovable.”

George Floyd spoke “for a specific purpose – to increase God's work here on earth.”

George Floyd said, “I can't breathe!”

The Holy Spirit says, “Here's my breath!”

The wind of the Holy Spirit was in George Floyd.  We have snuffed it out.  Lord in your mercy.

I was cut to the heart this week along with you.  “What should we do?” we cried.   What would it look like if we repented?  What is another way that we can turn?  As a society we have much to repent.  As individuals, that's between ourselves and God.

We have resources.  Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, with real fire, with colored pages of fire, and with fabric brilliantly displayed as fire.  We celebrate Pentecost year after year because we know the promise is for us and we are glad!  Without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to see beyond our own lives.

For what will we use that Holy Wind, that Holy Fire that burns in us?  In these hard COVID times, these horribly sad racist times, in the hardness that can be life, we are pushed and supported and enlivened by this promise of God's Spirit that may be called the Shy person of the trinity, but she is powerful! She isn't just a nice fireplace glow.  She came as the rush of a violent wind!  How will we celebrate the Spirit today?  How will we fight the flames of destruction with the life-giving flame of the Holy Spirit that is inside each of us?

It is within us to be just the solar wind that somebody needs!



Reverend Debra McGuire

May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21

In Memorium.  George Floyd