Pentecost Year C Musings
Theme: You are in the right place if …
In the book Tattoos of the Heart by Father Greg Boyle, Boyle notes that some Scripture scholars posit that the original language of the Beatitudes should not be rendered as “Blessed are the single-hearted” or “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Rather, greater precision in translation would say, “You’re in the right place if … you are singled-hearted or work for peace.” In those words, Jesus teaches us that the Beatitudes are not a spirituality but rather a geography that tells us where to stand.
Similarly the Scripture this week, the Holy Spirit teaches us that faith is a geography. In the text, the Spirit comes whooshing through the disciples’ gathering, calling them out of the Upper Room where they were holed up, safe and comfortable, into the cacophony of different languages and people.
The Holy Spirit calls us forth into the world, teaching us that we are in the right place if everyone doesn’t look like us or talk like us, or if we have to pause to learn to speak in other people’s languages.
In the words of Jan Richardson, we are in the right place if “everyone does not look like you or think like you…. they do not believe precisely as you believe … their thoughts and ideas gestures are not exact echos of your own.”
Location, location, location. Faith is about location. Where are you standing? Are you standing in the Upper Room? Or out in the world? The thing about venturing out, about standing with strangers, Galileans, and foreigners, is that we find out, in the end, we are the ones who are fed. As Boyle points out, we might say, “I know I’m here at the soup kitchen but, my God, I’m getting more from this.” When we change our location, we discover our common kinship with Medes, Parthians and even the Elamites.
However, in order to discover that kinship, we have to be willing to stand in places that frighten us, places that we might have written off or made assumptions about. In the early days when Boyle was looking for jobs for gang members, Boyle received phone calls from employers who said, “I’m scared, but send me someone [anyway].” Boyle would send them a gang member, whom they would love and who would be a hard worker. They would call Boyle back and say, “Send me someone else.” The employers had to look but they lept, but they lept.
What Boyle reminds us is that : We are in the right place if we are disturbed by the Spirit. If we say, “God I’m scared, but send me anyway.”
Emily Dickinson writes: “Not knowing when dawn will come, I open every door.” Dickinson invites us to open doors that we have not noticed before, doors that may have become dusty and creaky, and to venture into them. This week, as we contemplate the call of the Holy Spirit, Dickinson invites us to ponder: What new door might God be inviting us to open? Where do we least expect to see the Spirit working? Where are we afraid of going?
In the case of the disciples’ audience, they least expected to see the Holy Spirit working through the Galileans. According to Virgilio Elizondo, in The Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise, Galilee appears to have been outside the mainstream of Israelite life. The region witnessed multiple invasions from foreign rule. At the time of Jesus, Galilee was people by Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs, Greeks, Orientals and Jews. If for no other reason for commerce, Jews were friendly to non-Jews in the region. In this mixed, commerce-oriented society, some Jews allowed their Jewish exclusivism to weaken. Non-Jews converted to Judaism and intermarried with Jews. Galilean Jews were regarded with contempt by the “pure-minded” Jews of Jerusalem. Pharisees viewed them as ignorant of the law and Sadducees regarded them as lax in matters of religious attendance. In reality, the Galileans had a fresh originality in their Judaism because of their commonsense, grassroots wisdom of practical expertise, more open and personal relationships with foreigners and relative distance from Jerusalem. In addition to being castigated for their foreign ways, laxity and ignorance of the law, Galileans were mocked by both Greek and Jewish people because they were not able to pronounce certain sounds. In the words of Elizondo, “The slurring of the guttural sounds especially aroused contempt …. Galilee was the home of the simple people – that is, of the people of the land, a hardworking people, marginalized and oppressed regardless of who was in power or what system of power was in effect.” Could anything good come out of such an area, their contemporaries wondered. Yet, it was precisely there that the hunger for God’s kin-dom was greatest. What the world rejects, God chooses as God’s very own. Through the incarnation, God chooses to stand with the lowly and the despised of the world. Faith is a geography that teaches us that we are in the right place if we are hanging out with the Galileans, the outcasts, the despised.
Who are the Galileans in our society?
Where are we standing?
God, through the Holy Spirit, teaches us that compassion is not just about feeling the pain of other; in the words of Greg Boyle, “it’s about bringing them in toward yourself.” Be becoming a Galilean, God erases all margins and means of exclusion; God brings everyone in – from all countries, in all languages – God opens every door and leaves no one out.
The Holy Spirit, like a wind at our back, urges us forth from our enclosed room, to go outside and stand with the people with least expected to find ourselves standing with, from the Cretans to the Egyptians to the Arabs.
Like the residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia hanging out with the Galileans, God calls us to the most unexpected places. I was reminded of that truth this week as I re-read Nadia Bolz Weber’s story about her struggle to welcome “normal” people to her church start, House of All Sinners and Saints. Bolz Weber recounts that, following an article in the Denver Post, her church doubled in size, filled with visitors who were soccer moms, men who wore dockers and people who had driven in from the suburbs because her church was “neat”. Bolz Weber was confounded about what had drawn them to her “weird” church and thought if they had a meeting that showed who really made up the church – aging hipsters, drag queens, homeless guys and teenage girls with pink hair – that the new visitors would self-select out. At the meeting, one transgender man commented, “As the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I just want to go on the record and say that I’m really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can’t with my own mom and dad.”
Boom. Nadia’s heart opened – her heart of stone was replaced by a heart of flesh.
That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit. She just keeps inviting everyone in, until there is no one left outside.
She reminds us that we are in the right place if we look around, and wonder what is it that all these people have in common, because they are so different from each other. She teaches us that we are in the right place if people ask us — Why do you welcome in the Galileans? She teaches us that our pain and compassion leads us to one another, encouraging us to learn each other’s languages. As we do this, we are fed and discover that the Holy Spirit has been in our midst all along.
Praise be to God!