The Day of Pentecost
20 May 2018
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
I attended the special City Council meeting on Thursday. I arrived at 6:25 pm and signed in as speaker number 71. With everyone being given 5 minutes to speak, not accounting for the transition between speakers, it was to be 5 hours and fifty minutes before I would get to speak. At a quarter to one the meeting was recessed to meet again the next day.
When I came to my car, I realized that it had been locked in the mall parkade and I took the bus home, at least for most of the way. I will know better next time.
I returned on Friday and got my five minutes. You probably know that city council voted 8 to 1 to move ahead with the supportive housing project and is giving city staff instructions for the MOU to be negotiated with BC Housing and RainCity.
All this made for an interesting experience.
There was much vocal opposition. The opposition was driven by anxiety over how the neighbourhood may change and the anxiety was given expression by describing the future tenants as people we must be afraid of. Some appeals to city council were very emotional and I can sympathize with them even though I believe that they were just fear, not fact. Yet the general tenor regarding these future neighbours was entirely animated by fears and it was suggested that it would no longer be safe for anyone in the neighbourhood of 7300 Elmbridge.
The debate struck me as clash of cultures. A clash not of Chinese and Western, for both groups were somewhat mixed, but of a culture of fear and a culture of solidarity (or altruism, or whatever we may call it) and I remembered what I had once learned in a public debate: That followers of Jesus can and must make a difference to the world in which we live. That, perhaps, is our most significant witness because it may get people interested in what makes us tick.
There were many people who spoke passionately and convincingly and it was the young people who stood out the most. But I want to tell you about two others. One was councillor Alexa Loo who in her explanation of her support for the project told us that when she was four years old ‘her very pregnant mother’ had taken her to the Sisters of the Atonement in the Downtown Eastside to make sandwiches. Her mother had ‘taught her not to be afraid of homeless people but to roll up her sleeves and help.’
The other person was a Malaysian man who had been one of the first speakers of the debate. He had come to Canada some 20 or 30 years ago. He spoke of a prison ministry he had been part of in Malaysia, and I think he did so, not to suggest that homeless people were criminals, but that all people are people. When councillor Day asked him if he had not been afraid of meeting these prisoners, he answered yes, at first he had been. Then he paused and said to much laughter that the first time he met his wife he had been afraid, too.
The contrasting visions articulated made me think of St Peter’s sermon of Pentecost, particularly his quote from the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, 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.”
Of course, there is also the part about “portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist; about the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood.
This is metaphorical language about living in a time of much change and uncertainty, perhaps like the time we live in now. But the time of uncertainty is to be redeemed by God and it is a time for the church to have visions and dreams.
Maybe that’s the problem, we don’t know how to dream or what to dream, or our dreams are too small or too private, like the lottery win or the vacation.
There was talk at the council meeting about perhaps not being able to change the whole world but to change the lives of 40 people.
My point is this: To think that the apostles were only drunk, that the Holy Spirit is an illusion, to think that the apostles were just uneducated country bumpkins, or to think that homeless people may not we worth or effort, and to reduce people to the things we can see on the outside is human. We may at time do that to ourselves, thinking that we are not much, or are only what others think of us, or are only defined by what we have made it to in life.
Yet the story of God with the world is the story of creatio ex nihilo, of God’s creation, election, and redemption. Of God seeing ultimately more in us than we can see, and perhaps something entirely different.
We live in a time when it is easy to be afraid. A plane crash, another school shooting, violence in the Middle East, environmental degradation and democracy threatened. The royal wedding came just at the right time. But fear stifles all vision.
It makes me think of the exhortation in 2 Timothy, that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Paul writes that therefore we must not be ashamed, of the testimony about our Lord or of him the Lord’s prisoner, but join with him in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
We must not be afraid to dream dreams and have visions, for the church and for the world.
There is one more line in Peter’s sermon that struck me in a way that it had not before:
God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, on all people. God does not discriminate.
I do not claim to fully understand this verse, beyond the fact that God is impartial and that there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile for those who are in Christ Jesus. This must have been on Peter’s mind, even though it was Paul who said it.
But perhaps this can help us understand why Christians weren’t the only ones at City Hall last week, but know to give thanks to God for all who have visions and dream dreams that even remotely sense God’s Kingdom.
May God’s Spirit take away our fear and give us eyes to see God’s vision and God’s dream for the church and for the world.