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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mama: A Sermon

Following the Wind
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Pentecost/Pluralism Sunday
May 11th, 2008

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Better than a thousand meaningless statements
Is one meaningful word,
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
--John
3:8, Dhammapada #100,
Acts 2:1-

We have the makings of a perfect storm. On the horizon is a mighty wind.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. According to the legend of Acts, the Twelve were gathered in the upper room and the Holy Spirit landed upon them and they began speaking in all the languages of the known world so everyone could hear the gospel. The church has celebrated this as its "birthday."

Some Progressive Christians have taken this Sunday as an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the world's faith traditions and celebrate Pluralism Sunday on Pentecost.

This is from the Pluralism Sunday website:

On Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 2008, churches around the world will dedicate their worship to a celebration of our interfaith world. Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion—and we can understand our own traditions better—through a greater awareness of the world’s religions.

This year the wind has shifted. Today is also Mother's Day. I have been thinking of how to tie these three together. I came up with some sermon titles. You always want to begin your sermon with a title, even if you change it. That is why more often than not, my sermon title doesn’t fit what I am talking about. After I have posted the title in the bulletin, I go in a different direction. Nevertheless, it is always good to start with a title. Here are some sermon titles for that perfect storm of Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mother’s Day:

* Pluralistic Pentecostal Mothers

* Tongue-Speaking Inter-Faith Mom

* Mama Was a Holy Rollin’ Pluralist

I also thought up a title that the loyal opposition could use for this Sunday. To borrow a page from Danny DeVito:

* Throw (That Fiery Pluralistic) Momma From the Train.

As you can tell, I am fascinated by this combination of Pentecost, Pluralism, and Mama.

Today we celebrate the “Bible-believin’, devil chasin’, on fire for Jesus” Mama whose passion is promoting understanding for diverse sacred paths.

We don’t often think to connect the fiery, spirit-filled, self-assured, passionate individual with religious tolerance and peace-making. Perhaps we should.

We can’t celebrate Mother’s Day without mentioning that Pentecostal Unitarian, Julia Ward Howe. I thank Sandra Garrett for telling me about Julia Ward Howe.

Julia Ward Howe is famous for the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She did more than that. In 1870, she made a declaration for A Mother’s Day for Peace. This is from About.com

Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality in its many forms) and seeing war arise again in the world in the Franco-Prussian War, she called in 1870 for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and commit to finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

You tell me if there isn’t some Pentecostal fire in this speech:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

She wasn’t able to get this Mother’s Day for Peace recognized.

Mother’s Day as we know it, was officially recognized in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson. That story is interesting as well. Julia Ward Howe’s contemporary was a woman by the name of Anna Jarvis.

Anna Jarvis was an Appalachian homemaker. In 1858 Anna Jarvis began a crusade. She organized Mother’s Work Days (as if Mothers weren’t working enough) in order to improve sanitation. During the War Between the States she organized women to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

Her daughter, who was also named Anna Jarvis, started her own crusade to start a memorial day for women. The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1907 and in the church where her mother had taught Sunday School. Mother’s Day caught on and Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day in 1914. About.com

Today Mother’s Day serves mostly commercial and sentimental purposes, and in many churches to shore up traditional gender roles. I don’t think Julia Ward Howe nor Anna Jarvis would be amused.

I don’t think we can celebrate Pentecost, Pluralism and Mother’s Day without mentioning Molly Ivins. Molly Ivins was filled with that Pentecostal fire for justice. She was a staunch advocate for the welfare of children, for the poor, and against war. My favorite quote from Molly Ivins is this one:

"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

As the bells rang today for breast cancer awareness, it is appropriate to remember Molly Ivins in that context as well. She died of breast cancer at the age of 62. She wrote this about her experience with breast cancer:

Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.

One of the first things you notice is that people treat you differently when they know you have it. The hushed tone in which they inquire, "How are you?" is unnerving. If I had answered honestly during 90% of the nine months I spent in treatment, I would have said, "If it weren't for being constipated, I'd be fine." http://www.ibcsurvivors.org/molly.html

If I had a Pentecostal Pluralistic Mama Award I would give it in memory of Molly Ivins. I really don’t know much about her religious convictions or even if she was a mother for that matter. But I think she had a bead on that experience of Pentecost in the legend of Acts.

The biggest problem with Christianity, as I see it, is that it tends to think too highly of itself. It claims to speak with authority about things it doesn’t know much about. Then it pronounces that it is the only one true religion. Molly Ivins had a good way of putting its spokespeople in their place. In a column entitled, Let God Speak for Himself, she wrote about folks who like to speak for God. She wrote:

Quite a few people have been mishearing the Lord lately. The Rev. Pat Robertson thinks the Lord told the people of Dover, Pa., they shouldn't ask for [the Lord’s] help anymore because they elected a school board Robertson doesn't like. And Rep. Richard Baker of Louisiana said right after Hurricane Katrina that "we finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did it."

I kind of doubt Katrina was designed by the Lord as a form of urban renewal. I think it's a big mistake for us to go around putting our own puny interpretations on stuff that happens and then claiming the Lord meant thus-and-such by it. It is my humble opinion that some folks should do a lot more listening to God and a lot less talking for Him.
http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1202-23.htm

The point of the Pentecost story is that the disciples didn’t do a lot of talking. They did a lot of listening. They waited for the spirit, the wind, the fire, to speak through them. And when the wind of God spoke in Acts it was a message of unity, grace, compassion and hope for all people—all nations. That message was twisted pretty early on to be a message of grace, compassion, and hope for us and for those who join our club.

This is why I think Pluralism, which is nothing more than embracing the truth that we may not know everything about God, is an appropriate correction to simply celebrating Pentecost as the church’s birthday. As if it were about us, that is we Christians.

There are so many more women, some mothers, some not, some Christian, some not, who model that Pentecostal passion for peace and justice for all people regardless of race or creed.

Women like Emma Hart Willard who pioneered the education of young women;

Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist preacher
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, suffragette and advocate for women’s rights,
Eleanor Roosevelt, Carry Nation, Rosa Parks, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Day, Maya Angelou.

I will give the last word to Marian Wright Edelman, the Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman has been a strong advocate for children and against violence. She gave a speech entitled, “Standing Up for the World’s Children: Leave No Child Behind” in which she spoke with Pentecostal fire for children and against violence, and for getting our priorities correct.

I will close with the prayer with which she ended this speech. I invite you to pray with me:

O GOD OF ALL CHILDREN

O God of the children of Somalia, Sarajevo, South Africa, and South Carolina, Of Albania, Alabama, Bosnia, and Boston, Of Cracow and Cairo, Chicago and Croatia.

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of black and brown and white and Albino children and those all mixed together, Of children who are rich and poor and in between, Of children who speak English and Russian and Hmong and Spanish and languages our ears cannot discern,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of the child prodigy and child prostitute, of the child of rapture and the child of rape. Of run or thrown away children who struggle every day without parent or place or friend or future,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of the children who can walk and talk and hear and see and sing and dance and jump and play and of children who wish they could but they can't Of children who are loved and unloved, wanted and unwanted,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of beggar, beaten, abused, neglected, homeless, AIDS, drug, and hunger-ravaged children, Of children who are emotionally and physically and mentally fragile, and of children who rebel and ridicule, torment and taunt,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.

O God of children of destiny and of despair, of war and of peace, Of disfigured, diseased, and dying children, Of children without hope and of children with hope to spare and to share,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all. AMEN.

http://gos.sbc.edu/e/edelman.html

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