In the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit is unhinged, out of control. In the rushing wind, in the divided tongues, in the many languages at the same time understood, God reveals almost too much power. Too much love. The Holy Spirit is without bounds and does not care what others think. Does not care that it’s all too much. The first Pentecost is on fire.
This month we also celebrate Pride, which is also routinely accused of being too much. It’s considered out of bounds. As straight folks we say things like, “I agree with the message of inclusion. But I don’t approve of the way gay folks celebrate it.” And the way Pride gets celebrated is letting all the pent up and closeted energy fly free into the world. Some queer people who are forced to make themselves smaller, even invisible, suddenly burst forth during Pride. Especially when there is safety in numbers at Pride parades there the rainbows get bigger. There is more glitter. There are more unicorns and butterflies. There is a party just like at the first Pentecost. There is a letting loose what had been bottled up. And there is something freeing and wholesome about that.
Certainly the love you see on display in all its flamboyance is more wholesome, holy, and loving than freedom folks waving Canadian flags on the legislature lawn on Saturdays. The same group who are intent on stripping away rights from trans kids, electing anti-queer leaders to public office, who disregard science, medicine, and peer-reviewed research. They have their own flamboyance but it’s very rigid, grinning through clenched teeth, filled with conspiracy theories. And while we need to have empathy for people lost down YouTube rabbit holes and Reddit sub threads, Jesus calls us back to love especially for people on the margins. We extend love to white Christian nationalists by calling them to repent and turn towards the love of the Holy Spirit. And most importantly we protect the queer kids, especially trans kids whose lives they are bent upon making miserable.
What happens too often and we need to guard ourselves against is that in the interest of bridge building we pay more attention to people hurting queer kids than we do to the queer kids being harmed. Think about the ways an ambulance crew arrives on the scene. EMTs first respond to the needs of the injured people and after they are stabilized and receiving care, then there is time for analysis of who did the injuring. And then when queer kids experience this and see that they are second class citizens in church structures, it’s no wonder they often do not return. It’s something for us to think about in general after kids go through confirmation why many have little interest spending time at church. And not to blame parents and families for lack of trying. But there is a disconnect that we need to take seriously and address. Pentecost is a great opportunity to be reminded that God’s ways aren’t always our ways.
Story about Holy Spirit’s Unbound Love
A story about the Holy Spirit’s unbound love. The other week I got caught up in some Pentecost confusion. I helped with an elementary track meet. I road a school bus with kids and teachers to the UVic track. At first I had been assigned to chaperone kids in the stands. Then it became clear several parents needed to help on the track with making the event run smoothly with each of the races. Someone asked who wanted to be be the announcer and since no one raised their hand I offered to announce which was a lot of fun. If we think there is echo with our sound system at the church, just imagine the delay on an outdoor sound system. I had to learn how to keep talking without listening to a very present echo. The further we moved away from the stands where the kids were sitting, the more echoey and distant my voice sounded. But I could tell the kids could understand me when I called for applause for the runners of a race. What seemed like noise and confusion from a distance was clear communication closer to the source.
If you’ve never attended an elementary track meet, you quickly learn half the experience is kids learning things like staying in their lane during a 100m sprint. It’s about encouraging kids to cross the finish line even though they finished at the back of the pack. It’s about a parent or teacher running across the field and running alongside a student who was giving up on finishing the final lap and everyone cheering them across the line. There was no timing. Just ribbons handed out according to place finishing the race. Even though schools competed against one another, there was no real score keeping, but rather getting kids used to the idea of running alongside each other. The idea of cheering on team mates. And you don’t even need to prompt elementary school kids to cheer one another one. They are full of joy and unbound love.
The last event was the 4X100m relay. And while one lap around the track shared by four kids doesn’t sound that complicated, it’s another story if you are the adults in charge of making it work race after race, keeping track of who finishes when. Just getting kids off the track and back into the stands to make room for the next runners. At one point one of the officials who apparently was a track official when the teachers were students, said to me, “You guys got to get this running more smoothly. It doesn’t need to take this long.” So I start running to each of the four relay stations to deliver a message. And the track official said, “Not like that! Say into the mic!” Right, here in my hand was a device that would relay the message to all the parents and students in a few seconds rather than the minutes it would take me to run around the whole track repeating the same message.
I think about the ways the Holy Spirit is giving us tools to communicate with one another. So that many languages be understood by many different people. God continually gives us tools in which we can communicate to kids in ways that speak to them. I was at a retreat recently with fellow chaplains at Multifaith and someone from the United church said something that resonated. We were discussing finding early adopters of new technology and getting tools into their hands to run with new ideas. He remarked, “You know we hate to admit it, but the early adopters in the Christian world are evangelicals.” He’s right and it’s not the first time I’ve heard that named. It’s funny that theologically they can be much more rigid and exclusive, but when it comes to means of communication they’re typically the first ones to try new online platforms and approaches. The first ones to adopt different graphic design, empower youth leaders, and all the things that frankly work in terms of building up kids.
I do not suggest that we copy whatever evangelicals are up to. But we look at early adopters in our midst. We look at people who have ideas that are reaching kids and we find ways to empower them, whatever that might be.
To finish the story about the elementary school track meet, what impressed me most was the sheer joy and unbound love of the kids. The exuberance, the support, the pride at trying something new and succeeding or failing by degrees, and offering unconditional support. One takeaway for me is to think about the ways we are lifting up kids. Ways we are empowering them to try new things, to branch out in faith, to give them spaces to be themselves, including trying on new identities.
I think about all the queer folks in our midst, the messaging we use, the ways in which we’re comfortable talking plainly and transparently about queer readings of scripture. And ways in which we sometimes feel the need to constrain the Holy Spirit. To tamp things down, to make things a bit smaller and less overt. When we notice that temptation within ourselves think about who we are alienating. Think about people already in our midst who are gauging whether our welcome is real. The details matter and so we want to listen and get them right.
What about you?
What about you? Where do you find the Holy Spirit calling this Pentecost? What are ways in which you are discerning the unbounded love beckoning you to live out dreams? Maybe it’s something you’re already doing and need encouragement. Maybe it’s some new way the Spirit is breathing life into the world. And maybe you just need love and support for existing in a world that too often seems to be going off the rails. A world that feels like too much. Perhaps you are in need of the comfort of the Holy Spirit’s unbound love for you. Ways in which we try modelling that love as the body of Christ here at Church of the Cross. Celebrating a 104th birthday, lifting up an elder in our midst.
Wrapping up let us wake up to the ways the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into church structures and into our lives. Ways that love binds wounds, sustains, and fills our lives with joy. Amen.