Feast of Pentecost C
The Child in the Cage
Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
[“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”] John 14:8-17 (25-27)
We can be sure that the members of every tribe mentioned in this afternoon’s reading from the Book of Acts: those Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyrenians, Romans, Cretans and Arabs, every tribe represented in that assembly, thought themselves to be the cat’s pajamas when they compared themselves to the others.
As the story is told, they came from every nation under heaven and spoke many different languages. They probably viewed life so differently than each other. We can be sure that each thought them selves to be special, maybe even to the point of “exceptional”, when they compared themselves to the others that composed that crowd. After all, does not, “better than”, seem to be a knee jerk response when it come to tribal self-awareness.
Gathered here this afternoon in this assembly are Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Ecuadorians, Americans and even a few Australians.
The Americans present come from Irish, German, Scottish, English, Italian, Scandinavian, French, Czech, Canadian, Jewish, Greek and Armenian ethnic back rounds.
Among us are numbered, the white, black, brown and Asian races.
If we scratch the surface, I am sure we would soon come to that layer of skin not far beneath the surface layer that would own some measure of pride in each of those national, ethnic, and racial differences – each of those tribal differences – and lay some claim to a specialness based on not being like those others.
But if we are paying any attention to many of the winds that are blowing quite fiercely around the world and the fires being ignited in too many hearts these days, we cannot but be aware of the dark and even evil places to which a little of this tribalism can take us.
Populism is on the rise. Self-serving nationalism in the name of self-protection and self-preservation is evidencing an unhealthy and unholy renaissance. Right wing politicians around the globe are assuming leadership roles in more and more places. Nativism that makes pariahs of immigrants and refugees and victimizes even children has become national policy in many countries including our own. White supremacy and fascist ideology has been accorded license to march in our streets with impunity. And the incendiary flames of virulent xenophobia are being everywhere stoked.
The Feast of Pentecost invites us to celebrate, to reconnect and to recommit to the gift of a far different Spirit, a different wind, and a different fire than that represented by the chilling winds and the killing flames that seem to command the present moment.
The mighty wind and the bright flame of Pentecost command our attention. God, in gifting us with His Spirit, has given us an antidote to those destructive winds and destroying fires. Ill wind and burning hate do not have to own the present hour.
We can be sure, brothers and sisters, that the God and Father of Jesus accords no priority at all to any specialness that we would claim for ourselves predicated on any tribal, national, ethnic or race affiliations, if that claim would have us think less of and care less for the other.
Rather the Spirit of God would have us lay claim to the one and only thing that actually makes us special. That we are children of the one Spirit, that we are sons and daughters of one Father, that we have been washed in the blood of Christ and thereby made God’s special possession. The bond that God has forged with us and that binds us together goes deeper than any and every other bond.
Even the familial bond of blood must cede priority to the bond formed and sealed with the blood of Christ. Yes, the Spirit of God would have me own and be moved to action by the truth that I am to regard and own the wellbeing every child as if that child were biologically my child. The child in that cage at the border is my son, is my daughter, is your son, and is your daughter. I would hope and I pray that we would allow the Spirit to open us up to embrace this truth.
We can only authentically create space to appreciate and value whatever might be our other connections and our differences in the light and context of our living in a loving communion with each other that transcends all that might otherwise separate us.
The commandment given by Jesus is that we love one another – not just our family members, not just our friends, not just those who are like us.
And if we listen with loving and Spirit-filled minds and hearts, though the others may be speaking in a language other than our own, we will surely hear and understand what they are saying in our own language. Love is after all a language that we have all been empowered to speak and understand.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
June 9, 2019