This is a transcript from the June 9, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Today we celebrate Pentecost. It was originally, a Jewish feast day. In the Bible, in those places, the Jews called it the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, the celebration of the beginning of the early weeks of harvest. In Palestine, there were two harvests each year. The early harvest came during the months of May and June, and the final harvest came in the fall. Shavuot was the celebration of the beginning of the early week harvest, sometimes during the middle of the month of May or early June.
Now, there are several festivals before Shavuot. During the week of Passover, was the feast of first fruits, Bikkurim, the celebration of the beginning of the barley harvest. According to the Old Testament, you go from the day of the celebration of first fruits, Bikkurim, and then count 50 days, and the 50th day would be the beginning of the wheat harvest. This is extremely important to a subsistence culture.
First fruits, Bikkurum, is the beginning of the barley harvest, and 50 days later, is the beginning of the wheat harvest, Shavuot. It is always 50 days after first fruits. Therefore, they either called it the feast of harvest or the feast of Weeks, Shavuot. Got it?
I find it interesting that, we, humans often go to a previous holy place, or a previous holy time, and make it our own in a new way, like building the Notre Dom Cathedral on top of a Viking temple. Or we celebrate Christmas around the time of the pagan winter solstice. We observe Pentecost as a holiday. Now, not to celebrate a wheat harvest, but to remember when the Holy Spirit invaded the church. Acts 2 says that, "After Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus' followers were gathered together for Shavuot. That's when--
Congregate: Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled--
Nick: To the house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them, divided tongues as a fire, and one set upon each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Through this baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, the apostles had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the gospel, and were able to tell it to people of all nations and languages."
The spirit opened up these Jesus' followers to speak the other's language, spreading the gospel in someone else's language. The Holy Spirit potentially connected these men with everyone taking away the barriers. To accomplish this, a crucial part was to get out of their comfort zone. I love that. To get out of their own language, in order to connect.
The gospel, through the Holy Spirit, became a universal language. Before it was an in-crowd, inside information, harvest for us only, the Torah for the Hebrews only. That isn't now what the Spirit is about. It's about feeling, gluing yourself to the other person, no matter how different we may think they are. It's about harvests for everyone. Jesus often broke cultural boundaries. What are the languages of the Spirit? How can we be simpatico with the spirit? Like the disciples, I think we can use the universal languages more than we do to speak about sacred things.
Many nonverbal arts are universal because they're immediately understood. I don't have to speak French in order to understand the beauty of a Monet painting. Painting and architecture and sculpture and dance, music, things like that are all universal because they connect with us in simple primal feeling ways. Let's just take one. Music is a universal language, you've heard that before. On the other hand, it would only take a few political words from you before I understood that you are wrong and different.
I could understand your spirit through your art when I would usually tend to see first your color or your politic or your economic strength or your religion, those things often underscore our differences. That is why music and art are essential for worship and spiritual growth and the sacred journey. They connect. They connect us with God. They connect us with each other, and they connect us with our sometimes hidden selves. Music talks about how you feel, what your spirit is. That's the most important spiritual characteristic. We make spiritual decisions not based on intellectual assent, but by feel. On this Pentecost Sunday, music is about feeling the spirit.
I'm getting old. Anyone else here getting old? I can't remember stuff. I can't even remember high school. Does anyone remember high school? I don't think I went to high school. Nothing comes back, except one thing. One thing comes back. My best friend in high school dated a Pentecostal girl. He told me that he was swept away, and practically ran down the aisle to accept Jesus into his heart. Now, that would be odd if you knew him. He was brilliant, agnostic, sarcastic, methodical, linear. He was a scientist. He was on the debate team, and he was a chess master. When it mattered, there was little conceptual thinking. He just felt he had to go down that aisle. beyond his logical mind, his emotional heart made the decision. He didn't think the spirit, he felt it. Now, I want to talk about the unacceptable other.
Boy, I think I know her. We can easily demean the other, at least easily not understand them, not get them, but if we want, and that's a really big if. If we want to, we can instead connect with the other, the them, by understanding how they feel, perhaps more than by what we think they think. If we want to be a connective force, and that's a big if, if we are to bridge the gap and connect with them, hearing their music, may be part of the answer, it may be a bridge to their heartbeat. Isn't music a part of falling in love with the other? Do you and your significant other have a song? What is it? No, really, what is it?
You need to know this. You need to remember this. Whatever that song is, how do you feel when you hear it? Why have I spent my life pushing the rope, trying to bring a variety of music into our spiritual life? It is essential for hearing the spirit of the other.
I'm about to play a piece of music that's prerecord. If it's all right with you, let this time be a time of prayer. Let this music take you wherever the Spirit leads.
Just as the arts can circumnavigate all the thinking, we may try to do in church, and just as music can help us make spiritual decisions and feel the spirit, just as there are many different languages and people, there are many different musics. What's yours? Really? What's yours? Whatever you think right then, if I could hear that, I would know something about your spirit, and I believe that really hearing their favorite music connects us to the other's spirit. In a world divided, music can unite. For instance, I understand this feeling.
I understand that more than I can understand Asian religious beliefs, or economic stances. That music is more a bridge than an argument. Relationships create meaning. They give definition. Without a bit of you and me, I can identify with you, so I'm looking for that bit. What is this feeling?
Even though that music is foreign to me, there's still a bit of me in it. Through it, I can feel the desert wandering, the trudging, the angst of the Hebrews that I have never experienced. What I'm talking about is not your favorite music, or the music on your playlist, or your radio, it's the music of the other if we want to connect with the other.
I don't even know what they're saying, but I get the spirit, and all of a sudden, I'm at one with the joy of an African. I always ask my students to keep switching the stations, to feel the way it feels when you listen to something different than that narrow thing that they keep listening to, to hear, for instance, a symphony. Not because they're supposed to listen to a symphony, but it takes you to different lands. That's a really cheap vacation. It really is. It makes a bridge builder out of you.
That's the symphony of the spirit right there. I've never been to Appalachia, and I don't understand their politics, but I understand that. Music is any emotion from joy to suffering. How may we understand the suffering of others?
I hear, I am a part of something I have never experienced myself. Music has been, is, always will be essential for the faith because music can take us anywhere. Music can take us to different times in history. It's time travel. It can be a time machine.
When our ancestors heard that, they felt the glory of heaven nearby. Music can help us understand the feelings of those with powdered wigs, or someone floating in outer space. When I get to play the cello to worship here, when I force you to listen to the cello here, I hope you understand something about the relationship with God that I could never say with words. That music is how I feel about the one who spirits my life. There are many examples of music out of time, out of examples, that can connect us to them. More than just music, but that's my gig, so I thought I'd stay there.
What if we felt what they felt? What if we really heard our kid's music? It's not like, "No, I hate that music. I can't stand that music." That's not the point. The point is not that it's your favorite music, the point is, I can understand how they are feeling if I listen to that. That might just change the world. Maybe you can spend some time adventuring around their music, figuring out how they feel.