Harrowing Of Hell
May 23, 2021

Pentecost: A Common Language

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

I’m just gonna say it because I know everyone is thinking it: The whole argument that “We’re not drunk” is not a good argument in favor of the presence of the Holy Spirit, particularly if the reason for not being drunk is that it’s 9 o’clock in the morning. It is as if Peter is saying: “Hey, look, if it were noon maybe, if it were 3 o’clock more likely, but come on, we’re always still sober at 9 o’clock in the morning. We are the Christians. We’re not the Hedonist, or Dionysians. We are the Christians. We go to church in the morning (where we only drink a little wine).”

Peter gets his audience. He is speaking a language they all understand. He is speaking into a cultural reality that people can connect with. Sure, it sounds weak to make the argument that you’re not drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning, and so, the power that everyone just felt ripping through the city was the movement of the Holy Spirit, and not vodka in your hummus.

But this whole Pentecost story is about language, and communications, and connection. Peter is speaking to the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, in way that gets their attention. He is speaking to residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, within a context they recognize. He is speaking to people of Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, and Egypt, in the language of beer (as Martin Luther did as well).  He is even speaking to Romans and Arabs and Cretans… and when he is speaking to Cretans he is speaking to me. My dad always used to call us Cretans when we were kids…a complement, I’m sure.

There they all are in Jerusalem, all these people speaking different languages, and then for a moment, they all understand each other perfectly. For a moment clarity flooded their souls; for an instant the reality of their universal connection to God was known, revealed…and then, as people do, they sought to make sense of what just happened.

The people who had an answer to their questions were The Christians. The person, Jesus, whom these Christians claimed was resurrected from the dead, and ascended into heaven, had anticipated this moment, this moment of universal connection and had given it a name: the Holy Spirit.

And so, people gathered around The Christians: they worshiped with The Christians, they studied scripture with The Christians, and then they entered into the Christian rituals of baptism and the common meal, the Holy Eucharist (which included just a little wine). 

And a common knowing developed… that God was here and near and that each soul was inseparably linked to one another, across space and time,  irrespective of the beer they drank, or language spoken. That is how they came to know and understand the Pentecost experience. It was a moment of revelation when they looked around and knew the core sameness of each human soul.

And over time the church grew in a way that embraced all souls, all over the world. And yet, as the church got big and strong and robust, as it gained property and prestige and import, the church moved from the priority of knowing, soul to soul to soul, to the priority of power and position and prominence.

The church became like my dog Minnie, the giant Newfoundland Poodle, that lounges on my office floor, and when she’s not lounging on my office floor, she’s lounging on the floor at home, and if we’re not around she’s lounging on the living room couch. She has a growl that makes the room rumble. It’s her language power and intimidation… backed up by nothing, really. In fact, she’ll lay on the couch in the living room and when the mailperson comes, she’ll let out a rip-roaring growl that causes the windows to shake followed, maybe, by an intimidating bark, but she won’t trouble herself to actually get off the couch to see what’s going on–unless I walk into the room. She’s a metaphor for a church that has lost touch with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost was the Holy Spirit walking into the room of the world, and whether people wanted to or not, they jumped off the couch; and when they did they ran into each other, and saw each other, and they came to know in an instant, like the flip of a switch, the core sameness of all human souls. The Apostles could see all of this out of the Upper Room window where they gathered…they could see the power of the Holy Spirit alive and at work.

Some of you have been to that very Upper Room with me in Jerusalem. It’s attached to a church names Saint Mark’s in the old city. When you go into the Upper Room, you get there by going down some stairs. That sounds a little paradoxical, doesn’t it… that the Upper Room would be accessed by going downstairs? But here’s why: Overtime, over the generations in fact, silt blew in from the desert of Arabia settling on the city; buildings burned and their debris covered the ground; new roads were paved; well, as we know from our required archaeology class in college, things pile up.

That is certainly the case in Jerusalem over the last 2000 years. And so, what was once an Upper Room, is now a room you access by going downstairs. What once was a room with a view, is now the foundation of a building. What was once the place where the Apostles looked out a window to witness the Holy Spirit revealing the core sameness of every human soul is now a foundational tenant of our Christian faith.

And so, we go downstairs to the basement, and when we arrive, we realize that it’s not a room under a house, but an infinite cavern that connects every house, every person, every soul over time and space. The basement is the place where the only language that makes sense is the language of the Holy Spirit. I believe that when our primary language is the language of the Holy Spirit, then things change, they shift; sometimes like the flip of a switch.

I’ll give you an example. Let me tell you about Fr. Gabriel and Medellin, Columbia. In 1991 Medellin was known as the most dangerous city in the world. That year there were 9791 murders. Medellin was also where Fr. Gabriel lived. And from the window of his rectory, he saw the horrors of a city ruled by Drug Lords. He saw young boys turned into cartel soldiers, dying, or ending up addicted or in prison or both. He saw families torn apart, with orphans left to their own devices.

So, he started a school and an orphanage to rehabilitate some and to care for all. He taught them to read and write, and to live as productive citizens, and he also taught them Transcendental Meditation…that is, he taught them to transcend the world of Medellin.

Transcendental Meditation claims (as metaphor) to access the depths of the ocean beneath the waves of the superficial hustle and bustle of life. And that hustle and bustle in Medellin, Colombia was killing people left and right. So, Fr. Gabriel taught these boys to go to a different place; a deep space, someplace foundational, someplace cavernous and real. He taught these boys to go down the stairs to the stillness of their souls. And they went there, and found themselves, and their power; the power that is connected to the love of God, spoken through the language of the Holy Spirit.

Since Fr. Gabriel founded his school and orphanage in 1989, 80,000 boys have passed through that sanctuary… each learning to go down the stairs to the stillness of their soul. And, to quote Fr. Gabriel, “This has lit the fire of love, understanding, tenderness, and total acceptance.” Like the fire that danced upon the Apostle’s heads at Pentecost.

And I believe that Fr. Gabriel’s work has played a role in the shift in Medellin. By 2019 the murder rate dropped by 94% and Medellin has become the fastest growing city in Columbia. In fact, Citibank sites Medellin as the most innovative city in the world.

Maybe that is a challenge we should take up here in Seattle… Not by doubling down on innovation, but by teaching 81,000 people how to access the stillness of their souls. That is the work of the church. That is us getting up off the couch and going deep into worship and into prayer. It is us doubling down on becoming students of the Kingdom of God, and naming the realities of God’s world as it unfolds, and then letting our actions shift accordingly, in a way that reveals the universal language of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes this happens gradually, and sometimes instantly, like the flip of switch. That’s often how the Holy Spirit works. Pentecost happened in a moment. Suddenly everything was different. That is virtually what happened in Medellin as well.

Instantaneous change, however, can be disconcerting. Pentecost moments can be uncomfortable, disorienting. Yesterday maybe you were living one way and today you’re asked to live another way, and it is hard, and it is confusing. And you’re not quite sure who to listen to, or how to feel, or what to do. That is normal. I get it, but get used to it, because that is what life is going to be like in the Age of the Holy Spirit.

It’s taken the Christian church 2000 years to get used to the event of Pentecost. But we finally got in there, and now we are living in the early days of The Age of the Holy Spirit.

What does that mean? It means we, the Christians, need to be nimble of mind. We need to have a studied understanding of the Kingdom of God, so, we can quickly and accurately plug in new data points that come at us, to discern rapidly if they are of God, if they expand God’s value system, as I spoke of last Sunday, or if they are they fleeting events driven by human self-centeredness and fear.

The Age of the Holy Spirit is going to demand quick thinking and clarity of action in the face of rapid change. It is to be able to quickly understand the context in which we stand, and the perspective of those with whom we engage. In a weird way, it is what Peter was modeling… indeed, many people drink, and most people aren’t drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning.

We strengthen our nimble clarity not by going to the highest tower and trying to interpret what we think we see from there, but by going down the steps to the stillness of our souls; into that infinite cavern that connects every house, every person, every soul, over time and space.

We go there in worship. We go there in prayer. We go there in meditation. We go there together. Listening, learning, knowing the language of the Holy Spirit, and then, as The Christians announcing that God is here and near, and that all souls are known by, connected to, and embraced within the love of a loving God.