And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.Acts 2:8-11 (NRSV)
This summer, I spent a lot of time in my garden. It was a lot of work, but I also had a lot of fun. I wonder, if you were going to plant a garden, what would you plant? (Now, if you have a notebook in your pew this morning, there is a box on page two with a picture of a carrot on it. Take a minute to draw in the box pictures of the things that you would plant in your garden.)
Well, this year in my garden, I grew flowers and vegetables, and I had fun planting some new seeds and plants and watching them grow. I put in some flowers called impatiens, and petunias, and some hibiscus and zinnias, and I even planted some sunflowers that grew seven feet tall! And each variety, in its own way, added to the amazing colors in the garden. I also planted tomatoes and peppers, zucchini, and summer squash, carrots, peas, cucumbers, strawberries, and cantaloupe, all of which provided tasty treats. I think that one of the things that makes a garden so exciting and so beautiful is the variety of all the different kinds of plants and flowers and vegetables, and even the birds and the squirrels and the rabbits that come to visit.
Well, as I was sitting out on my patio looking at the garden this past week, I was also thinking about the church. You see, every fall, as we look at getting back into a “church routine,” I like to look back at the story of Pentecost because Pentecost tells the story of the beginning of church–not just our church here in Oldtown, but the Christian church as a whole.
I think about the disciples all being together in that one place and how suddenly, as scripture says, “There was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone that was there was filled with the Holy Spirit and they began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” ~Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV)
Now, to be honest, it’s usually at that point in the story that I tend to skip over a few verses because there are lots of hard to pronounce names, and then I jump back in at the point where it says “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” ~Acts 2:12-13 (NRSV)
But this year, as I sat on my patio surrounded by plants and flowers and vegetables in all colors like red and green and orange and yellow and white and purple, I decided to be brave and to read that section that I usually skip over, which actually asks a very important question. (Now for those of you that have a notebook in your pew, turn back to the front page and find the words in blue. That is today’s scripture reading, and I want you to follow along, and underline or count how many times today’s scripture reading says the word “and.” Are you ready?)
Here’s what it says. “And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” ~Acts 2:8-11 (NRSV)
Okay, in those four short verses, how many “ANDs” were there? A lot, weren’t there? And if we read the story of Pentecost a little bit further, we hear that Peter then addresses the crowd and reminds everyone what the prophet Joel had said generations before.
He said: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” ~Acts 2:17-18 (NRSV)
And, and, and, and, and! So what I realized as I was sitting out in my garden that day, surrounded by plants and flowers and vegetables and birds and squirrels and fresh air and colors, is that the story of Pentecost and the message of God is all about “And!”
God does not say this person matters but that person does not. No! God says that this person matters, and that person matters, and those people matter, and every person that walks this earth matters! And God doesn’t only love this kind of person. God loves this kind of person, and that kind of person, and those kinds of people. and every person that walks this earth! Because we are all created and loved by God.
Friends, it is the “ands” of God and the “ands” of Creation that bring beauty to life. It’s the diversity of night and day, of light and darkness, of earth and sky, of young and old, of plants and animals, that brings color and energy and excitement to life.
Imagine if my garden only had red roses in it. Sure, it would be beautiful, but it would be missing so much. On that day of Pentecost, God showed the world that we are called not to uniformity–all doing and being and believing exactly the same–but rather we are called to unity in our diversity, bringing together our personalities and our abilities and our gifts and our treasures and our talents, all to build up the body of Christ, working together to highlight the places where each of us sparkle and shine.
Speaking of sparkling and shining, those of you that have notebooks–and I have a feeling after today, everyone is going to want a notebook!–you also received a kaleidoscope. Now I wonder, if you point your kaleidoscope up toward the window, look in the hole, and twist the end, what do you see?
Colors! Lots of colors, right? As you twist the end, you see red and green and blue and purple and pink and white, and they are all dancing together, aren’t they? They are not fighting for the best spot or complaining about having to do something they don’t want to do. They aren’t being bullies or pushovers, and they are not trying to control the other colors. They are just being the color that God created them to be, and they are sparkling and shining right where they are.
Folks, in the beauty of our gardens, it takes the diversity of different kinds of flowers and vegetables and birds and animals to be complete. Through a kaleidoscope, it takes a rainbow of colors to truly sparkle and shine, and in the Pentecost story, it takes many, many, many voices for us to begin to hear and experience and understand all of God’s deeds of power.
So, friends, in the week ahead, watch and listen for the “ands” all around you, knowing that the rainbow of their diversity and multiplicity is helping you to not only experience the presence and the power of God but to sparkle and shine yourself as you add to the beauty of Creation in your own amazing way!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!