It was 4:01pm this past Thursday afternoon when I got the text from my husband, telling me that there had been a shooting at my alma mater – Seattle Pacific University. I know many of you now also hold memories as specific as this – what time it was and where you were when you heard. Seattle Pacific is close to us here at St. Paul’s, and not only geographically. This is the place where some of us work, where some of us study, and where, like me, some of us have spent formative, important, and tender years of our lives. On Thursday afternoon I feared along with many in this city, for beloved friends and for St. Paul’s parishioners who were on campus. I felt sorrow, shock, and anger that a place of learning, the peaceful grounds where I came of age, that this place had been violated by gunfire, violence, and terror. I still feel this.
And I also thought to myself – “Not again.” This week, this event, brings terror, injustice and violence so much closer to us than I would prefer. But it is not a new thing anymore, is it? Our country is witnessing a scourge of these events. What happened at Seattle Pacific this past Thursday is one of several mass shootings this year. It is the second seemingly random homicidal event in Seattle this week. In all of the postings on my facebook newsfeed this week about the shooting the one that hit me the hardest was a picture a fellow SPU alum posted of herself. She held a piece of paper in her hand on which she had written “not one more.” I wanted to do something similar but it is hard for me to believe, this week, that this violence can be stopped. It is not a new story – but we need a new story, don’t we?
Perhaps it is fitting then, that on this Sunday, the Sunday after we are shaken and broken yet again by that story of random and senseless violence, perhaps it is fitting that today is Pentecost. Pentecost – the new story that God breathes into the world through God’s spirit, the new story that we each, and we all can breathe in today. The new story that you and I are called to live in this world of stale, old, violent and unjust stories.
So we meet the disciples today in Acts as they are waiting, praying, staying together in one place. They’ve just been through something pretty big, life changing. Jesus – their beloved friend, teacher, and companion, the one person they had hoped would be the political redemption of Israel has been brutally murdered, then restored to them from death, and then lost again – this time through his mysterious ascension.
They are left with a promise that something will happen – something will come into their lives to fill up the void left by their friend and teacher. Jesus promises them that they will not be left alone. This was an important promise to hear. Important because while the experience of loving, following, losing, recovering and then losing Jesus again has completely transformed the disciples, nothing about the rest of the world has changed. The Roman Empire still rules. Public atrocities such as crucifixion, torture, and beatings are still commonplace. Yes - Empire, war, persecution and elitism are still driving forces in their world, a world not so unlike ours, a world where religion and violence are all too often webbed together. A world not so unlike ours, where those with power get to say who God is and dictate how the vulnerable and marginalized are used or discarded. So what, one might wonder, would have been the point of it all – why would God pour Godself into this one human being Jesus who promised to change everything and then have him ascend and leave? Why? If nothing still has changed?
Pentecost is why. Pentecost gives us what the physical, human and embodied Jesus could not – Pentecost gives us God’s new breath, and gives to us God’s new voice.
Today, on Pentecost, we celebrate how the one voice of Jesus of Nazareth is liberated into the many voices of the disciples and even further into all the languages and cultures of the world - each of them receiving a flame and all of them being touched by a spark of God’s own Spirit. Now, because of what God has done in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, now this ragtag bunch of fishermen and the women who hang out with them are the ones who can build community from a diversity of language and belief. Now they are the ones who can perceive the goodness of creation, who can find what is loveable in the person who is different, who can lay down their lives to serve the world that God made and loves so much.
This, my friends, is a new story – and we can see this new Pentecost story creeping up, over, and through the old stories of violence and oppression. We have seen it at SPU in the response by students and faculty – an outpouring of love for each other, for the ones who have been hurt and the one who was lost, and even for the one who pulled the trigger.
This Pentecost story is a story of power given to those who have had their power taken away, a story of God discovered in ordinary, broken, scared human beings. And not just in one of those human beings but in every one – in each and in all of us together. One writer puts it this way “This is the promise of Pentecost: now we no longer depend solely on Jesus to be the one who understands. Now we, too, understand. And now we, too, can speak and our voices can spread the Spirit of understanding.” I would add we too can love and spread the Spirit of Love, and we too can comfort and spread the Spirit of comfort. We too can tell a new story in the face of injustice, senselessness and violence.
So here we are in a world that even still is haunted by old stories stuck on repeat, stories that hurt each of us, and intend to shape all of us together into something fearful and divided. Pentecost tells us that the new story, the change in that world begins right here – in this room, at this table, with these people, each of us holding an unexpected spark of God who is Spirit. This spark can reach across unreachable divides to seek understanding and connection with those who we would prefer to ignore or even to hate. This spark can choose to fiercely love the world that our God died to save despite the violence that would have us destroy it. Today we will leave and go back into that same world. But it is Pentecost and you are alive – so go, each of you and all of us together, and begin to do something new.
 From a blog post entitled “Sense where none seems possible” on Nancy Rockwell’s blog “The Bite in the Apple”