Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
If you start typing in Google, or I guess any search engine, it will begin thinking for your and anticipating what you are going to write. It will pop up suggested search results. For example, if you start to write “cat,” it will suggest things like “Cat in the Hat,” cat ninja, cat memes, and a few more. I think these suggested search results come from Google pulling all of the aggregate data from their search engine and seeing what people are most likely to search for as they begin to write.
Since google also knows where you are, it’s helpful if you are in a new location and looking for a restaurant. You can type “restaurants,” and it will suggest “restaurants near me.” This can be a great way to learn a new area. When I moved to Atlanta for school, only 8 years ago, I bought a detailed city map with the plan that it would help me learn the streets, and it did. But by the time I left the city, I had a GPS in my phone and could easily look up directions without the use of a paper map.
There is a lot of power contained in a phone these days. And there is really unimaginable power contained within the reaches of the internet. Much of this has made our lives better, so of it, I think, makes our lives more difficult. But, in my life and in our world, Google and other online services are a fact of life.
Another fact of life that we live with is that we live in a divided country. The other day I started to search the word “divided” in my Google search bar, and the top suggested search was “divided states of America.” I did a little searching and found that this is the title of a PBS Frontline special looking into the political realties of our current age. But regardless, I think most of us would understand that in many ways we live in a divided states of america.
But it’s not just america that is divided. We can see evidence of this division almost everywhere we turn. This week I turned to Facebook to learn what people things divides us from one another and I got some interesting feedback.
One friend flat out named it, “politics.” He said that he and his wife never discuss it, at least on purpose.
Another friend took a different approach and talked about qualities of people that lead to division. She said that ignorance and selfishness divide—I think she’s right.
These are things that are fairly obvious that I probably could have got on my own, but another friend had a very unique response. He said: “Music divides people. Of all art forms, it divides us the most. We have such vast, varied opinions on what we listen to, and those opinions are strong. We love our music so much, that if someone listens to something we don't necessarily like, we have trouble coping with that. This happens in both secular and sacred realms.”
And when I stop to think about that, it’s true. We have a history of parents not approving of their children’s taste in music. Whether that music was rock and roll or hiphop. Churches have split and caused much division over what music is going to be used in worship. Do we use hymnals? Do we use screens? Do we use traditional hymns? Do we use southern gospel? Do we use contemporary worship music? These things don’t have to divide, but too often they do.
Too often, these fights deteriorate beyond mere preference into an us vs them debate. Those people who listen to that music are not faithful. Or not that kind of music in my church. Or you can trust those Hillary voters. Or Trump voters aren’t very smart. We don’t want those immigrants here. You can’t trust refugees. Or you can’t trust people who eat chocolate ice cream, we all know Strawberry is the best.
It doesn’t take long for division to set in. For politics to divide, for music to divide, for things to pull us away from one another. I don’t like this paint color on the wall—they should have painted it blue—my feelings are hurt—I’m leaving. Division hurts.
And if we look at the church, we see, amongst other things, a history of division. This really dates back to the earliest of days when they were divided over whether gentiles could become Christians without being circumcised. Or if it was ok for Christians to eat food that was forbidden from Jews. Other divisions were caused by questions of what books should be in the bible. Still other divisions where caused people revoting against what view as a corrupt church. At least in England, we had a division in the church due to the king wanting a divorce.
If we look at the people called Methodists in America we can also see divisions. In the 1700 and 1800s, racial division lead many African American Methodists to form their own denominations, known now as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion. And then in 1844, the Methodist church spilt over the issue of slavery; it split North and South. Even today, The United Methodist Church finds itself in division of the issue of inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
It seems that whenever people are involved, division will happen.
Our scripture passage today gives us a picture of how divided people were shortly after the time of Jesus. In Acts chapter 2, Luke paints for us a picture of some of the divisions of just the Jews who were living in Jerusalem.
In Acts 2:5, Luke writes: There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
Then in verse 9-11, Luke lists all of the various origins of these people, a list that includes much of the world: 9 Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs.
Now that is mouth full. I think usually in the Bible when we encounter lists of names, its easy to just kind of skip over them. Lists of names don’t usually seem that important to us. But here, what this list shows us is that there was much division amongst these people. They spoke different languages, came from different regions, and they had different customs. When we think about division, the people that Luke tells us about in Acts 2 are divided in many different groups. We see that humans tend to divide.
But that’s not the only thing going on in Acts chapter 2. In verse 1, Luke tells us: When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.
Pentecost marks 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus and is also a Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Weeks that marks God giving Torah or scripture to Moses. And at this time all of Jesus’ disciples are gathered together in one place — in one room. Jesus told them to wait, and that’s what they are doing. And then…
2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
Now if you remember, Luke tells us there is a large and divided crowd gathered in Jerusalem. And this crowd heard what was going on.
Luke tells us:
6 When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 7 They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? 8 How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? … we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”
The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus’ followers and they start to speak; they start to preach about mighty works of God. There is this big crowd gathered, but the problem is that this crowd speaks many different languages. It would be impossible for one speaker to address each person in the crowd. But something miraculous happens.
Through the Holy Spirit, when disciples speak everyone in the crowd understands them. Everyone in the crowd understands them in their own language. Luke tells us that this mystifies the crowd. The Medes hear this in their language, and at the same time the Arabs hear it in their language, and the visitors from Rome also hear this address in their native language.
As humans these people had created many division, but now, in this moment, God’s Spirit is bringing them all together. As humans we like to divide, but God’s Spirit unites. Peter takes the lead in address this divided crowd and tells them about the love of God all the things that Jesus has done for each person gathered there. Even though they all come from different, Peter is preaching to the in their native languages and God is bringing them together.
Peter is telling them the basic gospel message of Jesus, and recognizes what’s going on. Later in 2:39, Peter says, “This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away.” All these people have been far away, but God is bring them together. And in this moment, people recognizes the power of this is probably dreaming and vision of how will continue to bring in people who are far away from divided places. Peter recognizes that God is uniting people together, through the Holy Spirit.
In the words of a prominent theologian: The Holy Spirit is the power who unites us to Christ and to each other. This … is not the … mere … like-minded or the kinship of people of the same family, race, economic class or nation. It is the power of new community that unites strangers and even former enemies. It creates community where formerly there were insuperable barriers.
Amongst these people at Pentecost there were large barriers, but the Holy Spirit brings them together. And from this divided crown, we read, in Acts 2:41 “God brought about 3000 people into the community that day.” Three thousand people from different backgrounds and divides origins are bought into the united community of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The power of God to unite is great. If we listen to God, more than we listen to ourselves, I believe that God’s spirit can bring us all closer together. This is true for local churches, for The United Methodist Church, and it is even true for families. With everything that is facing us today that threatens to divide, there nothing really new. When humans have been involved, we have always been dividing. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, I believe that can bring us closer and unite us stronger together in one community. This doesn’t mean that we all believe the same exact things, or prefer the same same music, or even vote the same way. Instead, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that we received at Pentecost that unites and creates even when humans try to divide.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.