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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

Your Pentecost Ministry

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

Back in my mid 20s, I was living in New Haven, Connecticut, and spending a lot of time at its lovely public library downtown. I remember that I’d seen a flier there about serving as an English as a second language tutor. I don’t know what drew me to that opportunity. I’d never done anything like that before, but for some reason I inquired within.

I was matched with a woman named Maria who was an immigrant from Argentina. She had fled her home country with thousands of other Argentinians after its economy had collapsed in 2001. In 2001, a loaf of bread in Argentina cost $47 USD because of the country’s staggering inflation. Meanwhile, the minimum wage there at that time was $200 USD per month. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that that’s not a livable situation.

I don’t know whether Maria had her immigration documents in order or not. What I do know is that she worked as a night janitor at a high school. We’d meet at the library in the evenings before her work shift to practice her English.

Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. The library or whatever program I was volunteering through didn’t give me any training. Also, I didn’t speak any Spanish, so there was an enormous communication chasm between us.

It was frustrating. And I’ll admit I made some assumptions about Maria. She was perhaps an undocumented immigrant. A janitor. Someone who was struggling to learn English. In my limited 20-something year-old mind, I think all those facts added up to me thinking that Maria wasn’t all that intelligent.

But I kept with it. I met with her twice a week. And somehow I discovered that she worked as a chemical engineer back in Argentina. In fact, she had her PhD in chemical engineering. She was a doctor. And the economic situation was so bad that it was better for her to come here to work as a janitor than it was for her to keep her university job as a professor in Argentina.

I wasn’t too far out of undergrad at that point, and I’d gone to school just down I-95 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I remembered that there was an Argentine professor, Dr. Santiago, who taught some sort of science—so I was never one of her students. I was a journalism and creative writing major. But she was a popular professor, beloved by enough of her students that even I knew about her. So I got in touch with her about Maria. I ended up driving Maria down to Bridgeport to meet with her.

Here’s what I remember about that meeting: I saw an entirely different Maria. Speaking her native language with someone who might have been a work colleague under different circumstances brought her to life. There was a light in her face, a new energy behind her words.

But I think what I was seeing was who Maria actually was. Stripped of my assumptions about her, I was able to see the light of who she was shining out irrepressibly.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Imagine all the ways that we are blocked—that we block ourselves—from really seeing one another for who we actually are. Perhaps because someone has a heavy accent—or has a refined British accent. Perhaps because someone works as a night janitor—or as a criminal attorney. Perhaps because someone lives in an RV under a bridge—or because someone flies in a private jet.

We are constantly making assumptions about one another and reacting to each other according to those assumptions.

But what I see happening in today’s reading from Acts, what I see happening during the Pentecost, is the dissolving of those assumptions so that the people of Jerusalem, who were there from so many different places, who could hardly speak to one another because of their different languages, could engage in authentic relationship with one another.

But what I find even more striking is that when the Spirit came, she didn’t make it so people could understand languages other than their own, she made it so a person could speak the native language of another, so that presumably one would need to find the person whose language they were speaking and connect with them.

That’s what I saw happen with Maria. She found a person who spoke her language, in more ways than one, and I saw her step into herself, step into the joy of who she was.

Pentecost is known as the birthday of the Christian Church. It’s when a bunch of different people who all came from different places and spoke different languages were suddenly able to understand one another deeply and were suddenly deeply understood by others. Which means the Christ-following community was born when the Spirit brought us together to be in deep, authentic, joyful relationship with one another.

And she did so not by erasing the differences of all those travelers to Jerusalem—the Parthians, the Mesopotamians, the Cappadocians, and yes, the Acts say, even those from the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene. The Spirit did not make them all the same, speaking the same language, but enabled them to understand each other in their differences.

Back in late 2021, a discernment group came together in our community. It was called From Charity to Relationship. This gathering came on the heels of more than a third of our church community taking part in the Sacred Ground curriculum which helped us to delve deeply into the intersection of race, history, and faith. Together, we realized that deeply engaging in our communities would take more than reading and studying, more than giving money or other donations to organizations (though all those things are helpful and important).

This group came together around the belief that deep and meaningful engagement with our greater community means fostering authentic relationships with the folks in our community, especially those whose lives and experiences are different than ours.

We realized that this required moving from an us/them charity perspective: us who have the resources giving to them who are in need, to a Body of Christ relationship perspective: all of us are dependent on each other for our mutual thriving.

Eventually we changed the name from From Charity to Relationship to the equal mouthful of From Transactional to Relational. But now that I’m thinking about it, we could have called ourselves the Pentecost group. Because what we were seeking to do was to grow more deeply in relationship with our community—not by trying to make others the same as us, not by contorting ourselves to be the same as others, but by understanding and loving one another in our differences. Just as the Spirit had enabled the newborn Church on Pentecost.

But here’s the thing that our From Transactional to Relational Group has been discussing: we can’t understand and love the differences in others until we can understand and love the differences in ourselves. We can’t understand and love the difference others are making unless we can understand and love the difference we ourselves are making.

I would have never been able to really understand Maria without volunteering to be an ESL tutor at the New Haven Public Library. You may have never been able to understand what goes into creating a thriving church community without serving in a church ministry. You may never have been able to understand your elderly parent’s struggles without serving as their primary caregiver in the years of their precipitous decline.

These are the ways we learn one another’s languages. By putting ourselves in sometimes vulnerable, sometimes difficult situations, in order to truly be with and understand and therefore love another person who is different from us.

And we’re all doing this in some way or another. You’re doing this in some way or another. Maybe, as I mentioned, through serving at St. Luke’s in some way or caregiving for someone. Maybe through playing music or doing political activism. Maybe through learning Spanish so you can talk to your neighbor. Or maybe you make meals for people who are ill or struggling. Maybe you’re reading up on the history of Israel and Palestine to more deeply understand and love the people involved in that conflict.

Maybe you get to do your ministry through your paid work. Maybe not. And yes, whether paid or not, what you do is most certainly a ministry.

In just a few moments, you’ll be invited to come up and share what your Pentecost ministry is. Not out loud—don’t worry. But you can write your ministry down on a red ribbon up front here and then, if you want, receive an anointing into your ministry from me and place your ribbon on the altar or communion rails as a sign of St. Luke’s varied ministries, the Body of Christ active beyond these red doors.

If you’re not comfortable being anointed, that’s okay, too. You can simply place your ribbon on the altar or communion rails.

So now I’m going to give you a few moments after the ringing of the bell to think about what your Pentecost ministry is, what you’re doing to more deeply understand and love others in their differences. How the Spirit is empowering you to bring the Kingdom of God in your little corner of the world. Amen.

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