Location, Location, Location

Acts 2:1-21

Do you ever get lost?

After two years of living in Connecticut, I still lose my way.  Just the other week, it took me over 40 minutes to go somewhere in Old Lyme and most of that time was spent wandering back roads in the wrong direction.  The other day, before I ventured out to make a visit, someone gave me detailed directions, narrating each turn and then telling me: you will know that you’ve arrived in the right place if there is a flag pole and cemetery across the street.  I followed the directions carefully and then, as I prepared to do my multiple back-and-forth, do-you-think-that-is-it, am-I-really-on-the-right-road locating technique, I stumbled upon the flag pole and the cemetery and I immediately knew: I was in the right place.

I found myself thinking of this experience this week because, in our spiritual life, it is also easy to get lost.  Do you ever stray off-course?  Do you ever find yourself driving down streets again and again, unsure how to locate the precise place that you set out to find?   Do you find yourself hungry to deepen your relationship with God but lost on how to precisely start on that task when the New Revised Standard Bible is approximately a 780,000 word book?  Or perhaps you find yourself setting out for one location, like healing, but finding yourself arriving at another, like resentment, despite your best intentions to arrive somewhere new.

I imagine Jesus knew that we have a tendency to veer off-course.  I imagine that is why he shares the Beatitudes, the group of sayings that start “Blessed are ….”   “Blessed are the single-hearted.”  Blessed are the peace-makers.”  Except some scholars say a more accurate translation is not “Blessed are” but rather “You are in the right place if …..”  “You are in the right place if you are single-hearted.”[1]   “You are in the right place if you are a peace-maker.”  In these words, Jesus teaches us that the Beatitudes are not a spirituality but rather a geography that tells us where to stand, that teaches us how to know if we are in the right place.

Which is helpful.

Because the thing about the Holy Spirit is that she is always showing up in unexpected places.  We expect to see the Spirit in successful, shiny experiences, clean houses and clear point by point directions from Point A to Point B, but in reality the Holy Spirit comes to the brokenhearted and those who experience failure; she comes right into the messy places of our lives and into the places of our mistakes and back road wanderings.

Jesus understands that we are going to navigating through these roads, using our back-and-forth, do-you-think-that-is-it, am-I-really-on-the-right-road locating technique, so Jesus gives us place markers, indicators, so that we can look around and see if we are in the right place.

That is why Jesus says to us:  You are in the right place if you hunger and thirst for righteousness.

That is why Jesus shows us: You are in the right place if you eat with outcasts, if you go where love has not yet arrived and “get your grub on”.

The Holy Spirit gives us indicators too.  In the Scripture today, the Spirit comes whooshing through the disciples’ gathering, calling them out of the Upper Room, where they had holed up, safe and comfortable, into the world, speaking a cacophony of different languages to a multitude of people.  In this text, the Spirit teaches us that we are in the right place if everyone doesn’t look like us or talk like us, or if we have to pause to learn to speak in other people’s languages.

“Where are you standing?”  The Spirit asks us, “Are you standing in the Upper Room?  Or out in the world?”

When we venture into the world with the strangers, Galileans, and foreigners, we discover, in the end, that we are the ones who are fed.   As one Jesus follower puts it, “I know I’m here at the soup kitchen [helping] but, my God, I’m getting more from this.”[2]  When we change our location, we discover our common kinship.

However, in order to discover that kinship, we have to be willing to stand in new places, places that we might have written off.  This was the reality experienced by Rev. Greg Boyle, a priest who works in Los Angeles finding jobs for gang members.  In the early days, Boyle received phone calls from employers who would said, “I’m scared, but send me someone [anyway].”  Boyle would send them a gang member, whom they would love and who would be a hard worker.  The employers would call Boyle back and say, “Send me someone else.”  The employers had to look before they leapt, but they leapt.[3]

What Boyle reminds us is that: We are in the right place if we are disturbed by the Spirit.  We are in the right place if we say, “God I’m scared, but send me anyway.”

This week, as we contemplate the disturbance of the Spirit, we are invited to ponder:

Where do we least expect to see the Spirit working?

Where is God calling us to go?

God, we are scared, but send us anyways.

In the case of the disciples’ contemporaries, they least expected to see the Holy Spirit working through the Galileans.  In those days, culturally and geographically, Galilee found itself outside of mainstream Jewish life.  Located far from Jerusalem, Galilee was a region invaded and settled by foreigners multiple times.  The local Jews behaved with friendliness toward the newcomers and intermarried with those who converted.  However, the “pure-minded” religious leaders in the power-center of Jerusalem were not impressed and scoffed the Galileans as inferior, ignorant and lax in their religious attendance.  Both Greeks and Jews mocked the Galileans because they were not able to pronounce certain sounds and regarded them with contempt.   In the words of one scholar, “Galilee was the home of the simple people – that is, of the people of the land, a hardworking people, marginalized and oppressed regardless of who was in power or what system of power was in effect.”[4]

The fact that God became flesh in the form of a Galilean named Jesus is astounding.  One would think that God would prefer to show as a powerful Jewish leader in Jerusalem, or as a citizen of the Roman Empire, or as an influential business owner.

Yet, what the world rejects, God chooses as God’s very own.  Through the incarnation, God chooses to stand with the lowly and the despised.  God teaches us that we are in the right place if we are hanging out with the Galileans, the outcasts, the despised.

Who are the Galileans in our society?

Are we going to go over and stand with them and “get our grub on”?

God, through the Holy Spirit, teaches us that compassion is not just about feeling the pain of other; in the words of Greg Boyle, “it’s about bringing them in toward yourself.”  By becoming a Galilean, God erases all margins and means of exclusion; God brings everyone in – from all countries, in all languages – God opens every door and leaves no one out.

Like a wind at our back, the Holy Spirit urges us forth from our enclosed room to go outside to stand with the people with least expected to find ourselves standing with, from the Cretans to the Egyptians to the Arabs.

Like the residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia hanging out with the Galileans, God calls us to the most unexpected places.  I was reminded of that truth this week as I encountered Nadia Bolz Weber’s story about her struggle to welcome people to her church start, House of All Sinners and Saints.  House for All was started as a church for cynics, alcoholics, people who had tattoos and liked to make snarky remarks.  What Bolz Weber valued most about the church was that it was “weird”.  However, following an article in the local newspaper, the church started to double in size with visitors who were soccer moms, men who wore dockers and people who had driven in from the suburbs because this new church was “neat”.  Bolz Weber was confounded about what had drawn them to her church and thought that if they had a meeting that showed who really made up the church – aging hipsters, drag queens, homeless guys and teenage girls with pink hair – that the new visitors would self-select out.   At the meeting, the newcomers piped up, saying: “I don’t know what I believe but I know something real happens when we take communion,” one said.  Another added, “here I can pray and be myself.”  Then, a long-time member, transgender man, commented, “As the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I just want to go on the record and say that I’m really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can’t with my own mom and dad.”[5]

Bolz Weber’s heart broke open – her heart of stone was replaced by a heart of flesh.

That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit.  She just keeps inviting everyone in, until there is no one left outside.

The Spirit reminds us that we are in the right place if we look around, and wonder what is it that all these people have in common, because we are all so different from each other.   She teaches us that we are in the right place if people ask us — “Why do you welcome the Galileans?”  Or “Why do you eat with the tax collectors?” She teaches us that our pain and compassion leads us to one another, encouraging us to learn each other’s languages, even if we don’t yet understand.  And as we do this, we are fed and discover the Holy Spirit has been in our midst all along.

Amen.

[1] As cited in Tattoos on the Heart by Rev. Greg Boyle.

[2] Direct quote from Tattoos on the Heart by Rev. Greg Boyle.

[3] Story from “On Being” interview between Krista Tippett and Rev. Greg Boyle, which can be found here:http://www.onbeing.org/program/father-greg-boyle-on-the-calling-of-delight/transcript/5059

[4] Quote and historical context about the Galilean Jews come from Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise by Virgilio Elizondo.

[5] Story from Pastrix: The Cranky, Beauty Faith of a Sinner and a Saint  by Nadia Bolz-Weber

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