The Day of Pentecost
Texts: Acts 2:1-21;
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
THE POURING OUT OF
SATYAGRAHA ON PENTECOST
For the second week in a row I begin with a story from Christian
writer Diana Butler Bass
and her important new book Christianity
As the end of Lent 2011 neared, I
went to my local bank to deposit some checks. Three tellers were
working that morning, all women. One woman wore a pale ivory hijab
as a head covering; the second woman's forehead bore the dark red
mark known as a bindi
; the third woman had a small
crucifix hanging around her neck.
I walked up and laughed. "You all look like the United Nations of
They exchanged glances and smiled.
"You are so right," said the Hindu woman. "You should meet our
customers! But we cover a lot of languages between the three of
It was a quiet morning. They wanted to talk. I said something
about being a vegetarian for Lent. The Hindu woman wanted to give
me some family recipes; the Muslim woman wanted to know more about
Christian fasting practices.
I shared how we had dedicated Lent that year to eating simply and
exploring vegetarian foods from different parts of the world.
"When we eat Indian food," I explained, "we try to talk about the
church in India or pray for people in India. The same for African
and Asian and Latin American countries."
"What a wonderful idea!" the Muslim woman said. "We need to love
our traditions and be faithful to our God; but we teach the beauty
and goodness of the other religions too."
Her Hindu colleague chimed in, "That is the only way to peace --
to be ourselves and to create understanding between all people."
... I glanced at my watch. I needed to get to an appointment. I
thanked them for their insights.
"I would wish you a Happy Easter," I said hoping they would hear
the sincerity in my voice, "but, instead, I wish you both peace."
I started to walk away when the Muslim teller said to me, "Peace
of Jesus the Prophet. And a very happy Easter to you."
And the Hindu woman called out, "Happy Easter!"
When I reached my car, I realized that I was crying. I had only
rarely felt the power of the resurrected Jesus so completely in my
The power of the resurrected Jesus. Last
week we spoke about that power as Jesus prayed that we may all
be one. This morning we see that power in action as the Spirit of
the resurrected Jesus comes on Pentecost to reverse what happened at
the tower of Babel -- that story in Genesis 11 in which human pride,
as they build a tower to the heavens, leads to the division of
peoples into cultures and languages that spread across the globe. In
Luke's telling of Pentecost he would have us see the beginnings of
Jesus' power to heal those divisions. With the miracle of being able
to understand one another despite the barriers of differing
languages, the Holy Spirit launches God's power to reconcile us, to
bring us into unity, that we may all be one.
That the world's way of bringing peace is wrong, and still resists
God's way, is something else we noticed last week which is more explicit
this week. Today's Gospel reading from John 15-16 is the predecessor
to last Sunday's reading from John 17. We're reading them in reverse
order. But they are both from Jesus' long farewell address to his
disciples on the night before his execution. With that in mind,
think of what Jesus says about the world being proved wrong about
sin, righteousness, and judgment. He himself is about to go on
trial, be accused of sin, by supposedly righteous
judges, and then be judged to the sentence of death. In
other words, his own being judged as sinful by righteous
representatives of the world proves the world to be wrong about sin,
righteousness, and judgment.
God's verdict on our judging goes beyond, I believe, this one
instance of wrongly judging Jesus. It is more fundamental than that.
Jesus is talking about our age-old human way of keeping peace, right
from the very beginnings of our species. Jesus became the scapegoat
on the cross so that we might see that all the key ways for human
beings to keep peace in a community involve a scapegoating process
where the majority can see itself as righteous by accusing
a minority or one person of sin and then carrying out a judgment
against them. Sin, righteousness, and judgment. It is our basis for
law. It is our basis for war. It is the basis of our ways to live in
peace. While those ways may work for a while, the peace created can
never last. Because our ways of trying to stop violence use
violence. And they try to bring unity by dividing us into righteous
and unrighteous. So our ways can never be the way to bring
all of God's children into the oneness of the Creator.
Another indication of this truth is the very title for the Spirit
that Jesus uses in John's Gospel. First, we need to ask, Who is
Satan? Because in the biblical world, Satan is the title for the
Accuser, the person who brings the accusation of the many against
the one. Then: Who is the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, that Jesus
talks about this morning? The Greek word behind Advocate
is the title in the Greek world for the Defender of the Accused, the
person who defends the one against the many. God's Spirit of Truth
is the force who works to help us to see a more ultimate way to
peace, one which is not based on our human brand of
accusation, of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Obviously, two thousand years later much has gone wrong. Many who
profess to following Christ still cling to the old ways alone,
especially in the public, political areas of our lives. So I finish
today with the signs of hope I see. One is provided by Diana Butler
Bass's story about the women of different faiths coming together in
Jesus. I'm not being naive here that religions have not also been a
huge part of the problem. Religions are as caught up in
the human peacekeeping ways based on sin, righteousness, and
judgment as much as any other element of human culture, perhaps even
more so. But religions also contain the experience that helps
provide the way forward, namely, the experience of God's Spirit as
the basis for our oneness. Since Jesus Christ, we have the
means to sort through our false gods of division and to zero-in on
the true God of Love, who is the true foundation of our unity. The
women at Diana Butler Bass's bank give testimony to the Holy Spirit
blowing us in this way.
For me, another clear sign of hope comes through the irony of God
raising up a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ who was a Hindu and
remained a Hindu. I'm talking about Mahatma Gandhi, who said this, among many other
things, about Jesus:
Jesus expressed, as no other could,
the spirit and will of God. It is in this sense that I see him and
recognize him as the Son of God. And because the life of Jesus has
the significance and the transcendency to which I have alluded, I
believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the
entire world, to all races and people. (2)
We might ask, So why didn't Gandhi simply convert to Christianity?
But I think the better Pentecost question would be, Why should he have
to convert? Why should he have to change religions? Why should he
have to play into religion in the negative ways that bring division?
Did Jesus come to offer us a new religion to add to our ways of
dividing into differing cultures and languages -- the Tower of Babel
reality? Or did he come to help each of us within our own religions
and cultures to find the one true God of unity? I think that
Pentecost shows us the latter. We can welcome, as many Christians
are coming to do, the diversity of religious practices that help
lead to the experience of our oneness in God. Christians
are learning from Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and shamans the
effective religious practices of how to become closer to the God of
Jesus Christ. That's the Pentecost pouring out of the Holy Spirit on
all peoples, so that their
experience of oneness transcends their many languages and cultures.
Finally, the greatest sign of hope to me is how Gandhi helped deepen
our understanding of the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate. He
had his own name for it in Sanskrit: Satyagraha, he called
it, which translates as Truth Force. Satyagraha moved him and many
millions of people over the last century to learn Jesus' way to
peace through loving, nonviolent resistance to evil. Like Jesus on
the cross, in this way to peace we risk taking that old way of sin,
righteousness, and judgment on ourselves in order to reveal its
futility, its wrongness, and offering instead God's way of grace and
forgiveness. Pentecost is Satyagraha poured out on us so that we may
bring peace to our lives as family members, co-workers, neighbors,
citizens, and, yes, as both Jesus and Gandhi compelled us to do, as
children of God -- all of us one human family, children of God. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, May 27, 2012
For further Pentecost reflections from the perspective of
René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, see the 2012
addition to the Pentecost B page.
Butler Bass, Christianity
After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New
Spiritual Awakening [HarperOne, 2012], pages 239-41. The
reader may have noticed the disappearance from the story of the
Catholic woman. I did cut Bass's brief parenthetical note that she
"was, by now, on the phone in another office."
Gandhi, from Mohandas
Gandhi: Essential Writings [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis,
2002], ed. by John Dear, page 79.