Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?”
Back in 1996 my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There were about a dozen of us on the tour. My wife and I stuck out in our group, for two reasons; because, a) we were the only Americans—the rest were Europeans—and, b) in our mid-30s, we were by far the youngest in our group. As we traveled through Israel, over and over I experienced amazement and astonishment. In response to buildings and people and history and landscapes, everywhere we went I found myself saying, “Wow!” One of the things I remember from that trip was the response of our fellow travelers to my amazement. They were amused and clearly not comfortable with this public display of awe!
Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Now think about it. On that first Pentecost were people representing many nations, many cultures and many differences. By the power of the Holy Spirit, those diverse people were speaking each other’s language–literally! In other words, they were able to focus on what they had in common rather than their differences. Wherever we find the Holy Spirit at work, and wherever God’s people are gathered and open to the Holy Spirit—people focus not on their differences but on what they have in common. When that happens, as today’s Scripture puts it, there is amazement and astonishment. There is gratitude and awe!
Amazement and astonishment are signs of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence. Where there is awe there is less likelihood of fear and suspicion, anger, hatred and all those emotions that are often associated with differences and with conflict. In the Book of James the writer says, Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
Jesus got angry!–but never for himself or for his own sake; always for the sake of others, especially those who were on the bottom rung of the ladder: for those who are powerless, despised and rejected by society.
But listen to what he teaches in Matthew, ch. 5: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:22). In other words, none of us is off the hook! All of us are equal sinners in the eyes of God.
But who among us really believes this, that, for example, anger and murder are the same thing? This past week was an opportunity to test what we believe, both as individuals and as a nation. One of the big events was the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a reminder of the tragedy and the evil of war. Closer to home our attention turned to another tragedy, the shooting at SPU. In both cases great attention has been given to the heroes: the heroes of D- day, the hero of SPU. All of these heroes have received heaps of praise for bravery and sacrifice, and rightly so.
On the other hand, have you ever noticed that when we celebrate heroes we also either tend to ignore or demonize those who are considered the enemy? Have you ever heard anyone say, “You know, we are no different from the people of Germany in the first half of the 20th century. You know, we are no different from that shooter at SPU.” No, when we praise heroes we associate ourselves with them and distance ourselves from those we consider the “bad guys.” For example, the newspapers this past week have been full of stories explaining how alcohol, mental illness and a dysfunctional family played a role in the life of Aaron Ybarra, the SPU shooter. All of that is true but none of it is likely to lead us any closer to going deeply into our own souls to see how we are like him–even though Jesus said, If you’re angry, in the eyes of God you’ve already committed murder.
If all of us are both beloved of God and guilty as hell, what is a way forward? For starters, what if we were to spend less energy on being angry with other people and do our own spiritual work? For example, listen to what the Book of Ephesians teaches: Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. The author of Ephesians is not talking about a sunset in five or ten years! He’s talking about sunset today. Are you angry with someone? Are you a list-keeper? Are you prone to outbursts of rage? Or, is every day just a “slow burn” of resentment? According to Ephesians, you have until 9:05 (sunset!) this evening to make confession and resolve to do something about it!
What’s at stake when we become distracted from “awe and amazement”? This past week I was reading the April issue of Smithsonian magazine and found an article called “Fast and Furious.” The article describes a study in which it’s been found that certain emotions travel fastest on the Internet, especially social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Which emotions are most contagious, do you think? What this study found is that joy moves faster than sadness or disgust. But nothing is speedier than…rage.
Nothing spreads faster or is more contagious than rage…EXCEPT. Except…AWE. This returns us to the power of the Pentecost story. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” In response to differences, those who were present at Pentecost were swept up not by fear, not by anger, not by suspicion based on their differences, but by awe.
Especially for those who tend to be a fearful or angry person, and if awe has such great positive power, what might such a person do to make room in their life for amazement and astonishment? There are many answers to that question. I myself have two ways of making sure that amazement and astonishment are a regular part of my life. One is the natural world–God’s creation. We live in the Northwest, people! Mountains, water, forests—if you’re not drinking deeply from this incredible gift that is right in front of us, maybe consider a move to Nebraska! (Nothing against Nebraska; I’m from Iowa—these states have their own beauty!)
The natural world has great power to inspire awe if we let it. One of those whose life reflects that understanding is Frosty Westering. Anyone recognize the name Frosty Westering? Frosty was football coach at PLU and never had a losing record in more than 30 years. Earlier in life he was a Marine Corps drill instructor, but you’d never know it. On the field Frosty would often have his players stop in the middle of practice, turn toward Mt. Rainier in the distance, and cheer: “Attaway, Mt. Rainier!” Corny? Yes! But it worked. Frosty took time for and instilled in others an appreciation for the majesty of God’s creation. He died last year at the age of 86 but he never lost a sense of awe.
Part of Frosty Westering’s sense of gratitude and awe also had something to do with the importance of young people in his life: in his case, college football players. And this gets at the other important source of awe in my life: children. If you’re angry, unhappy, weighed down by the cares of the world, I wonder: are there enough kids in your life?
I was talking with Chad, Katy’s dad, this past week. He was telling me about how at that moment he was on his way to the Cedar River to get water for the new tadpole they have at home. I said something about how children help us to appreciate with awe the miracle of life. And Chad said, Yes, he remembered a time when his children found some water puddles. What do kids do with water puddles? They splash in them, of course! Chad admitted that as a parent he was tempted to tell them to stop. But instead, he got their boots for them, and they went back to splashing. Soon the boots filled up with water. His children came back to him: “Daddy!” And their dad emptied the water out of their boots, put the boots back on them and they went back to splashing. Everybody needs a Dad like Chad!
This morning we celebrate the gifts of Pentecost, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Awe and wonder have greater power than anger, greater power than fear. Awe and wonder make room for the work of the Holy Spirit, which as our gospel reading this morning reminds us, includes the power and practice of forgiveness–both forgiveness of ourselves and of others. Where there is forgiveness, as Jesus teaches, there can be peace. May your journey this week and beyond be a path toward awe, a path toward forgiveness, a path toward peace.