Pr. Scott Kramer
On Tuesday of this past week I met with my synod diversity team. (“Synod” is the name for the 100 Lutheran churches in our part of Washington state.) Our team’s job is to identify needs and opportunities for raising awareness within our synod concerning issues of race, sexuality and, more generally, power.
When I say I “met” with the team, I don’t mean face-to-face. Team members serve in different parts of our synod so gathering in the same room at the same time is hard to arrange. We do what many groups do these days: We meet electronically, “virtually”—on a computer screen.
Now, I’m grateful for technology that allows people who are scattered to come together. At the same time, I’m aware that this past week one line in particular from our Pentecost reading has jumped out at me: When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room.
The telephone has been around for a long time. Now we have Skype, Zoom, Facetime—all these amazing technologies that allow us to connect. But none of these is the same as what happened on that first Pentecost, when God’s people “met in one room.”
Well, what’s the difference? Why not embrace the technology and settle for that? It’s a time-saver, it’s more convenient, it’s efficient use of resources—no burning fuel driving to meetings!
But it’s not the same, is it? A Zoom call allows me to see those I’m talking with, which is good! But–we’re not in the same room, breathing the same air, greeting one another with a hug or a handshake. If I’m on a video-conferencing call, I can multitask: check my phone, check my e-mail, read a book (!), and no one likely would know. This gets at a more troubling aspect of not meeting face-to-face, and that’s the matter of accountability. You know as well as I how the internet has become a place where people say things they would never say in person, face-to-face.
The ability to hide their identity and say whatever they want has led to no end of toxic and even dangerous behavior—the opposite of Christian love. Meeting in the same room, face-to-face, with people who might hold them accountable, is an internet troll’s worst nightmare. But spending too much time on our devices can leave even otherwise healthy people discouraged, angry, isolated, depressed, and afraid.
That diversity team video conference was productive, and I don’t worry too much about us meeting virtually, because our team has regular face-to-face meetings.
But that one cyber-meeting led me to reflect on the other opportunities I had to be among God’s people “in the same room” this past week. In each case, I got a whiff of Pentecost. Here’s some of what I remember:
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been invited to gather with some guys half my age. Some of us are church-going, some of us aren’t. But all of us are willing to talk about faith, politics, and social issues. This past Monday evening we gathered again, face-to-face, hearing one another’s stories and wrestling with some of the great challenges of our time. The Holy Spirit showed up in the stories of each person. When we meet face-to-face, we find what we have in common, offering each of us hope and encouragement to persevere in living full, courageous lives.
On Tuesday, I visited housebound Ruth with communion. Ruth, as some of you know, last year lost Howard, her husband of 62 years. Ruth told me that, following her loss, one important source of comfort has been the kindness of neighbors who check in on her. The Holy Spirit shows up for Ruth in person, through these neighbors—and showed up for me in Ruth’s stories!
Vacation Bible School is happening on West Hill the first week in August. This past Tuesday evening, four of us gathered at a home in Bryn Mawr to dream and to plan: A Lutheran, a Methodist, a Catholic, and a Pentecostal. There, the Holy Spirit showed up again. We found in the midst of our diversity a clear common purpose: to provide children with the assurance that God loves them, no matter what.
On Wednesday I drove to text study, as I do every Wednesday morning, gathering with Lutherans, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian church leaders to study the readings for the following Sunday. Week after week, as we gather in the same room, the Holy Spirit shows up with wisdom and insights I would not come up with on my own.
That same evening, I gathered with your elected leaders at Luther’s Table for our monthly council meeting. There again, the Holy Spirit showed up, as we heard one another’s stories and perspectives, pondering what God is doing among us as a congregation.
Then, on Friday evening, I joined my wife and one of her friends at a Seattle International Film Festival screening. It was a Chinese-French collaboration about how the fashion industry is beginning to embrace non-traditional people and body types, becoming more inclusive. (Who knew that the Holy Spirit would show up on the world’s fashion runways!)
And finally, yesterday about 4:00 I received a text from our neighbor Tim. Tim is a gifted musician whose twin brother Jonathan is our congregation’s missionary in Uganda. Tim wanted to know if I could come over at 5:00 pm. A friend of his, a Seattle University student from Tanzania, was doing a jazz violin recital in Tim’s basement. It was very last-minute but Tim and his family live only a block from where we live so I said okay. There again, the Holy Spirit showed up, bringing diverse people together through inspiring music.
Well, that’s a lot! This week has been unusual in the number of opportunities I’ve had to gather with others in the same room. Whether it was two, or three, or four, or five, or six of us, the Holy Spirit showed up through conversation, through a meal, through film, through music. Over and over again, I heard and experienced new insights into God’s amazing grace, through stories and experiences that were not my own.
It’s easy to become distracted in our Pentecost reading by the tongues of fire, rushing wind, and strange languages. But this strange and wonderful story of Pentecost is, first and foremost, about the ordinary miracle of hearing. As Luke writes, those who were present declared, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” The focus is on God! The focus is on hearing, and then recognizing, the language of love.
On any given day, where do you recognize the language of love? What are those opportunities to gather “in the same room” with at least one or two others, to recognize in different lives and experiences signs of God’s love?
This thing we do on Sunday, gathering face-to-face “in the same room” as we’re doing now, sets a tone for the rest of the week. Here we gather week after week to hear again strange and wonderful stories of God’s love, power, mercy and forgiveness. It is here that we gather to participate in rituals that have been handed down to us, to share a meal that reminds us who we are and whose we are.
Sunday worship is an experience to refer back to the rest of the week, as we gather in other places and other contexts—at work, at home, at school. Here each Sunday we receive a nudge to be on the alert for the unexpected appearance of the Holy Spirit through the language of love.
In our time especially, the Day of Pentecost calls us away from isolation, individualism, and anonymity, away from too much time in front of the “bright screen” and into face-to-face relationships, which is usually where love abides and where the Holy Spirit shows up. God calls us into a community of accountability, mutual love, and the assurance of God’s presence as we grow more skilled in hearing, recognizing, speaking and practicing the language of love!