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Posted on May 31, 2020 by Kathy Miller

Tikkun Olam

(Pentecost)

 

I’d like to give Pentecost a new name.  Sure, Pentecost tells us that it is a holiday that happens 50 days after Easter, but I’d rather call it “Get up and Do something” day.  And I’d like to claim, boldly, that Pentecost is the reason we are all here today.  You might say, “No, Pastor Jenny we are here today because of Christmas – the birth of Jesus into the world.”  Others would say, “no, we are here because of Easter – the promise of resurrection, the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ.”  And others would certainly argue something else, because there are certainly other possibilities. 

But today I’d like to claim that we are Christians today because of what happened on Pentecost.  Go with me for a minute because, of course, we’re here because Jesus taught and showed God’s great inclusive love – no one is to be left out, the poor and marginalized, the sick and oppressed, were all meant to be gathered in.  Jesus showed the disciples a vision of heaven on earth as he healed people, fed people, loved people who were thought to be unlovable.  Jesus taught about God knowing the hairs on each of our heads and told us not to judge one another and encouraged us to not be afraid.  And he modeled not being afraid by not running when the powers that wanted him dead came for him.  And he died a sacrificial death where he chose not to raise an army or call for a violent rebellion, but proclaimed God’s love even from the cross.  And he was resurrected and he came back to reassure the disciples and show them all he’d taught of God’s power and love was true. 

But then he ascended to heaven and 50 days later the disciples are still sitting in a room together in Jerusalem.  50 days later, the disciples don’t seem to know what to do next and while they haven’t dispersed and gone home, they are still scared and hiding.  And so really, the story of Jesus could have died in that room with them.  And really, that wouldn’t be a big surprise if we’ve been paying attention to the gospel stories.   Up to this point, the disciples were pretty much dense, timid bumblers who fled at the least sign of trouble.  And even though Jesus appeared to them resurrected, 50 days later, they still seem lost about what to do. 

So, what changed?  Pentecost.  Pentecost is the reason the story of Jesus didn’t die in that upper room. Because the disciples were empowered on that day to get up and do something.  As the tongues of fire rest on the heads of the disciples and the wind rushes through and as they hear each other each in their own language, a vision of the world God intends becomes visible.  This world is full of diversity and just as Jesus had taught them - everyone is included - people from every land, speaking every language.  These are people who have previously been separated by so many things – language, yes, but also culture, religion, gender, status.  But in this moment, the Spirit gives them a profound sense of understanding one another.  And this moment changes the course of the world because they leave their room and go out to the world.

In the days and weeks and years after Pentecost the disciples transform from people who were scared, people who didn’t know what to do into fearless, revolutionary, radical leaders.  They go out and heal the sick, cast out demons, teach people far and wide about Jesus and never hide again even as they are threatened and persecuted and ultimately each die a martyr’s death. 

All because of Pentecost.  All because in that moment they knew they could no longer stay hidden, keep silent, be afraid to tell anyone who would listen about God’s great love for them.  I’m reminded of a quote from the book the Little Prince which says, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work.  Rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”[1]  The vision the Spirit gave them on Pentecost gave them a longing for a world where our diversity was a strength and not problem - where no one was left out of the good news of God’s love.

But it wasn’t easy. They were hated and despised.  Why were they so hated?  I mean, love for everyone sounds like a good message, but they were hated because that good message has real world consequences. 

Paul writes about Christ bringing every Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free together.  Think about that – Jew and Greek – cultures in great opposition to one another; male and female – in a time and place where gender roles were absolutely written in stone; slave and free – a distinction which would determine everything about your life. The vision of Pentecost struck down all those barriers and would no longer accept them as truth.   Anyone who wanted to come to follow Jesus was welcome.  And then if that wasn’t enough, the Christians were also peaceful – peace makers.  They would not fight; would not take up arms; would not fight back against those who would throw them to the lions or crucify them or harm them by any other form of violence.  And so, they were radical, revolutionary and despised.  But they had seen how the world was broken, and God’s Spirit inside of them urged them, encouraged them and empowered them to go out to work for healing no matter the cost.

For those who were Jewish before following Jesus, following Jesus became how they understood the Jewish phrase tikkun olam which means “repairing the world.”  There’s an ancient story that explains the work of tikkun olam like this:

“In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the ein sof, the source of life and then in the course of history at a moment in time this world, the world of a thousand, thousand things emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light.  And then, (she says) perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident. And the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand, thousand fragments of light and they fell into all events and all people where they remain deeply hidden until this very day…and the whole human race is a response to this accident.  We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.  This task is called (in Hebrew) tikkun olam – the restoration of the world.  And it is a collective task- it involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born.”[2]

Tikkun Olam is the work of repairing the world; of seeking out the light and trying to piece the light back together.  And in the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is who makes it possible for us to do this repairing work.  The Holy Spirit is the voice which rises up inside us when we see suffering and injustice and brokenness and knows it isn’t the way God intended the world to be.  The Holy Spirit encourages us to find solutions, to seek answers, to work for justice and healing and also is the source of the strength, patience, and courage needed for the work of restoration and healing, the work of tikkun olam.  And the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is the vision of what the world looks like when all the light is brought together again – when all people and all of creation are at peace and in harmony with one another.

Now, today, we live in a time the early Christians could have never imagined.  A time where there are machines in our pockets that can translate any other language for us; where we can see and know things about people who live anywhere in the world at the touch of a button; where we have the science and technology to show us how interconnected we all are.  But rather than bring us closer together, we seem as divided as we’ve ever been, if not more so. 

Early Christians had barriers between the Jews and Greeks – we still have racism, xenophobia, hatred between religions and cultures.  They had barriers between male and female – we continue to have barriers between genders and could add to that barriers around sexual orientation.  They had barriers between slave and free – we still live in a world where people are enslaved and where the disparity between the rich and poor continues to cause all kinds of problems. 

This global pandemic has brought so much of this brokenness into even starker relief.  Reading the news these days takes a strong stomach and a brave heart, but regardless of which side of any issue we find ourselves on, all our hearts should be broken for the terrible ways our diversity, meant to be a great gift from God, is instead the source of such great suffering and pain.  Our hearts break like that because the Holy Spirit is inside us saying “this is not how it’s meant to be” – men aren’t supposed to be killed because of their skin color, children aren’t supposed to go to bed hungry, women aren’t meant to be subjected to violence in their homes  Our hearts break because we have had moments of Pentecost in our own lives.  Moments when we’ve glimpsed God’s intentions for us and seen people come together.  We have seen the light in people who have sacrificed themselves for others and those who have come together to bring joy and places where love has overcome hate.  We have seen that light.  We recognize it.

To make our diversity a gift again is one of our greatest calls as Christians.  It is what made the early church so compelling to people – why people continued to join a group of persecuted, despised people – because they also heard a voice inside of them that said the world can be more than this, we are meant for more than this, our differences are beautiful and what we have in common is more than all of the differences put together. 

But the early Christians serve as a warning to us that this isn’t easy and won’t make us popular.  We have to root out things like racism and sexism and xenophobia; we have to ask hard questions about class and privilege and who has power and who does not; we have to turn an eye on our own prejudices and stereotypes and assumptions. We have to do the work of tikkun olam, of repairing the world to look like the Pentecost vision.  For some this will mean protesting and being politically active.  For some it will mean giving financial resources or volunteering time and talents to the organizations and groups doing this work.  Some have careers that focus on bringing healing to bodies, minds or spirits.  All of us will need to engage in hard but meaningful conversations with one another where we really listen and really share honestly and let ourselves be changed, as we hope to change others.  But the message of Pentecost is that we must not be the disciples in the upper room, afraid and silent – we are called to get up and do something.  And the promise of Pentecost is that God’s Spirit will be with us in that work – opening our eyes, encouraging our hearts, strengthening our souls, giving us the courage, patience and love the work will take.  The Spirit will guide us to the light – in ourselves, in one another, in creation. 

This week, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, and the divisions in our own country and community are as clear as any newspaper headline.  So, if you can imagine with me changing Pentecost to the “get up and do something” day, then what is the Spirit leading you to do?  What light are you meant to be looking for?  How will you participate in tikkun olam and help to bring the vision of Pentecost to your life and this world today?



[1] Saint-Exupéry Antoine de, & Morpurgo, M. (1943). The little prince. London: Vintage Childrens Classics.

 

[2] The Story of the Birthday of the World: Passover Haggadah by Shalom Bond. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.haggadot.com/clip/story-birthday-world

 

 
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