Pentecost Sunday, Year C
Acts 2:1-21 or Gn 11:1-9
Rom 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“Come on Jesus, show me the money.” This is Philip’s request in a nutshell. Here at PreachingPeace.org we receive much kind e-mail from our readers who find the site useful and beneficial as they seek to articulate the good news of the Gospel. But occasionally we receive an e-mail that takes issue with our exegesis and hermeneutics. These other e-mails have one thing in common: they do not understand how we can say what we say about God being non-retaliatory. They consistently quote texts from the Hebrew Bible to back up their assertions that indeed God is violent and retributive.
We suspect that some readers who stumble upon our site face precisely the conundrum that faced Philip in our text today. They believe in Jesus (even if it is a sacrificial faith) and they believe in God, but how Jesus and God are related still remains a bit of a problem or a mystery to them. Modern readers with such a dilemma can resolve this issue in several different ways. The two major ways that ‘Evangelicals’ have of resolving this issue are to either:
a) differentiate the attributes of God into various persons of the Trinity or;
b) follow some dispensational scheme that allots the work of the Trinity to different portions of time and history by
c) merging the revelation of God in Christ with other loci of revelation (preeminently mixing the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels in a ‘flat’ view of biblical inspiration).
In the first example which tends to follow the lines laid down in Protestant Scholasticism, certain attributes are given to the Father, others to the Son, still others to the Spirit. While it is acknowledged that certain attributes belong to all three, in the relation of God to humanity characteristics of God are divided or apportioned to each member of the Trinity, thus one is able to retain all of the attributes traditionally associated with God, see for example the Westminster Catechism. For example, in Chapter 7, there are different covenants made with humanity but notice that the relation between the three covenants (a covenant of works and two covenants of grace) is grounded in the notion of sacrifice, thereby making the covenant(s) of grace subservient to the covenant of works. While it is asserted that ‘there are not, therefore, two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same under varying dispensations,” it is the framework of sacrifice that underlies both covenants. This is typical of much Protestant theology and as Girard has said it arises from the problem of drawing structural analogies (see The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience).
On the other hand the popular theological construct known as Dispensationalism which has its roots in English Darbyism and was given impetus in the Scofield Bible continues to exert influence on much modern vulgar (= common) theology in the churches. In this view, the notion of multiple covenants elicits a God who acts one way in a certain temporal period and another way in a different time, yet still another way in a third era and so on. This view, more than any other, belongs to category of heresy although it is not acknowledged and the popularity of certain apocalyptic viewpoints runs amok in our congregations thanks to the idiocy of ‘Bible believing authors and book store owners.’
In short, a consistent and coherent view of God as Trinity is overthrown in the name of philosophical speculation and God becomes little more than the disturbed human condition projected into the transcendent. Clergy have to wrestle with this continually as lay ‘Bible scholars’ demand that their leaders also accept this nonsense as valid Christian doctrine. Because we have paid too little attention to the history of the framing of trinitarian thinking in the early church in our studies we do not always know how to combat this distorted and violent theology.
The Fourth Gospel is our best corrective in this regard. In the Fourth Gospel, there is asserted an identity between the works and words of the Father and the Son, the character of one is no different than the character of the other. It is easy to suppose that the Fourth Gospel proposes the divinity of the Son but it does so by proclaiming the true humanity of God in Jesus. We are given a human life in which we see what God, the Father, is like. Jesus is the ‘analogue’ of God. “No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has exegeted Him” (John 1:18). Jesus is the exegesis of God and thus the hermeneutic of God. From the perspective of the Fourth Gospel, if we are to know God we must know Jesus. As long as we presuppose we know what God must be like and we try to fit Jesus into these categories we will fail, because our views of God, our theologies, arise from sacrificial categories, from the victimage mechanism. If we do this, we will end up like Philip, being glad to know who Jesus is, but we shall always remain uncertain as to who God is.
On the other hand if we begin with Jesus and allow Jesus to exegete God, to show us the Father, then we shall find ourselves in the promise of the revelation of the one who is Father, Son and Spirit. It is no surprise that other religions look at Christianity and do not see a consistent monotheism, we have so distinguished Jesus from God that we really have two Gods who are in a titanic mimetic struggle in our theological paradigms. If we wish to insist that we are truly monotheistic we must like Athanasius assert that ‘there is no difference between the Father and the Son, save the name Father.’ Then we may with boldness and confidence proclaim the God of the Gospel who has revealed himself in Jesus.
Finally, we might ask why our prayers are so ineffective. Could this be because when we ask ‘in Jesus’ name’ we are asking a God that we believe is different than Jesus and so we are not really praying to the Father, the Creator abba who has made heaven and earth. Instead we find ourselves praying to a ‘God’ who is similar to the gods of victimage hoping against hope that the merciful Christ will take our prayers and answer them.
But if we rightly hear Jesus, we shall be the ones to do greater works that even he has done in his earthly life, BECAUSE HE IS WITH US. He has come to us in the sending of the Spirit who bears his character, his image and his likeness. Jesus is the one in us who will do mighty miracles and utter healing words so that we may be like him, children of the heavenly Father. This is his promise, his gift to us.
See our comments on Year C Easter 4-7 for discussions on the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Since we are in the midst of a war on terrorism we find it appropriate to ask questions that relate to our role as Christians in this war. Here at PreachingPeace.org we have diligently sought to explore the roots of human violence and one of its most horrible consequences, war. We have sought to do so from the perspective of mimetic theory and orthodox thinking. As a foil today for our discussion we wish to use a book published in 2002 by Darrell Cole, When God Says War is Right. The reason we have chosen to use this book is because it illuminates all of the problems we have been discussing on Preaching Peace. We will take issue with Cole on virtually every front. Cole is an academic and this book is intended to be an academic apology for just war theory.
Cole in his discussion of just war theory ‘relies upon two preeminent theologians in history, Thomas Aquinas from the 13th century and John Calvin from the 16th.” In addition Cole calls for support upon Augustine, Ambrose and Eusebius. We would note that each of these thinkers is embedded in sacrificial logic (see my essay ‘Violence: Rene Girard and the Recovery of Early Christian Perspectives in Brethren Life and Thought Vol 37, No 2). The Christian theologians Cole depends upon are all grounded not only in the sacrificial logic of victimage but are also stuck in the platonic dualism that had permeated early Christian thought.
Cole asserts that early Christian participation in the military did not occur because Christians would not participate in emperor worship is correct but misses the point that the real issue at stake for the early Christians was the idolatry of the victimizing gods, the gods of myth. When Cole says that early Christian pacifism “is historically inaccurate and cannot be held with integrity” we can only assume that he has not read very extensively in early Christian literature. His use of early Christian theologians misses the impact that dualism had made upon Christian theology.
Cole exposes himself when he says, “The Bible is an accurate account of how God acted in history in His dealings with His people and these actions reveal what He is like.” We have pointed out the problems with viewing Scripture in a ‘flat’ revelatory manner. Cole begins by assuming what God is like from the Hebrew Scriptures and will then try to fit Jesus into this framework so much so that he can say that early Christians “did worry about how to account for the fact that Jesus was the Son of God who ordered His people to kill and, on occasion, killed human beings Himself.” Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus either kill or order people to kill; Cole has assimilated Jesus to the God from which the Hebrew Scriptures struggle to escape, thus effectively creating a Christian mythical view of Jesus. This is heresy of the highest order.
When Cole says, “The Old Testament (sic) reveals that God is just, merciful and loving, it also reveals that God has a warlike character, “ and “God demonstrates warlike characteristics throughout the Old Testament, in multitude of instances,” he does so from his flat view of Scripture and does not see the Hebrew Scriptures as ‘texts in travail’ as texts that live, as it were, between myth and gospel. Following Calvin, Cole says that “when we read that God is a Warrior, we should understand this is a subset of God the Just, Merciful and Loving.” Once again, we see the impact that dualist sacrificial thinking can have on Christian theology.
Finally, by failing to detect the role of mimetic violence in the structuring of the Christian myth Cole can say, “Christ brought not a new law, but His Spirit to renew our hearts so that we would want to obey and please God, and the only way we can obey and please Him is to follow His moral law.” Oh dear. We are back once again to accepting one of the founding pillars of mimetically structured human culture (namely prohibition) as a Christian construct.
Finally, Cole says, “God’s character is reflected in earthly political structures.” A statement like this can only be made by one who has failed to take into consideration that in Jesus alone is God fully revealed. Cole’s statement is far too similar to that of the German Christians of the Nazi time and his book should be placed against The Barmen Declaration.
All of this to say that Cole’s book is an excellent example of how not to do Christian theology, it is framed by dualism and grounded in mimetic sacrificial structures. How can one even begin to talk about Jesus from such a perspective without sacrificing him once again on the altar of mimetic victimage?
Some Sermon Thoughts
The God you always wanted, the God you knew was there somewhere, hidden beneath the sacrificial accretions of the centuries, is there in today’s text!
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father!” The God your heart cries for is the one you see when you see Jesus! Some of this isn’t such good news, of course, from our sacrificial way of seeing things. Just as Jesus didn’t destroy the enemies of his disciples, indeed, he died at their hands, so also our God will not destroy our enemies, and we are often asked to be willing to die at theirs.
Still, this is the God of Mercy, untainted by the God of Wrath that Jesus never shows. If we go looking for this God whose justice justifies, even demands occasional violence, we won’t find that God when we look at Jesus.
It’s easy to preach this Gospel, because every one of our parishioners hungers for this God of love. We have only to speak to that hunger, and offer today’s text as the answer.