Beyond Tribalism – Preaching a 21st Century Pentecost
A priest looked up from the psalms on the lectern, cast his eyes over all the hats bowed before him. Feathered, frilled, felt hats in rows like faces. But there was one at the end of the row that was different. What was she thinking, a head without hat? Was like a cat without fur. Or a bird without wings.
That won’t fly here, not in the church. The voices danced in song with the colours of the windows. Red light played along the aisle, blue light over the white corsage of Missus Dewsbury, green on the pages of the Bible. Reflecting up on the face of the priest. The priest spoke to the young lady afterwards: You must wear a hat and gloves in the House of God. It is not seemly otherwise.”
The lady flushed, raised her chin, and strode out “That’s the last we’ll see of her,” said the organist.
Later: The organ rang out; the priest raised his eyes to the rose window. He didn’t see the woman in hat and gloves advancing down the aisle as though she were a bride. The hat, enormous, such as one might wear to the races. Gloves, black lace, such as one might wear to meet a duchess. Shoes, high-heeled, such as one might wear on a catwalk in Paris. And nothing else.
Now some people might ask, “Is this a true story?” And I’d have to answer that this story is absolutely true! Now for some that answer might not be enough and they’d want to know, “Did this actually happen?” Well, I’d like to think so. But I doubt that it actually happened. But whether it actually happened or not, most of us know that the truth in this story lies in the power of metaphor.
Metaphor, which literally means: beyond words. The power of metaphor is in its ability to point beyond itself to truths beyond those that are apparent. And the metaphor in this story points us to buck-naked truths about tradition, worldly power, patriarchy, hierarchy, orthodoxy and many more truths about the very nature of the church itself and religion in general. It doesn’t matter whether or not this actually happened or not. What matters is what we can learn about ourselves and our life together from this story.
The heroine in this little story demands to be heard as she puts all her listeners on notice that the Spirit of God is out of the box and wearing a hat. The story of Pentecost is just as stunning. Even though we’ve managed to pretty much domesticate the story by literalizing it and insisting that yes indeed Pentecost really did actually happen just as it is described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, the story of Pentecost refuses to play by our rules as the power of metaphor turns the Spirit of God loose on our silly notions about history.
Truth is as elusive as it is blatantly obvious and yet we continue to try to deny the paradox of truth. Truth is as colourful as the rainbows that stretch across the sky and yet we continue to try to limit the truth to the simplicity of black and white. All too often truth’s refusal to fit into our neat little boxes causes us to deny the obvious truth in favour of a truth of our own creation.
The story of Pentecost is a case in point. For decades, historians, New Testament Scholars, and theologians have been telling us that the story of Pentecost is not history. Like all sorts of stories about the origins of things, the story of the church’s birthday is shrouded in myth and legend. That doesn’t make the story of the church’s beginning at Pentecost any less true, it just means that it isn’t history.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles, was written by the same author who wrote the Gospel According to Luke. We have no idea who this writer was, and the name Luke does not appear on the early manuscripts. The name Luke was applied much latter, by something called “tradition”. In those days ‘tradition” meant “the church”.