On Pentecost Sunday we will be celebrating the life of the Spirit. In so doing we will acknowledge the life of the Spirit in other religious traditions as well as our own. We are calling it Pentecost/Pluralism Sunday. One way to think of it is that since Pentecost is sometimes understood as the church's "birthday" why not invite all our friends (in this case other faiths) to the party?
Pentecost has always been my favorite Sunday. In previous congregations we would wear red, yellow, or orange to symbolize the fire of the Spirit. I am encouraging our congregation to do that this year as well. We will read scriptures in different languages to celebrate the passage in Acts 2:4-6:
"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."We will acknowledge that while we make boundaries of ethnicity, language, culture, and creed, the Spirit does not recognize these boundaries. The Spirit moves us beyond tribalism. Lively music, a celebratory spirit, and humility before the Divine Mystery will mark our worship.
I am a pluralist not because it is a politically correct or hip thing to be. I am a pluralist because that is what I think it means to follow Jesus who shows us the way. Admittedly, while there are many scriptural texts that have been interpreted exlusively (and may have been intended as such by the authors) there are many more that are pluralistic.
John 14:6 is offered as evidence of an exclusivist position, where Jesus is reported to have said:
"‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."Yet, in that same Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well who asks him which mountain is the proper place for worship and Jesus responds:
‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ (John 4:21-24)Jesus was not anti-Jew. He was a Jew. Neither was he anti-Samaritan. Jesus showed a way beyond the tribalism of religion and ethnicity. He reached out from within his own tradition
to embrace others. When his disciple, John, complained that someone not in the club was casting out demons in his name, Jesus told him not to worry about it:
‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.' (Mark 9:38-40)From the Gospel of John, in the beautiful chapter about the good shepherd, Jesus says:
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)I don't select these texts or many others I could select to proof-text or to prove my point. It is just that when I read the gospels, in fact, the whole of the Bible, I read (hear, see) a Jesus (and God) who is inclusive and deeply so. I find a Jesus who doesn't particularly care about our traditionalism, but who cares deeply about how we live. I also read the Gospels as ultimately, not about the historical person of Jesus, but the Cosmic Christ, who is much larger than Christianity.
I would further add that this Cosmic Christ is revealed in other religious traditions, in nature, and in many ways. The Cosmic Christ speaks with a variety of voices. I can hear the Cosmic Christ in a Hindu proverb or a Zen Koan. I see the Cosmic Christ struggling with the oppressed for freedom, in the agnostic who is not into religious belief but lives with compassion for others, and in the dreamers who yearn for a world filled with justice, joy and praise. Finally, when the Spirit gets me over myself, I see and hear the Cosmic Christ in the person who I really do not like very much (ie. the Samaritan in Jesus's parable).
In a time of religious tension, and in what I see as increasing tribalism, when Christians think the only way to peace is to convert Muslims to Christianity and when Muslims think the only way to peace is to convert Christians to Islam, I think Jesus would shout: "Enough! Convert yourselves! Listen and discover the better way."
A final point (for what seems to be turning into a sermonette) is this:
I am a Christian. Christianity is unique and it has much to offer our world. But being unique does not necessarily mean being right or being the only way to be. Hinduism is also unique, as is Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, Native religions, you name it. We all have truths and shortcomings. We all have something to offer. We all have something to learn from one another. Pentecost is a great day to listen to the Spirit's voice present in other traditions as well as our own.
Thanks to Rev. Jim Burklo, pastor the Sausalito Presbyterian Church for coordinating this effort. He also designed the logo to the right.
Many congregations will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday in one way or the other on Pentecost. You can find a list here.
The Unity Church of the Tricities and First Presbyterian of Elizabethton are the only congregations that are on the list from Tennessee to do so, but others may intend to do so and are not listed.
For ideas about Pentecost/Pluralism Sunday you can go to The Center for Progressive Christianity.