The Seventh Sunday of Easter

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

Today is the Day of Pentecost, the last Sunday—the last day of the Easter season, the Church’s birthday, one of the most joyous days of the Christian year. And I have decided to talk about rednecks, or at least begin there. Having grown up in that “culture,” I have “entitlement to the title,” so I’m allowed. And, I do have a point, if you’ll bear with me.

According to Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a redneck, if your grandmother was ever asked to leave a bingo game because of her language. You might be a redneck if you’ve ever head-butted a vending machine; or if you think Paprika is a 3rd World country.
You might be a redneck if you used duct tape to seal the covered dish you brought today.
You might be a redneck if you have an Elvis Jell-O mold. Or if you think deviled ham on a saltine constitutes an hors d’oeuvre.
You might be a redneck if you think a hard drive is any trip that takes longer than an hour; or that megabytes describes a good day of fishing.

I don’t know why it’s still acceptable in our politically correct society to make fun of rednecks. Perhaps it’s because rednecks aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves.

One of the longest running comedy shows on television was Hee-Haw, a show by rednecks for rednecks (but watched by almost everyone). And has there ever been a more popular American town–even if fictionalized–than Mayberry? A current reality show is titled “My Big Redneck Wedding.” And the other day, as I was surfing channels, I came across “The Redneck Olympics.” And do you think I surfed on past that? I went there…for a moment. So perhaps all that gives us license to target fun at rednecks. They make fun of and have fun with themselves.

Or perhaps we gain permission—at least those of us who have lived in the south—by acknowledging that the part of the country best known for producing rednecks is our part of country. (They are us.) And, if I might brag, my own “redneck region” is also responsible for producing some of our nation’s most powerful elected officials. Jimmy “Bubba” Carter, Bill “Bubba” Clinton, Al “Bubba” Gore, Trent “Bubba” Lott, and Newt “Bubba” Gingrich. I’m not sure if the south can lay claim to Texas and “Bubba Bush” but it’s a darned close call!

So, why all the talk about rednecks on Pentecost? I know what you’re thinking? But, don’t worry. Even I wouldn’t stretch this so far as to try to make a connection with the liturgical color.

The connection is that Galilee was the cultural equivalent of redneck country in the time of Jesus. And because the disciples were from Galilee, they would have been considered rednecks by most folks, especially considering the line of work & the social class most of them came out of. They probably were rednecks.

You could always tell a Galilean by his or her accent. Galileans, scholars tell us, had difficulty with guttural sounds and had the habit of swallowing syllables when speaking. In the English equivalent, they might say things like runnin’ instead of running, or huntin’ instead of hunting. They might say fite instead of fight, far when they meant fire. Like the old joke about the wise men being firemen, because scripture says they “came from a far.” (Galileans, like people from Alabama, probably wouldn’t get that joke.)

So Galileans were looked down upon as being provincial, backward, and even a little slow (just like Alabamians are to Georgians, or as southerners are to folks in general, or even as mid-western farmers sometimes are by city sophisticates). In the Gospel according to Matthew, if you’ll remember, Peter, standing in the courtyard during Jesus’ interrogation, was recognized as a disciple because his Galilean accent gave him away.

So, with that information about Galilean accents and the way Galileans were seen by others, put yourself in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Here are these Galileans, these rednecks, and suddenly they are speaking eloquently in foreign languages. They are speaking in the equivalent of Russian and Chinese and Scandinavian, Arabic and Ethiopian, Greek and Hebrew—maybe all at once—and they are speaking so fluently, that the people hearing them – people from all over the known world – understand them perfectly in their own tongue.

Can you imagine Jed Clampett suddenly bursting forth in fluent Greek? Or Gomer Pyle speaking fluent German? (Shazam!). If you can imagine a group of country bumpkins with limited or no education speaking in exotic languages, then you can imagine the scene in Jerusalem that first Pentecost.

No wonder the crowds that heard them speaking were stunned! No wonder this event had such an impact! No wonder when Peter stood up to preach that thousands were converted! (Shazam, indeed!)This was dramatic. This was extraordinary. This was unbelievable. These country rednecks suddenly became remarkable communicators, articulate ambassadors, sophisticated speakers, eloquent evangelists.

And this brings us to something we need to know and see and realize about Pentecost—the day and the event we celebrate. Pentecost is a day and an event that calls us to unity with one another and to a respect – a mutual respect – among, and for, all people.

It’s interesting to note the contrast between this story of the day of Pentecost and the Genesis story of the tower of Babel. You remember that ancient story in which humankind – who, apparently, at that time, all lived in the same place and spoke the same language – decided to build a great tower that would reach to the heavens. However, before they could complete their work, God confused their speech so they couldn’t communicate with each other and scattered the people all over the face of the earth.

Now contrast that scene with the day of Pentecost. Here again people were gathered together in a large group, but these were people who had come from all over the known world and already spoke different languages. They were already separated by their native tongues. But, suddenly, these Galileans began speaking and everyone present could understand in his or her own language.

The tower of Babel represents humanity’s alienation from one another; but Pentecost represents humanity’s coming together in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The holy gift that Jesus promised would come. The empowerment that Jesus promised God would bestow on his disciples.

That which had been torn asunder – broken apart – by human sin had come back together under the Lordship of Christ—made right by the power and grace of God.

Which brings us to the other thing we need to see and know about Pentecost. That is, Pentecost is from God. Pentecost is not a man-made device, a human doing or Event, but it is a gift from on high.

The crowd at Jerusalem understood that, finally. At first they didn’t, but when they heard the disciples preach, they knew that something extraordinary, beyond human endeavor, was taking place. Men from such deprived backgrounds don’t suddenly obtain such amazing rhetorical abilities or become multilingual overnight. Something dramatic and incredible was happening. Something from God.

3,000 people were baptized into the faith on that first Pentecost Sunday. Thousands will be baptized today in the Church. One of them here at Grace Cathedral. We’ll do that, we’ll baptize Josh, by performing an act, a ritual: an outward and visible sign welcoming him into this community of faith and promising to serve as an example – a symbol – of God’s grace. And that’s about the extent of it, from the human side.

But what God will be doing – in baptism, in Josh – what God will be doing among and within those being confirmed and received today – to and for them all – is something remarkable. We may not see flames dancing on the tops of their heads, but if we look close enough, we will see Jesus in them, and not just today, but from now on.

We all make promises today, the newly baptized, the newly confirmed, the newly received, the church as witnesses, make promises that we will behave like Christians – like Christ persons – so that the world will see Jesus in us; & so that, together, we can minister to the world in God’s name.

God is with us. God’s power is available to us. God is ready to pour out his Spirit upon us as a community of faith.

This Pentecost Day is a celebration of our unity in Christ. This Pentecost Day is a celebration of God’s power and love and grace at work in this place, and in the world, and in each one of us.

The wind of God is blowing; the fire of God is dancing over our heads; the Spirit of God is moving among us and within us. Let God breathe on us. Let Pentecost come. Let the Holy Spirit come. Amen.