The Biggest Conspiracy of All
June 4, 2023
Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
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.”
If you were to zoom out and look at our church year from 10,000 feet you’d see it broken roughly into two halves. In one half we have a lot of church holidays … Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost. And in the other half of the year, we have… no church holidays. We call this time between Pentecost and Advent “Ordinary Time” not in the boring sense of the word, but in the “ordered” or “arranged” sense of the word. Moving through the church year is kind of like a swing going back and forth. We alternate between these two halves of the year: A time of celebration and high holidays with their rituals and traditions… and a time of everyday life when we do the ordinary work of growing. Like a pair of lungs breathing in the richness of high times and breathing out the every day life of being a Jesus follower. We move between the mountaintop experiences and the grunt work of the valleys between the mountain tops. One is not more important than the other. You need the ordinary time to appreciate the holy days. And you need the holy days to see how far you’ve come in the ordinary time.
Pentecost Sunday is the hinge day in this cycle of breathing in and out of high holy days and ordinary time. In one sense it’s a concluding movement in the story of God with us that began with Advent. Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus loved, Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus ascended to be with God, and on Pentecost God sends the Holy Spirit as a companion to be with us in our daily lives as we move forward in community in Jesus’ footsteps. But as much as it is a conclusion to this sequence of holidays, it’s also a beginning to the journey we do as a church in the ordinary days of our lives.
Now hold that thought.
Let’s talk about conspiracies. Sorry I didn’t really know a better way to transition that. In a decision that most days I regret, I decided to study Latin as my language in High School. It seemed like an interesting endeavor at the time but it didn’t take long in the real world to realize that dead languages have a very limited practicality. But today, HaHa! I will get to use some of this dead language knowledge to help reclaim this word that has gotten kind of a bad rap these days. Conspiracies are known today as subversive and secretive plans to undermine authority often for nefarious reasons.
But the word conspiracy is actually a simple combination of two Latin words. Are you ready for it? Con which means “with” and spire which means…. Breath. Three years of Latin and this is my crowning achievement. Conspiracy simply means “with breath.” Spire is also the root word of … wait for it… Spirit. In this sense, a conspiracy is something done together with breath, life, energy, spirit. As I was thinking about Pentecost the connection dawned on me. A conspiracy doesn’t have to be secretive or nefarious but the reason conspiracies are often thought of as nefarious is because they’re subversive. They go against the status quo for the purpose of bringing change. Conspiracies bring people together who have energy and passion for a specific intent of subverting the status quo.
Can you see where I might be going with this?
With this broadened definition, I want to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe Pentecost was actually a conspiracy. And what I mean by that, is a group of people filled with energy and passion for a specific intent. People with breath. People with spirit. People with energy. And the subversive part of it all, the conspiracy, was that this Spirit had come to subvert the status quo. It had come to break down barriers that had previously kept people apart. In that room on Pentecost were people from all of the Mediterranean world, most of the places we could even pronounce right if we tried. (Sorry, Brian, we know you tried.). They had come together from all their different geographies and walks of life because the Spirit was calling them. And then in that moment when it sounded like a rushing wind and it felt like flame on their heads, people who had no business understanding each other by the world’s standards of language and culture, suddenly, with the Spirit’s help realized that they belonged together. They belonged together. They belonged together. This was not just any conspiracy, this was The Biggest Conspiracy of All. In the Spirit of God, we belong together. When the rest of the world pits us against each other because of our differences, the Spirit of God sweeps in and lights the very same fire in your heart and as in mine and suddenly our differences are beautiful and celebrated and no longer a barrier to our belonging.
This conspiracy of belonging was the birth of the church. This festival of barrier-breaking, vision-casting, prophesy-making spirit-filled people was the birth of the church. Pentecost is when our identity as a community is cast. What if, in a world that tries to separate us by country lines and political parties and ideologies and doctrines and silos of loneliness, we must claim our roots as Pentecost People. What if we used this annual birthday party to launch ourselves anew as diverse and beautiful people made by God to belong to each other through the transformative love of Jesus? What if creating spaces of belonging was the mission and purpose of our church?
Take a deep breath with me. Fill your lungs from the top to the bottom and then let it all out.
Friends, Pentecost is the hinge in our timeline. It is the moment when your lungs are filled with the fullness of Jesus and now it’s time to exhale. It is the moment when the mantle of Jesus’s liberating work of peace and justice on this earth is passed to us. How will we next create spaces of belonging? How will we, as the Church, exhale God’s Spirit into the world?
Where can we find barriers and break them down? Where can we find the outcast, the migrant, the one without a home and welcome them in? Where can we find the lonely and depressed and help them belong? Where can we find the fearful and bring healing and hope?
Take a deep breath with me. Close your eyes. Jesus, fill our lungs. Fill our hearts with your story. Your birth, your living, your justice, your healing, your peace. Fill our souls with your victory over death itself. With this fullness of your holy story, we breath in
and we breathe out.
We exhale with relief that we are not in this alone. That your breath sustains us. We exhale with the enduring promise that through you we find our place in this community of barrier-breaking, justice-seeking, neighbor loving people. We exhale knowing we belong.
O God, in the exchange of this air, in the movement from mountaintops to valleys, in the ups and downs of our actual lives, root us in our identity as your beloved community called to bring spaces of belonging. Amen.