Welcome to worship this day for Pentecost Sunday, May 28, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. We’re singing another new hymn out of the All Creations Sings hymnal, but it’s a familiar tune so the music won’t be in the bulletin. Also the bulletin will have the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the page numbers for the liturgical music out of the Hymnal Supplement (1991) book, and the remaining hymn numbers out of the ELW. As always all the words you need to know will be on your screen.
For a fuller worship experience online, you may have a lit candle in your space during the service, and extinguish it at the same time as the altar candles are extinguished after the sending hymn. And if you wish to participate in communion, you may do so by having something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the appropriate time during the service. Further instruction will be given then.
May God’s Spirit of welcome and community bless you this day and always!
Almighty God, by the power your Spirit, speak to us in the language of our hearts, that we might hear and see you with understanding and answer your call with confidence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Anyone here watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3? It’s the latest movie to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know that series of comic book movies that I usually love to talk about. But if I’m honest, it seems like the whole MCU is kind of dying, which honestly is really hard for me to say and even harder for me to accept that it’s true. But all of their recent projects have just been “meh” at best. That’s right, meh. M-E-H.
But this latest and perhaps last Guardians installment was like a breath of fresh air in this struggling series of movies and TV shows. It was funny, packed with action, and it even had some tear-jerking moments in there. But above all, it was the themes of belonging and family that was so well highlighted that really did it for me. This theme really was carried throughout all their movies, starting with Guardians of the Galaxy vol 1 which was followed by volume 2, and then the Guardians were featured in Avengers: Infinity War and then again in Avengers: Endgame, oh and there was also the Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special that is streaming on Disney+. All these movies, although they had their own stories and subplots, revealed something throughout this ragtag group of misfits: they find belonging in their family.
In case you have no idea what I mean when I say Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a group of these intergalactic outsiders that, by themselves, people generally don’t like as they don’t really fit in anywhere (which says a lot seeing considering how big the galaxy is). This group, in their individual and often clashing but sometimes complimentary personalities, talents, and quirks, work together to well… guard the galaxy from threats and dangers, sometimes for pay. I guess they’re kind of like an outer space A-Team. And if you don’t know what A-Team is, then I don’t have time to help you right now (I’m busy preaching a sermon).
Either case, like I said each member of the Guardians have a unique backstory and each of them add something special to the group. And in their diversity, they make it work. Each of them, deep down, have this need for family that they won’t ever admit to, and they find that family with each other. This is apparent every time the Guardians pop up, we see in every installment how much closer they become, how much more they rely on each other, and how they’re able to understand the most unique character of the bunch, a giant talking and moving tree creature named Groot.
The funny thing about Groot is that his whole vocabulary consists of three words: “I” and “am” and “Groot”, and he speaks them exclusively in that order. Meaning every time he has dialogue, all we hear coming from his mouth is “I am Groot”. Sure, it’d have different inflections and intonations and stuff, but basically it almost always was “I am Groot.” But somehow, the Guardians understand what Groot means anyway.
I always found that interesting, that in going with the theme of family and belonging, they insert this very comic-accurate depiction of Groot and highlight how people grow to understand him and his language the longer they spend time with him. On the surface he is only audibly uttering “I am Groot” but just those three words he can explain complex concepts, technical schematics, and even express his vast emotions. Everyone else just hears “I am Groot” over and over, but the Guardians and others that have grown close to him understand his every word, his every three of those words repeated ad nauseum, and can easily communicate with him to the surprise of everyone who can understand “I am Groot” but doesn’t understand “I am Groot”.
And so I think you could probably ascertain why I bring this up on this Pentecost Sunday. This day that marks the end of the Easter season and the beginning of the Season after Pentecost season, is known for its lifting up and honouring of the Holy Spirit. The red that adorns the space and me symbolizes the fire of the Spirit and its cleansing and purifying properties, and reminds us of how tongues of flame danced on the heads and shoulders of the disciples in the upper room that day. This highlighting of the Spirit enters in the church calendar right after we hear about Jesus ascending into heaven, having just promised another Advocate who will be with his disciples and us forever. This day that has become somewhat synonymous with church growth attributed to the Holy Spirit is also known for one more thing: surprising understanding and connection.
Historically many interpreters thought that the disciples were empowered by the Spirit to speak in tongues, as in the language of the angels, and were also granted the gift of interpretation so they were able to understand these “moans and groans” of the Spirit. This then was used to justify the “gifts of the Spirit” that some denominations rely on heavily. While I’m not denying the whole speaking in tongues thing or the gifts of the Spirit as manifestations of supernatural powers, I do wonder if this is what actually happened here with the disciples.
Because in looking closely at the text, it sounds like they weren’t speaking in the language of the angels, but somehow able speak to the languages of the world, speak in ways that was understood by the foreigners that were visiting, effectively communicate with those they might not have been able to communicate with prior. This action of the Spirit, the bringing down of communication barriers, the granting of understanding, the revealing of the universal language of love and grace, is what I believe happened here on this day of Pentecost, and continues to happen in our ministry, community, and relationships.
You see, because the Spirit speaks to us with love and understanding, so we can speak to others using this same language. Because we can understand God’s grace and mercy upon our lives, we can operate in that understanding when dealing and relating to others. Because the false barriers that we erect ourselves in society, separating classes, genders, and ethnicities, don’t exist in God’s plan of the world, we can, without fear, regard each other in this way with love and grace, wholly and completely, and know that God’s welcome includes them and us all.
This, to me, is the work of the Spirit that we saw back in that upper room and is among us now. This, to me, is how the Spirit continues to join us together and grow this church universal in our collective community and service. This, to me, is the Spirit breaking down those barriers, increasing understanding between friends and strangers, and teaching us to love each other with a love that is stronger than death.
At the end of the first Guardians movie, there was a variance in Groot’s words. After he does something to save the team from imminent death he says, “we are Groot.” At first I was just like, ok, cool he can say other words and he’s telling them how they’re actually a team. But in this last one, Groot’s words change completely. In one of the final scenes he throws his arms around the whole team and says “I love you guys.”
To me, I was immediately brought back to the first movie and figured the movie was showing how Groot was growing and able to expand his vocabulary. But as I watched YouTubers break down the movie, I was presented with a much better explanation for the change in language. It wasn’t Groot that communicated differently so we hear him say “I love you guys”, but it was us, the viewers, who learned more about Groot, who was drawn closer to who Groot is as a walking talking tree and person, who was able to understand him saying “I love you guys” while anyone else would have just heard “I am Groot”.
I know, this is just a movie, a very well written, thought out, and directed and filmed movie at that, but what an amazing nugget of truth this scene gives us. That by the power of the Spirit of love and community, we are drawn closer to each other and are strengthened to see with empathy and understanding, empowered to live with and serve God and neighbour with faith and compassion, building us up as God’s kingdom, the body of Christ.
Sure, maybe we won’t miraculously be able to understand different languages or know what Groot is talking about without help, but we might be able to see the connection we all share, the common life that we live, and how we are all united by the power of the Spirit, revealing to all this wide and vast church to which we all belong, connected by the all-encompassing and inclusive peace of Christ, speaking to us with a language of love and compassion.
So as we reach the end of the Easter season and move into the season after Pentecost, may we see the Holy Spirit moving in and through us, breaking down barriers, increasing our understanding, and joining us together in love and community. Thanks be to God. Amen.