Pentecost and the Blasphemy of “America First”

[A Pentecost sermon preached at Christ Church, Coboconk
and St. James, Fenelon Falls focussing on 
Psalm 104.24-35 and Acts 2:1-21]


“Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.”

Did you catch those lines at the end of Psalm 104 this morning?

Well, the compilers of the lectionary
didn’t actually want us to read that bit.

And I can understand why.

I mean, its Pentecost, after all.
This is the birthday of the church,
and generally speaking we try to keep the negative stuff
out of birthday parties.

This is the day in which we celebrate
the pouring out of the Spirit on all humanity;
the launching of the gospel movement to the very ends of the world.

This is a day of salvation, not damnation.
A day to rejoice, not to be angry.
You see, this is a Pentecost fire that saves,
not a hell fire that consumes the wicked.

And if you look at the Psalm itself,
you gotta wonder why the psalmist changed his tone
so dramatically in his last breath.

He has been meditating on the rich diversity of all of creation.
“O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have created them all,
the earth is full of your creatures.”

And he has a vision of the world in which all creatures
are in a beautifully intimate relationship to their creator.
All of creation is dependent, day to day, and moment to moment,
on the sustaining love of God.

And this psalm makes total sense to read on Pentecost Sunday
because it depicts all of creation animated by the Spirit of God.
“When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.”

This is incredibly important to hear on Pentecost Sunday,
lest we think that the Spirit is somehow all about us,
forgetting that the very fabric of creation is also created,
sustained and renewed by the Spirit of God.

No wonder the psalmist sings praise to this God!
No wonder he offers his meditation, this psalm, for the pleasure of God!
No wonder the psalmist is overtaken by joy!

So why does he ruin it all with a diatribe against sinners and the wicked?
Why these nasty words at the end?
Why these two harsh lines that the lectionary
would have liked to spare us this morning?
What could have driven him to such anger?

Well, lets think about that for a moment.

The psalmist is meditating on the earth, full of a rich diversity of creatures,
yet he longs for sinners to be consumed from the earth.
Why?
The psalmist is extolling the wisdom of God manifest in all of creation,
yet he longs for the wicked, who invariably are foolish, to be no more.
Why?

Might it be that he sees the wise order of creation
being destroyed by fools and he gets angry?
Might it be that he sees the rich and beautiful diversity of creation
being decimated and he gets totally pissed off?

Don’t you think that these kinds of practices
just might 
have led the psalmist
to insert his call to judgment at the end of his psalm?

You see, my friends, while I understand the compilers of the lectionary
in wanting to keep this kind of negativity
out of our Pentecost readings,
it seems to me that Pentecost 2017
needs these two lines from Psalm 104.

When the most powerful nation in the world,
walks away from the Paris Accord
for curtailing the emission of green house gases,
we need these two lines.

When environmental protection laws are rolled back,
coal production is encouraged,
and “ecology” is always subject to something called the “economy,”
we need these two lines.

When the viability of life on this planet
for future generations
is sacrificed for the sake of economic gain today,
we need these two lines.

You see, my friends, the psalmist prays
that sinners be consumed from the earth,
precisely because they are earth-destroyers
and, therefore, have no place in this good earth.

And when he utters his curse, “let the wicked be no more,”
he is longing for the eradication of the very people
who render species and habitats extinct through their behaviour.

We need to hear the psalmist’s anger for Pentecost 2017
because most of the major political events of our day

are decidedly anti-Pentecost.

Insofar as these are anti-ecological policies, and practices,
they grieve the Holy Spirit.

So let there be no mistake, my friends,

“America First” means creation last.
“America First” means God last.

“America First” means the Spirit last.
“America First” is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

And the degree to which so many Christians have embraced
this kind of nationalistic idolatry
is the degree to which the church has become unfaithful,
and anti-Pentecost.

If Pentecost is the birthday of the church,
then this kind of nationalistic idolatry
is the funeraL of that very church.

But there is more.
I’m sorry, but there is more.

Here’s the thing about Pentecost.
Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel.

While at the Tower of Babel, they sought to construct a city
that was self-enclosed, protectionist and homogeneous,
with everyone speaking the same language,
Pentecost is all about going to the ends of the world,
filling all of creation with the good news,
welcoming all into the kingdom of Jesus,
and rejoicing in the diversity of creation and humanity.

“America First” and all other kinds of nationalisms,
all other kinds of self-protective ideologies,
are all mirroring the Tower of Babel,
not the Day of Pentecost.

You see, my friends, the struggles before us in 2017
are indeed political and ecological,

and they are indeed economic as well;
but at heart the struggles before us in 2017 are spiritual.

The spirit of our age is a parasite on our fear.
The spirit of our age wants us to close our ears
to the voices of those who are different from us.
The spirit of our age thrives on ignorance, not listening,
making a virtue out of stupidity and a lack of understanding.

But the Spirit that is poured out on Pentecost is all about
speaking and hearing,
words and understanding,
hospitality and welcome.

The spirit of our age closes us in on ourselves,
but the Spirit of Pentecost points us beyond ourselves

to love our neighbour and all of creation.

The spirit of our age holds us captive,
but the Spirit of Pentecost is about setting us free.

The spirit of our age is all about walls between “them” and “us,”
but the Spirit of Pentecost is about overthrowing division,

and tearing down walls!

The spirit of our age is nothing new,
but the Spirit of Pentecost says that
this is the end of the world as we know it.

This is the end of the world as we know it,
because your sons and your daughters will prophecy!

This is the end of the world of silence.
This is the end of the world of closing our ears.
And, make no mistake, this is the end of the world of male dominance.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy!
The old divisions that kept your daughters silent must end.
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy!
And anything less, will be a grieving of the Holy Spirit!

This is the end of the world as we know it.

In an oppressive world where the people perish for lack of a vision,
your young people will have visions:
visions of the Kingdom of God, not nationalist pride,
visions of justice in the face of oppression,
visions of Jesus as Lord, not the latest arrogant leader,
visions of a world restored, not further destroyed.

This is the end of the world as we know it.

In a world where the elderly are discarded,
your old men and women will dream dreams:
dreams of a future for their grandchildren,
dreams of a life set free,
dreams of old hurts healed,
dreams of a life of newness not stuck in boring nostalgia.

This is the end of the world as we know it.

In a world of slavery and injustice,
in a world of economic hierarchy,
in a world of rich and poor,
in a world of those who serve and those who are served,
in this world,
even the slaves will prophesy!

Male and female slaves,
the lowest of the low,
the most vulnerable,
the poorest of the poor,
the most invisible,
the most ignored.

Their voices will cut through the deceit of the powerful.
Their voices will spread out through the world with the

force of a Pentecost wild fire.

But will we listen?

This is the end of the world as we know it,
this is world shaking stuff,
this is world transforming stuff,
this is world-turned-on-its-head stuff,
so don’t be surprised
when there are wonders in the heavens above,
and signs on the earth below,
and it seems like everything is falling apart.

But here’s the rub, my friends.

This is the end of the world as we know it,
because as the old order is falling apart.
the new order is being born,
and things are coming wonderfully, powerfully,
and radically together!

This is the end of the world as we know it,
because this is the day of salvation.

This is the end of the world as we know it,
because we are no longer stuck in a moment that we can’t get out of,
we are no longer stuck in the devastating
and boring normality of the old order.

This is the end of the world as we know it,
so call on the name of the Lord
and enter into the new world that is dawning.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter had an answer to the psalmist’s curse.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter knew that there were two ways that
the wicked could be no more.
One was that they would be consumed from the earth.
The other was that they could cease being wicked,
they could repent.

And so he proclaims on the birthday of the church,
“that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The Spirit is being poured out,
and we are called to be taken up in the Spirit’s mission of birthing a new world.
But that requires us to repent of the spirit of our age.

And the Spirit of God, my friends, is a Spirit more powerful than
all the anti-Pentecost forces in this world.

This is the Spirit of life in a culture of death.
This is the Spirit of wisdom in the face of foolishness.
This is the Spirit of healing in the face of deep, deep wounds.
This, my sisters and brothers, is the Spirit of Jesus.

It’s the end of the world as we know it,
and, to tell you the truth, I’m not totally sure
about how I’m feeling.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

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