Many of us remember, I hope, the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. How he was taken from his parents King Uther and Queen Ygraine as a child, raised as a simple squire in the home of Sir Ector, and came to know his true identity only when he pulled the great sword Excalibur from a stone. We might remember, too, his education as a boy under the tutelage of the mighty sorcerer, Merlin. Today I’d like us to recall that Arthur learned one of his most valuable lessons on the day that Merlin turned him into hawk so that he could look down, flying the length and breath of England. What Arthur saw would only become meaningful many, many years in the future on the night before his last and great battle. It was a battle that he did not want to fight for it was against his son Mordred. As he lay sleepless upon his bed Merlin came to him to give him comfort.
“Merlin,” I think I know why my heart is aching and loathe to fight this battle even though my cause is just. It is because I am remembering that day when you changed me into a hawk and I soared over the countryside. I didn’t know what the lesson was, but now I do.”
“What was the lesson, my King,” smiled Merlin.
“You wanted me to the world as it truly is. No borders, no boundaries; only fields, and lakes, and mountains and towns.
“There are no boundaries, Merlin! What if people could see the world as I was able to see it? Would they defend their precious kingdoms so fiercely?”
Our world seems dependent on boundaries, on the premise of divisions and separations–and not just physical ones. “We” are told that we have to be suspicious of “them” when “they” get too close or threaten “our way of life”. We have to make sure that they do not cross our borders illegally and do not stay any longer than their allotted time. We have to have passwords and passports; checkpoints and customs, boundaries and borders lest there be any confusion about where their country leaves off and ours begin. Where people must leave behind their Spanish, or French, or German and begin to speak English. This is the legacy of Babel. Fear, mistrust, and scorn for those who come from beyond our boundaries.
Today’s feast – Pentecost – challenges that way of dealing with difference and diversity. Today the community that Jesus formed with his teaching and nourished with his friendship bursts forth from behind locked doors spilling over into the streets of Jerusalem. Lifted high on the shoulders of Jesus by his Spirit, they spoke of his love to anyone who would listen. And Jews from every nation “gathered” to hear these Spirit-filled friends of Jesus talk to them in their own languages. Those once scattered and divided could, with the help of the marvelous gifts of the Spirit, hear the message “of the mighty acts of God”.
Today is a feast of a baptized community, it is a community of all people, of every tongue, race, social and economic position; a community where diverse rituals and cultural expressions of our faith are respected and cherished. We may speak Tagalog, or German or Spanish or English yet we are united in one baptism, one faith and one Lord. We belong to each other because we belong to God. We are breathing the same air, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.
We can no more stop Pentecost than we can make the wind stop blowing. But we can retreat from the Spirit. We can step back from the fire and wind of Pentecost. When we go back behind our locked doors and isolate ourselves in fear from the world around us; when we lament the present and try to reconstruct the church of a former time; when in our local churches we divide ourselves into different racial, political, or economic groups; when the poor and strangers feel uncomfortable in our gatherings; when our ritual becomes routine, and the ministering gifts of all God’s people – laity and clergy – are left unacknowledged and unused…then we have stopped breathing the breathe of God.
We are brothers and sisters of Jesus, one family of God. Our differences are gifts from the one Giver and they are for the benefit of all. We have one true homeland and that is heaven. We share one journey and that is the little time we have here together on earth. We have one faith that lifts us up on eagles’ wings so that we can see the world as Jesus saw it – without borders, without boundaries. Let us ask Jesus to send us his Spirit so that we might live as citizens of his world.