Aren’t These the Galileans? Violence, Respectability, and the Spirit

Originally preached on Pentecost at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. 

See the video here.

Relevant lectionary readings here.

“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.”


A violent wind. Violent.  

There have been a lot of conversations in our region about violence since August 9, 2014 and specifically about the philosophy of nonviolence. Oftentimes, its white people, trotting out fragmented Martin Luther King quotes, urging for “nonviolence” without any context for the hostility of the status quo as deep violence against marginalized people. The words are often dripping with disdain and condescension, “Why are THOSE people destroying their own neighborhood?” 

But here we have a story about what some would call violence. Where the dimensions of time crash together, and the linear and the eternal become enmeshed in a way that is entirely devastating to the former ways of being. It is what some people would call a “kairos moment.” The Greeks had two words for time, “chronos” (like choronological time) and “kairos”…ultimate or supreme time. Kairos time is the right time, a crucial time, a do or die time, a ready set go time. A kairos moment is when the ultimate timing of God and the cosmos comes tearing into our temporal, chronological, linear time. 

And that is what this story is about. It’s a story about the Holy Spirit breaking through with the “forever” into the “right now”. 

And She doesn’t come gently. 

She comes with a rush like a violent wind that fills the entire house, completely disrupting the gathering. 

She comes like a smoldering fire. 

I wonder what happened to the original agenda for that convention of Jews who had come together, gathered from all over Mesopotamia and Egypt and Libya and Rome. I wonder who had orchestrated the festival celebration. I wonder who funded it. I wonder how they felt about their planning being completely disregarded, their gathering disrupted, their agenda rendered irrelevant, their power ripped away. I wonder how violent that interruption of the Holy Spirit felt to those people in charge.

It must have been unsettling. And like people often do when they are fearful or they don’t understand, some present at the gathering tried to bring into question the miracle that was taking place in front of them by discrediting the people. “They’re drunk,” they rolled their eyes. And others wondered in astonishment, “Aren’t these people who are speaking Galileans?” 

Part of the amazement, “Aren’t these the Galileans?” came because everyone present was able to understand, in their own language, what was being spoken to the crowd. That’s part of the miracle: all present were able to comprehend across languages, with no one being forced to assimilate for the sake of understanding. Everyone was able to retain their own language, their own culture, without sacrificing diversity for unity. But another part of the bewilderment ….and another part of the miracle….is this: 

They were Galileans.  

These were not formally educated, learned people, who walked around in robes and spoke many languages. They were not elegant statesmen or high powered merchants with shiny resumes. They were not holy men and scholars who memorized scrolls and served at the temple. They were Galileans. Backwoods Galileans. With thick, noticeable accents. Who felt more comfortable sweaty and half naked leaning out the side a fishing boat than they would sitting and praying in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. 

“Aren’t these the Galileans?” Yes. They were the Galileans. And THAT is who the Holy Spirit came to, THAT is who the Holy Spirit rested upon, THAT is through whom the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church. 

We are experiencing in our country another kairos moment, where the “forever” is breaking into the “right now.” It started long ago in many ways, and, in many other ways, it started two years ago in Ferguson. And it has spread throughout the region, throughout the country, throughout the world. We are hearing now, today, reverberations of the elders before us who were faithful in dreaming dreams and we are watching those dreams struggle to be born into existence today, as our young men, women, and gender nonconforming persons are prophesying to us “the urgency of now”. 

The visions they are seeing are not comfortable or easy for any of us who are used to having a semblance of control. These visions involve a complete dismantling and restructuring of power. These visions require sacrifice. They necessitate the death of ideas that we love and hold dear, so that from the smoldering ashes of the fire that destroys them, new life may arise. 

For those of us with privilege, that’s not a comforting vision. We don’t want signs above and below that include fire and blood and smoky mist. We would much prefer things to proceed along in an orderly fashion with a plan that we can approve of and sign off on. 

And so in these last days, as the Spirit is being poured out, some of us are looking at the young leadership in the streets and saying, “Them?” “Aren’t these the Galileans?” “Them?! But their skin is so dark and their voices so angry and their gender so queer!” …wishing that these young leaders in the streets looked like someone else, spoke like someone else, had credentials like someone else. Wishing that they wore suits or at least pulled their pants up. Wishing that they spoke “proper” English instead of AAVE. Wishing that their strategy burned a little bit less and fit a little more neatly into our carefully planned agendas. 

Wishing they had talked to our committees first before they came pouring, like a violent wind, into the streets. 

But that’s not how the Spirit works. The Spirit will not be contained by our respectable checklists. The Spirit disregards resumes when raising up leaders and says, “even upon my slaves….[ESPECIALLY upon slaves] will I pour out my Spirit.”

And while that disruption of the status quo can be scary to those of us with privilege, the Spirit urges us not to react from a place of fear that leads to defensiveness. The Spirit reminds us in Romans that a spirit of fear is tied to slavery, and that as children of God, we were made for more than that. We were made for freedom. And so the Spirit bids us “be free”, and requires us to USE that freedom to help free others.  

Christ Church Cathedral is a place that I love dearly because I have seen you doing this. I have heard stories of the Cathedral’s courage and faithfulness throughout history…during the Civil War, during the AIDS crisis….and I have been so blessed and honored to be able to witness it first hand over the past couple of years. I have seen you sacrifice and struggle together against white supremacy, greed, and the cis-hetero patriarchy. I have seen you reject a spirit of slavery in favor of a spirit that reveals your true identity as children of God. I have seen you “see the face of God” in your neighbors. I have seen you over and over again remember that it is Christ who set you free, and I have seen you immediately grab onto that freedom and use your freedom for the sake of others.

We know that the Cathedral is facing some transition. And in any big transition, the Spirit breaks into the “right now” with an opportunity for the “forever” to take hold. In the coming years, the Cathedral can choose:

Will you, Christ Church Cathedral, surrender yourselves to bondage to a spirit of Fear? Will you hold on more tightly to your power and your money? Will you cower and shrink, afraid to try anything new, afraid to give up control? 

Or will you allow this to be a “kairos moment”, where the Spirit will break through and take you on an adventure that surpasses all your imagination? Will you make room for your elders’ dreams? Will you listen to the visions of your young? Will you see the fires that may come, NOT as a terrible and destructive force, but as a sign of the New World that is coming, a New World that is here, breaking in with the “forever” into the now?

And when things get difficult and when things get uncomfortable…and they WILL get difficult and they WILL get uncomfortable… will you call upon your Respectability and your Power? Or will you call upon the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Liberator, who frees you from those chains?  

It is my most earnest prayer, my deep hope, and my genuine belief that you will, Christ Church Cathedral. You will continue on your path of courage and faithfulness. It is a path that you have shown that you already know so well, a path marked out for you in scripture, a path you have walked throughout your history, a path beaten down and made straight and ready for you by the ancestors and saints who came before you and accompany you on your journey. And together, I believe, you will call upon the name of the Lord, the Liberator. And you will be saved. 


2 replies on “Aren’t These the Galileans? Violence, Respectability, and the Spirit”

“Wishing they had talked to our committees first before they came pouring, like a violent wind, into the streets.” Oh snap.

This is fantastic!


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