The Rev. Lee M. Miller II
June 9, 2019
Be Quiet is the first thing I remember being told when going to church.
“Be quiet” Lee II, my mother would say, taking my sister and me by the hand, leading us into the sanctuary.
Shhhh….Church is about to begin.
“Silence Please” is what the sign read over the door leading into the nave in the congregation we served in Philadelphia.
It was printed in BOLD red letters on a cloudy piece of glass;
Be Quiet as you enter this holy space.
And I get it.
We want silence to pray.
Silence is a sign of respect;
Of personal introspection; preparation for an encounter with the incarnation of the living Lord.
It’s not just a 20th century rubric; we hear it echoed in our scriptures.
“Be still, and know that I am the Lord.” Psalm 46 says.
A rabbi friend once told me the literal translation of that text is:
“Shut up. I’m God; you’re not!”
We know the story of Elijah, of how he was on the run, under enormous pressure, and, as he hides from his enemies, he looks for God, and stealing away to a cave is told by God to wait for the presence of the Lord.
And a mighty wind comes by and the Lord is not in the wind.
And an earthquake rumbles, and God is not in the earthquake.
A fire burns, but Elijah does not encounter God in the fire the way Moses did.
But finally, there is, what’s described in the Hebrew as the “sound of sheer silence.”
And Elijah meets God in the silence.
There are times when it is right to be silent.
To listen for that still, small voice.
Time to be silent and listen to God’s voice, or to the voices around us.
Time to be silent and actively listen to what another has to say.
And it’s one thing to be silent out of reflective introspection, and another thing all together to be silenced.
There are voices who have been silenced.
Next year we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution ensuring the right of women in the United States to have voice and vote – the culmination of decades worth of work.
And while the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying any male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” it was not until those rights were protected with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that we saw significant numbers of people able to exercise their voice at the ballot box.
Historically people have been silenced.
Whether it’s the old adage that children should be “seen and not heard,”
Or it is the outright denial of giving voice to those who live on the margins; often the poor and those who have been oppressed.
Whose voices are still being silenced today?
There are those times when we have been complicit, if not active, in silencing the voices of others.
And there is a time to be silent.
This story from scripture today, is not one of those times.
As the Holy Spirit dropped on the followers who had gathered in the city, waiting for Christ’ promise of power from on high, they each began to speak,
In shouts of praise and thanksgiving, in their own tradition, in their own language,
And it was so loud; raucous and resounding, that the skeptics on the side just had to comment over the clamoring,
“They must be drunk!”
Someone, “Tell them to be silent!”
It reminds me of another celebration a just a few weeks ago; that as Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, with shouts of thanksgiving his haters said to him, “Tell the people to be silent! Tell them to cease and desist!” And do you remember what Jesus said?
You can try to silence these, my followers, but if you do, even the rocks will rise up with a shout of triumph, Hosanna!
Peter said, these are not drunk as you presume!
They are filled with the Spirit.
They are filled with the Power of God.
They cannot, not, shout out!
Church, on this Pentecost Sunday, it is time to
Claim our power. It is time, to
Find our voice.
Church, we’ve been silent far too long.
For our Confirmands, affirming their faith today,
This is my message for you:
Claim your power.
Claim your voice.
We ask you to be silent no more.
For far to long the church has been silent.
We’ve taken the “be quiet” in church out into the streets and we have been silent.
We were silent too long, in the days of slavery in America, and we created practices which kept others from the table.
We were silent too long when it came to lifting up the voices of women for proclamation; for while we commemorate 100 years of a woman’s right to vote in the U.S.; we’ll only celebrate 50 years of women in ministry next year.
We’ve been too silent when it comes to the full inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ siblings at the table of mercy;
And today we often only offer a whisper when it comes to how we care for our neighbors, refugees fleeing from terror in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
It is time for us to claim our voice!
Our text this morning is one that does keep quiet, but it is a story of how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with power, given voice, and positioned to proclaim the radical welcome and relentless love of a God who is in all and for all.
Today, to our confirmands, and to our whole church, I encourage you to
To Claim your power, find your voice, and use it, not only in praise and thanksgiving, but for the sake of another.
Stand up. Speak out. Use the voice that God has given to you, and the gifts the Spirit has planted on you.
Now maybe, maybe you’re thinking, but pastor,
I’ve been taught to be quiet my whole life.
I’ve experienced times when I’ve been shut down, or shut up.
Where will I find the courage?
What are the words that I am to voice into being?
How will I know what to say, and when to stand up?
Yesterday we celebrated the life and witness of Jean Clare, whom many of us know as Dr. Roy Clare’s faithful spouse and partner in life.
When he is playing the organ, she has often been the one turning the pages, keeping him on cue.
But I learned another story about Jean yesterday,
It was many years ago, Roy and Jean hadn’t been married all that long.
Roy was playing for a small Episcopal congregation tucked away in the forest of the Adirondacks.
And in that small, quiet, sanctuary, he played an organ, I feel like Roy said there were only three pipes, but I might have that part wrong.
But the organ was manual, there was no electric; which means there was no automatic system for the blowers to move the air, which allows the organ to play.
So while Roy was sitting at the keyboard,
Jean was in a tiny room around the corner and down the small hallway,
And there in that chamber, in order for Roy to play,
She hand pumped the billows, to give air to the instrument, and voice to the keys.
Jean was literally, the wind beneath Roy’s wings.
That’s what the Spirit does for us.
On this day, and every time we remember, and claim our baptismal power;
The Holy Spirit is around the corner, working the billows, breathing into us, that with that we might proclaim;
That we might give voice to the will of God.
That we might Be Bold in our witness, radical in our welcome, and relentless in our love.
Do not be quiet.
For the sake of the world.