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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

The Beginning of "The Church" | May 19, 2024 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

Updated: Jul 11

Give me the listening ear. I seek this day the ear that will not shrink from the word that challenges me to deeper consecration and higher resolve – the word that lays bare needs that make my own days uneasy, that seizes upon every good decent impulse of my nature, channeling it into paths of healing in the lives of others.




And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Acts 2:8 (NBSVA)


Part of the ritual of joining the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples is having a passage from Dr. Thurman read to the new member. It is always supportive from the viewpoint of the minister reading the passage. Reading the above passage on one such occasion led to a look of consternation on the face of the new member. However, the passage was a reminder of what I felt could add a sense of wholeness to that person’s life. The ability to listen is critical to living a life-giving life.


It was life-affirming when those gathered for the annual "Festival of Weeks."


Those gathered in Jerusalem – The Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – presumably knew the lingua franca of the day. Otherwise, why would they expect to understand anything? What was stunning was that they heard the message not in the lingua franca they had come to expect on such an occasion but in their own native languages. How could this be? These Galileans were not linguists. This was surely a miracle – a miracle wrought by an unanticipated spirit that blessed the particularities and universals of each person, that addressed what was common in each. A spirit setting their souls afire called them into a fellowship summoning them to carry this message to the ends of their known world.


Did you notice the presence of North Africans in the list of those present? Yes, people of color were present at the inauguration of the church. What happened to this inclusivity?


The conventional wisdom of the Tower of Babel story is that the collapse was a misfortune. That it was the distraction, or the weight of many languages that precipitated the tower's failed architecture. That one monolithic language would have expedited the building and heaven would have been reached. Whose heaven, she wonders? And what kind? Perhaps the achievement of Paradise was premature, a little hasty if no one could take the time to understand other languages, other views, other narratives period. Had they, the heaven they imagined might have been found at their feet. Complicated, demanding, yes, but a view of heaven as life; not heaven as post-life.” 

– Toni Morrison


Scholar D.W. Cleverley Ford says, “when preaching is addressed to that which is common to us all, the conscience, we can hear and we can understand.” The people gathered from various nations were not new coming to the work and God and Peter reminded them of that. God had already done great things and therefore could do great things again and was doing great things in their midst. They were asked to be agents in God’s plan. They knew what they had done or not done and were given another chance to live up to their potential in a world where God’s spirit would be “poured upon all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”


The Pentecostal experience was one in which a diversity of people heard preaching from Galileans in their own language and they became charter members of the Christian Church.





Currently, we are in the midst of graduation season. I am honored to teach at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) and the Graduate Theological Union preparing new leaders for the church and society today. These leaders reclaim and rejuvenate the legacy of those who were converted in the Pentecostal experience.


The Graduate Theological Union’s graduation was early, May 9th. What a joy it was to experience the first graduation at the library, a centerpiece that has sustained the GTU.

Here are some of the other dates:


Berkeley School of Theology

Saturday, May 18, 2:00 pm   

 

Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Saturday, May 18, 10:30 am

 

Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Saturday, May 18, 1:00 pm

 

San Francisco School of Theology, Graduate School of Theology University of Redlands

Saturday, May 18, 6:30 pm

 

Institute of Buddhist Studies

Friday, May 17, 10:30 am

 

Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University 

Saturday, May 18, 3:00 pm

 

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University

Saturday, May 18, 11:00 am

 

Pacific School of Religion

Sunday, May 19, 4:00 pm

 

Students from these Schools have successfully navigated a prescribed course of study for their particular degrees or certificates. They have self-assessed and been assessed by their institutions in terms of meeting certain personal, program, and institutional goals and have been deemed worthy of the degree they are receiving. They are prepared for the next steps on their journeys, deeper engagement with the great mystery. Lambs will still be trying on that journey. The graduates will be called to feed them, to hear the cries of all those dispossessed, and to address those individuals and systems that continue the oppression.

 

My heart was full at the GTU graduation when I saw a person with whom I had spent considerable time and then had lost track of giving the Benediction.  I smiled when the student giving the student address mentioned the letter that Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, had written in my hometown of Liberty, Missouri. What joy filled me when one of PSR’s faculty members walked across to receive his PhD.

 

This afternoon, my heart will be overflowing again with joy as students I have taught receive their degrees. Memories of our times together will be etched again in my consciousness.

 

I always hope that the graduates have listened to and heard their calling. May they now dare to go forth in their own language, their own hearts, minds, and souls. It is essential to hear diverse voices. May each leave their somewhat cloistered environments for horizons that keep stretching them forward. This guides my teaching—the responsibility to transcend knowledge, expand consciousness, and lead students by personal example into ever-expanding horizons of the unknown and unseen future, where visions of the kin-dom of God are manifested in the commonplace.

 

Tagore states that the highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. . . and that the main object of teaching is not to give explanations, but to knock at the doors of the mind.

 

Graduation is commencement, a new beginning as well as an end. The Reverend Phillips Brooks wrote:… when a person starts afresh, either with the newness of a new day, or with the stimulus of altered circumstances, or with the inspiration of a new work, what this new start ought to do for her/him is to refresh the deepest principles by which s/he lives. …So, in a new beginning, people ought to feel, and in some new way who they are and what great powers are at work upon them, as they do not ordinarily feel these things in common times.

 

Dr. Howard Thurman spoke at the 1980 Commencement at Spellman College:


There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself and if you cannot hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born…

You are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all of existence and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls…


Dr. Thurman is not merely addressing the graduating class at Spellman College, he is addressing each of us. Each of us must hear the sound of the genuine in ourselves. Thurman is instructing us to open ourselves to “the listening ear each day, the ear that will not shrink  from  the word and world that challenge us to deeper consecration and higher resolve — the ear that hears subjugated voices, the ear that hears our own humble cries, that hears the word that lays bare needs that make our days uneasy, that seizes upon every good decent impulse of our nature, channeling it into paths of healing in the lives of others.”


Each day is a day of commencement, a fresh start filled with fresh opportunities for hearing, acting, and being. Paraphrasing Dr. Thurman, “And when the call is answered, the life becomes invaded by smiling energies never before released, felt, or experienced. In whatever sense this is a commencement, a new beginning, may the moment find you eager and unafraid, ready to take it by the hand with joy and with gratitude.”




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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