Jun. 4, 2017: Pentecost (sermon)

Posted by on Sun, Jun 4, 2017 in Easter, Pentecost, Sermons

Jun. 4, 2017: Pentecost (sermon)

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday

The 50th Day of Easter

June 4, 2017

Sometimes people who aren’t at all religious take a somewhat disdainful view of us, as if to say, “How can you believe in God when you see what’s happening in the world around us?” or “It’s so simplistic and convenient to have God and prayer as the answer to any problem, but it doesn’t work.” Those who witnessed the coming of the Spirit that day “sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” That’s the only possibility if one’s heart is tightly closed. Typically, I run into non-faith perspectives that either blame God for everything, or see God as so extraneous as to not matter at all. I also notice that it’s easier to hold these perspectives about the traditional sense of God the Father or Creator, and God in Christ Jesus. When you start talking about the Spirit of God, people who ordinarily would argue against the existence or efficacy of God—they begin to crack open just a bit. Maybe it starts with the inner sense that we each have a spirit, and there’s room to ask questions, consider possibilities, and grow from there. Much as we might want it, the coming of the Holy Spirit that Pentecost Day doesn’t mean to answer these charges, not does the coming of the Spirit eliminate the difficulties and obstacles in the lives of those disciples, or by extension – in us. Instead the Holy Spirit comes and sort of says ‘Here, trust me, try this!’ Maybe the Spirit they receive is what equips them to survive and even thrive in those hardships. It seems that the Holy Spirit is what gives them the power to put those things in perspective and to have the fortitude to deal with things, the gifts to shape their lives and be a loving active presence for those around them.

Today’s gospel finds the disciples in fear in that upper room. When he comes, he breathes the Spirit on them, telling them to receive it. That’s the action—not fixing their fear or eliminating the threats against them, and not barring the door further. In this, John’s telling of the coming of the Spirit, we hear the Spirit as part of how Jesus sends them right back out into the scary fearful world, this time equipped in a powerful new way that gives them courage. We hear a different yet similar outcome in the reading from Acts; in it Luke is telling the story and the disciples are amidst it would seem the whole world converging gone Jerusalem for Pentecost—and when they receive the Holy Spirit themselves, they are equipped as never before. The Spirit doesn’t come and make everything right or fix the world’s ills, it given them what they need to follow God’s call and to make Christ’s message of love known to all. As we come together today and begin with baptismal [vows, we are reminded of this very thing. Baptism doesn’t make everything all right, it doesn’t magically transform you into knowing the answers to all questions, it doesn’t make life suddenly easy for the baptized, and nor does it bring the solution to all problems. The Spirit comes alongside of us right where we are, encouraging us to keep asking those questions and seeking God’s presence in them. The Spirit raises us up in courage so we know whether we’re in the lowest of lows or the mountaintop-like moments we are not alone. I think the Spirit delights in our questions as we might delight to see a gifted dancer or musician take off into free form expression, drawing on who they are and what they know and feel in order to make the most of the moment. That moment isn’t ever about us alone either; all that equipping and strengthening is to enable us to be better disciples, better at following Jesus’ having sent us into the world to share love in his name and to help others where they need it.

Do you think the disciples thought they needed the fire of the Holy Spirit to descend on them? Did they long for the ability it gave them to speak and be understood by the great diversity of languages and voices? I assume they were closer to packing it in or struggling with how to proceed now, and that jumping into action and taking Jesus’ message out on the road with great results was far from likely. And yet here they are—receiving once again what he gave them, and it was just what they needed, even if not what they asked for. It happens to us too. Haven’t you found yourself amazed at what was possible when you engaged with God? Surprised by having the very ability you needed at a time you couldn’t see your way forward? Sometimes it’s not even ourselves able to fill the bill, it’s someone else being moved and equipped to be there with you, a partner in Christ with you.

It’s true we all occasionally hope God will simply make things right for us, yet think about the word study we did together a week or two ago on Paraclete. The Spirit with us, with us so intimately she knows what we need, advocates for us from that place right beside us. Life’s tough stuff isn’t going away, we’re getting help in dealing with it, and finding God in it. I’ve never believed God gives us hardship to test or strengthen us. These things simply are part of our world; we can either abdicate or engage when they come. We can share in being courageous, creative, generative and loving, or we can run, give up, blame God. What we hear in scripture and see in our lives is that the Spirit can help us recognize that there might even be good coming from this mess we’d like to run from. There might be a way to help others through even this mess we’re frustrated by.

Last week the Festival of Homiletics featured well-known preacher the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest whom I’ve enjoyed studying with before. She said, “We don’t keep the Spirit of life in the back room because she is shy but because she is dangerous.” (How my mind has changed, Scottish Rite Theater, San Antonio, May 19, 2017). ‘Dangerous’ because living fully aware that the Spirit is with us asks us to call forth the courage to rise beyond superficial things, that we can think and act in response to Jesus’ call. Isn’t this what we’re more afraid of – the realization that the Spirit will act, will always and indeed act, and it’s up to us to respond? The coming of the Spirit was not subtle that day, it was like tongues of fire! We need to expect that the Spirit can and will come, in ways that will “affirm, surprise, and even upend our faith in Jesus’ ministry.

When this happens, everything can change. Everything. Today we have the opportunity to hear about such a change in the life of a woman whose world bears no resemblance to what it once did. Her name is Sasha Grey and she is a graduate of the YWCA Passage Point; “A supportive residential community that helps parents facing homelessness after incarceration reunite with their children.” Such ordinary words cannot describe the remarkable journey of courage and incredibly hard work this takes, and that Sasha and others like her, undertake. She’ll begin as soon as the 9:15 service ends, about 10:15, and I urge you to come back to hear her, along with our own Don Burnett, the Community Outreach Coordinator there. Sasha’s story and the work they do at Passage Point bears witness to what can happen if we are strengthened and equipped to flourish even amidst what might appear to be insurmountable challenge. In Don’s words about his work you see and feel the conviction of his living out his baptismal vows as he shares God’s gifts freely and loves deeply. His is the embodiment of the reminder that we are not called to just take care of ourselves, but also to care for those around us. Last week I asked you how God was preparing you to move from Easter to Pentecost, and what might that mean. For the disciples, it was moving from being primarily the small tightly knit community together around Jesus  –to becoming Apostles who carry his message of love and forgiveness and care so powerfully that we hear the Spirit’s reverberations through 2000 years right into this community. I said then that Christianity is not about thinking ‘me and mine come first and get the best’ but rather it is giving to all children of God, and living from our faith and not culture’s expectations.

Today we baptize one of our newest members, Justin Keith Woods, and as we do, you get to renew your own baptismal vows—which is how we began the Easter Season. Today I pray you recall the gifts of the Spirit in your life and how many ways we can receive the breath of that Spirit and the fire of her presence. I pray you will begin today’s active living of your call by committing together to “do all in your power to support Justin in his life in Christ” and I pray he feels the Holy Spirit with him in your living that holy call. It is always a special blessing when the one being baptized has family present as part of this support, and today they are here. The sense of the Advocate as Spirit coming alongside is further present in his having chosen a fellow parishioner, Robb Mitchell, along with his mother in law Patti Martin to be his sponsors; his relational family and his faith family.

Pentecost continues every day, just as we celebrate Easter every Sunday, in the prayers and community, in the breaking of bread together. When we cannot feel the Spirit near us we can turn to one another for it. Look at the person next to you, in front or behind you. Yes, turn and look at someone face to face right now… They can reveal God’s Spirit to you, and, someone needs you to reveal it to them. The Spirit’s coming in Pentecost, like the Spirit’s coming in Baptism and in newfound life, is not that all our questions are answered or all our problems solved, rather the Spirit comes alongside us as promised, to “be with us and for us and to use all that we have and are for the sake of those around us.” Amen.

© 2017 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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