This Sacred Discontinuity, Day of Pentecost (B) – May 20, 2018

Episcopal Sermon Pentecost


[RCL]: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-37 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The Bible and the church year commemorate many moments of grace. One of these moments of grace is what we celebrate here on this day of Pentecost: how the Holy Spirit fell like fire upon the infant church, equipping that small assembly for their global mission, energizing that community with nothing less than the life of God.

Here are other moments of grace we remember from the church year and the Bible: the universe summoned into existence; Israel called to be God’s people; messages spoken by the prophets; Jesus born and baptized; his suffering and resurrection; his ascension into heaven; and the witness of countless martyrs and saints from many centuries and many places.

We recall these moments of grace, and they help us recognize where grace works in our lives. For what God brings about in that story which we hear in Scripture and present in worship, God also brings about on the more intimate stage of our lives. Time and again, we die with Christ and are raised with him; time and again, the Spirit energizes us for some new venture.

Moments of grace are manifest through Scripture and worship. Moments of grace are manifest in our not so ordinary lives.

Still other moments of grace are manifest in cosmic history and human history, still other occasions of sacred discontinuity when the Lord of life, the God of surprises, decides to do something new. We can recognize these as well; we can honor them.

Here are several such moments of grace: when human beings first controlled fire; when spoken language appeared; when the first gardens were cultivated; when people started making pottery.

The Bible and Christianity present a God who keeps doing things never done before, and often God does these things through human agency.

Yes, there are cycles in this world that repeat with obvious reliability: the changes of the seasons, the stages of a human life. But God is notorious for also doing what seems unprecedented, such as freeing his people from Egypt or raising his Son from the dead. These novelties belong to a plan and purpose we can only begin to recognize.

The Christian faith says that the Holy Spirit is ceaselessly at work in every moment of grace, not only the ones we celebrate in church. The Christian faith does not claim the Holy Spirit as a prisoner constrained by the Church. Far from it: the Holy Spirit, who is Creator and Giver of life, makes and sustains and brings to fulfillment every creature that exists.

The Holy Spirit is a subtle power, the secret force behind all beauty, truth, and goodness; every act of kindness and compassion; every wise insight and every noble decision. The Spirit’s work is apparent in the stars we see in the night sky and in the microscopic wonder of single-cell organisms. Travel at the speed of light if you can; you will never outrun the realm of the Spirit.

So then, moments of grace on whatever scale are not rare, but plentiful. To thrive in the Holy Spirit means that we become more adept at recognizing ways in which the Spirit operates.

Have you noticed? The future constantly becomes the present on its way to becoming the past. As this happens, we must confront problems and challenges and tragedies. We must also open ourselves to obvious moments of grace, strange and unexpected gifts that appear in our lives, our communities, and in human and planetary history. Through such moments, the Holy Spirit acts and summons us to obedience, to creative cooperation with the high purposes of God.

A resource for our creative cooperation with the Holy Spirit is the vision offered by Thomas Berry. In his nineties when he died in 2009, Berry was an eminent cultural historian, an historian of religion, and a Christian, specifically a Roman Catholic priest of the Passionist Order. The Great Work and other books he wrote late in life have become popular and influential, and Berry has sometimes been called “the leading spokesperson for the Earth.”

Berry believed that humanity in our time faces a moment of grace regarding the future of life on this planet.

He does not minimize the environmental disaster that confronts us on every side. “For the first time,” he tells us in The Great Work, “the planet is disturbed by humans in its geological structure and its biological functioning in a manner like the great cosmic forces that alter geological and biological structures of the planet…. So severe and irreversible is this deterioration that we might well believe those who tell us that we have only a brief period in which to reverse the deterioration that is settling over the Earth. Only recently has the deep pathos of the Earth situation begun to sink into our consciousness.”

While well-versed in the details of environmental disaster, Thomas Berry dares to point us ahead to a promising future when he announces that a “comprehensive change of consciousness is coming over the human community, especially in the industrial nations of the world. For the first time since the industrial age began we have a profound critique of its devastation, a certain withdrawal in dismay at what is happening, along with an enticing view of the possibilities before us.”

He then characterizes this moment of grace by contrasting one dream with another, claiming that the “distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by a more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based Earth community.”

Thomas Berry emphasizes that the old dream remains powerful. In The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, he assesses it, declaring, “there is no dream or entrancement in the history of Earth that has wrought the destruction that is taking place in the entrancement with industrial civilization. Such entrancement must be considered as a profound cultural pathology. It can be dealt with only by a correspondingly deep cultural therapy.”

In the Acts passage we heard this morning, Peter quotes the prophet Joel about how in the latter days, God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, and the result will be people prophesying and experiencing visions and dreams. Joel’s prophecy came true in that moment of grace we call the first Christian Pentecost.

Our time is also the latter days and may well be a moment of grace, an occasion of sacred discontinuity when the Lord of life decides to do something new and do that something new through us.

Already the Holy Spirit has launched a great work: washing away the sin of our assault on the environment, inviting the Earth and humanity to a new reconciliation and peace.

For those with eyes to see, the Spirit is even now engaged in this unprecedented enterprise: inspiring scientists and environmentalists, activists and educators and legislators, business executives and farmers and urban planners, people of diverse religions and spiritualities, to take part together in a new and great work. Yes, the Holy Spirit is humble, moving among people everywhere, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged.

The newer generations of humanity include many who are responding to the Spirit’s lead with especially generous hearts. They are putting into effect the vision God has given them.

Today’s psalm declares that God sends forth his Spirit and thus renews the face of the earth.

This is a glorious truth! But will we all become partners in the divine renewal of this planet?

Will we recognize and welcome this current moment of grace, this divine discontinuity where the Lord is leading us to peace as we struggle with something unprecedented?

Will we act upon this opportunity, and will we do so in time?

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker lives in Greenbelt, Maryland with his wife Helena Mirtova and serves as priest associate at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beltsville, Md. He is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications). Many of his sermons appear on sermonwriter.com. He can be reached via Email at charleshoffacker8@gmail.com.

Download the sermon for the Day of Pentecost (B).

One in the Holy Spirit, Pentecost (B) – 2015

May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

There’s no better time to celebrate the diversity of the Kingdom of God than on the Day of Pentecost. Separately, our differences are too diverse to list, but put together, our individual uniqueness creates a beautiful kaleidoscope we call the Body of Christ.

Sadly, today we see people and nations torn apart by racism, religious chauvinism, man-made borders and cultural bigotry. We have become a culture of us-versus-them, where the “other” is to be feared and never trusted. This is not a new occurrence, but one would have hoped that humanity would have learned from its past mistakes and recurrent genocides over the ages; however, here we are in the 21st century, repeating history again with chilling efficiency and cruelty.

Pentecost is a reminder that God’s Holy Spirit is given freely to all people with no respect for race, culture, socioeconomic standing, gender or any other distinguishing mark used by people to differentiate one person from another. In God we are one.

On the Day of Pentecost, reported in the Book of Acts, people gathered in Jerusalem from all corners of the Roman Empire. They represented competing economic interests, diverse cultures, a myriad of languages and different religious traditions. Nevertheless, God’s grace was given freely to all who heard the message preached by St. Peter, and thousands converted to Christ. These aliens who converged on Jerusalem returned to their homes and spread the message of Christ, and the church began to spread like a wildfire engulfing dry brush.

From its inception, the church was a diverse group of people who hailed from a variety of cultures and languages. It was in the midst of this great diversity that God sent the Holy Spirit upon his church and started a movement that would change the history of the world forever.

The message of Christ hasn’t changed, but those who claim to be his followers have often failed miserably in living up to that message. The greatest temptation facing Christians isn’t necessarily losing their passion, but rather, losing sight of the fact that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. In God’s kingdom there are no illegal aliens or undocumented workers. We who have died with Christ in baptism are resurrected to be a new people bound in love and service to one another.

The Holy Spirit is given freely, without respect for citizenship or socio-economic class, and God continues today to pour out his Spirit on all humanity.

The Holy Spirit works as a transformative agent in the lives of believers. Just as Jesus glorified humanity when he ascended to the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit restores our relationship with God.

In the fourth century, St. Basil wrote:

“Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God ‘Father’ and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.”

In order for this transformation to take place, we must be willing to die to ourselves and surrender ourselves to Christ and God’s will for our lives.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit whose fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. These fruits are the qualities of Jesus that the Holy Spirit develops in our lives as we grow in our faith. That’s who we are and who we are to become as Christians. The Holy Spirit transforms the believer into the image of Christ and obliges the Christian to share in the Church’s apostolic and missionary activity. Just as the disciples’ bold and fearless witness at Pentecost led to the conversion of more than 3,000 people, so too are we called to bear witness of God’s love for the world today. This love is freely given to all humanity.

The Holy Spirit compels us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating our Heavenly Father’s love for us who are called by His name.

An elderly man of some affluence once asked a pastor how he could possibly learn to serve the least in society. The pastor answered, “You will be able to serve others when you see the crucified Christ in every person you meet, regardless of their social standing.” That is a tall order to fulfill, but not an impossibility for those who allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to work in them.

Every time we who are baptized into the Body of Christ approach the Eucharistic table, we are reminded of God’s love for us. It is around the holy table gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ that our Heavenly Father graciously accepts us as living members of his own Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and feeds us with spiritual food in the blessed Sacrament.

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the blessed family we call the Body of Christ. As they pass through the waters of baptism we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. All of us have an important role to play in their spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.

Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on peoples of every language at Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit today continues to draw people from every culture, language and ethnicity into the family we call the church catholic. Pentecost is an awe-inspiring day of joy and celebration on many levels. Through the Holy Spirit, we welcome strangers into our midst and become family, and we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives and become transformed into the image of Christ.

May the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost renew us today and stir up within us those spiritual gifts which God has so richly and freely given to us when we were baptized into Christ’s holy church.

 

— The Rev. Timothy G. Warren is a vocational deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church, Redlands, Calif. He is a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Deacon Warren is the founder of Trinity Victorville Outreach, an emergent ministry that reaches out to at-risk young adults and families in the High Desert Region, Calif.

 

Speaking with strangers, Day of Pentecost (B) – May 27, 2012

By the Rev. Dr. Amy E. Richter

(Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104: 25-35,37; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15)

As a child, were you ever warned not to speak to strangers? This warning can be very helpful, and keeping our children safe is so important. Today, though, we hear that Pentecost is about when it is really good to speak with strangers.

That first Pentecost happened in the city of Jerusalem, but today’s story from Acts really refers to two cities.

The first city our story refers to is the city of Babel. It’s not mentioned in Acts, but it’s there, right beneath the surface, and the first readers of the Acts of the Apostles would not have missed it. We are less familiar with the Biblical stories, and may need to look it up. And you can sometime – you’ll find it in Genesis 11. Way back near the beginning of the Biblical story, we find the city of Babel. The story of Babel is told by our ancient Hebrew forebears in faith to explain the multiplicity of peoples and languages and nations. How is it, they asked even then, that humans must have had one common beginning, and yet, look at us – people speak so many languages, appear in so many colors, are spread all over the world? How is it, that if we all at some time came from one common beginning, we can’t understand one another – that when strangers from another land speak, it sounds like babbling to us? This is the story they told.

Way back when everyone still had one language, if you said, “bird,” everyone knew bird, and rock was “rock” and sun was “sun.” But the people decided to make a name for themselves. They were tired of trusting in God, and they weren’t all that good at it anyway. They were tired of letting God be the source of their security and identity, so they decided to build a city, and in the middle of that city they would build a tower reaching up to the heavens and bring themselves some fame. God heard about this plan and said, “This is not good.” And here’s the amazing part: God said, “Nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” In other words, if people can communicate with one another, they’ll be able to do anything they put their minds to. That’s how powerful the ability to communicate is. So, to save humans from themselves, God scrambles up their language. Bird is no longer “bird.” Now it’s also oiseau and avis and vogel. And sun is also shemesh and soleil and helios. The people can no longer communicate; they become strangers to one another. They scatter, and the city is called Babel, because that’s what it sounded like. That’s city number one.

Now come to the city of Jerusalem. It’s 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus has told his followers to wait together in the city because Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to be with them, to comfort them and strengthen them and guide them into all truth.

But Jesus’ followers aren’t the only ones in the city. Jewish pilgrims from all over the world have come to Jerusalem, because what became our Pentecost began on a Jewish holiday, 50 days after Passover, a yearly festival when the first fruit of the wheat harvest were presented, and God’s covenant with Israel was celebrated and renewed. This was one of the three great festivals of the year. So faithful Jews have gathered from all over the world. Jerusalem is abuzz with the sounds of a multitude of languages.

Suddenly, to the followers of Jesus, comes the Holy Spirit. First the rush of a violent wind. Then tongues of fire rest on each of them. Then, as they are filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin to speak in other languages. Galileans speaking Persian and Latin, Arabic and Elamite. All those strangers from all over the world can hear their own native language being spoken. They can hear and understand in their very own language.

If you’ve ever traveled to a place where they don’t speak your language, you know what a grace that was. A young couple was traveling in Europe. They were in Germany and left the rest of their study group to go explore. They got lost. It started to rain. They wandered off the edge of the map they had and had no idea where they were. It rained harder. It got cold out. It got dark. They tried to get back on to their map, but there was no one around to ask for directions. Finally they found a little restaurant, and, drenched and chilled, stepped into its light and warmth.

None of the people inside spoke English. But surprisingly, none of the people inside spoke German either. Some people in the restaurant motioned the shivering and wet couple to a table, and the couple waved their wet map. “We just need directions,” they said, probably loudly, as if that would help, pointing at the map. The couple couldn’t speak the locals’ language; the locals’ couldn’t speak the couple’s. But the people in the restaurant did speak kindness. They brought the couple towels and pressed hot drinks into their hands. They made sympathetic sounds and seemed to share the young people’s dismay at not having the right words to communicate. The couple saw two of the men leave, holding jackets above their heads as they went out into the downpour. After awhile the men came back, accompanied by a third man, who came to the couple’s table. He spoke enough English to tell them that this was a Hungarian family restaurant, the drinks were on the house, and how to get back to where they needed to be.

In Jerusalem on Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of being able to communicate, the obstacle of Babel was undone. On that day, the diversity of languages was not a curse, but a marvel. And this is important: God undid Babel, not by bringing the whole world back into speaking one language. Pentecost affirms the diversity of the world, the richness of the multitude of peoples and languages, and the gift when you hear and understand, when people can communicate, whether across the barriers of languages, or the barrier of simply being one stranger speaking with another.

The Book of Common Prayer summarizes the power of the Holy Spirit in this way: “The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.” And “we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” In other words, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we stop being strangers with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and all creation.

Today, throughout the church, we are going to welcome new members into the family of Jesus Christ through the sacrament of baptism. In this family we celebrate the gifts of Pentecost. We acknowledge and rejoice in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We recognize diversity as a good thing. We believe we can, we must, communicate – speaking and listening and making friends out of strangers. As the baptized, we make promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, not just people who look like us or talk like us or believe like us. We promise to respect the dignity of all people. We promise to love our neighbors – even people strange to us – as ourselves.

This kind of love – this kind of welcome of others, speaking and listening to others – will look very strange to people outside the family. It did on that first Pentecost. About all this harmony amongst strangers and communication across barriers and love flying around like tongues of fire caught by the wind, onlookers said, “What’s going on here? They must be drunk!” When we’re living with the reckless joy God makes possible, when we are emboldened to work for justice and peace among all people, when we delight in diversity, and see no one, ultimately, as a stranger, but rather as someone who bears the very image of God, they may wonder what’s gotten into us. They may ridicule us. They may think we’re a little strange.

Or perhaps they’ll want to join us, being brought into love and harmony with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and all creation, and we’ll be strangers no more.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Amy E. Richter serves as rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland.

The power of the Holy Spirit is like the rising tide, Day of Pentecost (B) – May 31, 2009

(RCL) Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104: 25-35,37; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

“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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit game them ability.”

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. While today’s Christians associate Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it would be incorrect to think that the Spirit was not in existence prior to the Pentecost celebration described in today’s reading from Acts. In fact, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explains that in Old Testament times, the Spirit was understood as the “active but impersonal power of God.”

However, in the New Testament, the Spirit undergoes two developments. First, it is understood that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon all Christians at their baptism. This morning’s reading from Acts is a prime example of this, as the Holy Spirit fills all those gathered in the form of violent wind and fire.

The second development of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, is that it is “personalized and given ethical content.” Examples of the personalized nature of the Spirit come from today’s reading from John, when we hear Jesus’ assurance that the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, will be sent to us and that the Spirit will be with us, and guide us, guiding us into all truth.

In First Corinthians we are assured that anyone united with the Lord becomes one with him in Spirit. Examples of the ethical content of the Spirit can also be found in today’s gospel reading. For example, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Because we live in a world that is known by being seen, touched, and measured, the idea that the power of the Holy Spirit is at work within us at all times is a difficult concept for many Christians. But just because we cannot see, touch, or measure the Spirit, does not mean that its power is not at work. Gerard Fuller in his book Stories for All Seasons tells of a beached tanker:

“All day efforts had been made to return the huge vessel to the water, but with no success. Finally, the captain told all crews and companies to stop; he went to his cabin and waited. When the tide came in that night the waters lifted the thousand-ton tanker off the beach and carried it, light as a feather, back to the deep.”

The power of the Holy Spirit is like the rising tide – imperceptible, yet with the power to do far more than we can ever imagine. Even when we can’t see it, we can know that the Spirit is at work.

So the question for today is, “How can we, who live in a world that is wary of the mysterious, better connect and trust in the unseen power of the Spirit?”

First, we can remember that the Spirit acts in God’s time, not necessarily ours.

There’s a story about two young priests, both parents of school-aged children, both of whom had lost their spouses due to untimely deaths. One had lost his wife several years before, the other, only recently. One day they met over coffee, and the recently widowed priest asked his friend how he had endured such pain and loss.

The more seasoned priest used a metaphor to answer his friend’s question. He asked him to visualize walking through a beautiful, thick forest of ancient redwoods. Suddenly, there is a terrible sound, and one of the largest redwoods violently crashes to the ground. It is lying out of place, unnaturally on its side, roots exposed. An enormous hole in the forest floor is all that remains of its former life.

The priest then asked his friend to imagine returning to the site of the fallen tree years later. While the hole is still there, and always would be, the edges had softened. Where freshly exposed, barren dirt once was, ferns and wildflowers now grow. Water was now collecting in the hole, and wildlife would drink from the spot. And the fallen tree was slowly becoming part of the landscape. Over time, the scene had been transformed from a brutal, lifeless, unnatural one to one that, while still was out of place – after all, thriving redwoods should not fall in their prime – was at least now producing new life and beauty.

The Power of the Spirit is at work to transform even the most painful of circumstances, but we must remember that God’s time can sometimes take longer than we would wish.

The second thing we can do to better connect and trust in the Holy Spirit is to pray, knowing the Spirit is at work as our intercessor.

In Romans 8 we hear that “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” During these hard economic times when many of us feel fearful, it is important to remember to turn to prayer. There is a resource available through the national church’s Office of Stewardship called “Hope in Hard Times.” It suggests that we need to count our blessings as well as acknowledge our anxieties as we live through these anxious times. As we count both our blessings and our worries, it advises us to write them down and share them with someone we trust. Then we should share them with the Lord in prayer, knowing that the Spirit is with us even if our prayers seem inadequate.

And finally, to remain open to the power of the Spirit we must remain in motion. We must not withdraw into inaction, regardless of situation.

In the book of Acts we hear the Spirit referred to as a rush of a violent wind. Imagine you’re sitting on the shore of your favorite body of water. There’s a brisk wind, and a small sailboat is just off shore. But the boat doesn’t have its sails up – just its bare mast. The winds become stronger and the currents push the vessel until finally it runs aground.

Think how different the outcome would have been if the captain had simply raised the sails and worked with the wind. Instead of being beached on the shore, helpless, the small craft could have moved with the wind, working with that unseen power to overcome the forces of the earthly currents.

The power of the Holy Spirit is working in each of our lives right now, but it requires us to be in motion in order to act. Complacency just isn’t allowed.

The power of the Holy Spirit: overwhelmingly powerful, yet an elusive concept for many Christians. But we can be assured that the Spirit is with us. The power of the Holy Spirit is with each and every one of us. This is the promise of Holy Scripture, and the Good News of today.

 

— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson has worked at the Episcopal Church Center in New York for over three year in the areas of strategic planning and collaboration, Center direction, and small-church ministries. Prior to her current position, she served in congregations in New Zealand and Carmel, California. She is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a proud mum of three teens and a tween.

Come Holy Spirit, Day of Pentecost (B) – 2006

June 4, 2006

(RCL) Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

Have you ever bought something that needed to be assembled? After struggling to get the huge package into the house, and further struggling to open the wretched thing, the instructions are tucked right at the bottom.
The instruction booklet is in a number of languages, the English translation – for that is obviously what it is – tucked amidst other languages and alphabets.

There’s a list of all sorts of nuts and bolts, a few odd-looking tools, which look much too fragile for the job, and then the assembling parts, heavy and awkward to manipulate. One feels lost, confused, and even helpless. “If only Josh (or whoever) were here,” we think. He knows how to do this sort of stuff. It’s even worse when he ordered this thing and then left us to it, assuring us that we would have the skill to get the task finished.

I often think that the disciples in that Upper Room, after the Ascension and before Pentecost, held a long, long vestry meeting. The task had been assigned. They were to go into the whole world telling about the Good News of the Resurrection, baptizing those who believed. They were to be “witnesses.” That word, from which we get “martyr,” means life-givers. That’s a risky and dangerous business.

They were to be a new race, or tribe, or nation. Anyone who believed could join. It didn’t matter what gender one was, or one’s race, language, nationality, customs, or religion: all were welcome.

So what did they do? They held an election. It made them look on task. It made them look busy. It’s a pity we don’t know what they talked about. The treasurer had committed suicide and the books were in a mess. Someone must have said that there was no way they could afford to go into the entire world. Someone else may have suggested that it was dangerous to go outside the Upper Room. After all, they were the chosen. Who would do the work if they were killed or thrown in prison?

Someone else must have said that they were no good at evangelism, and after all, everyone has a right to their own religion. Perhaps Jesus had been poetic?  Surely he didn’t mean that they were actually to “convert” people?
The Upper Room must have felt so safe, so comfortable. It was in that room that Jesus had given them the Eucharist. At least they could be obedient in doing that. Maybe others would come from outside and join them?

And then something extraordinary happened. They were all attacked by what seemed to be wind and fire, the ancient symbols of God’s presence. That energy, that being set on fire with confidence, thrust them out into the street, where they were soon accused of being drunk at ten o’clock in the morning.

As we read in the gospel this morning, all this had been promised. Now all those fears and doubts, all those reasonable objections to Jesus’ command evaporated. The Church was on the move. The Church was intended to be on the move. It was not intended for Upper Rooms. It was intended for the street, for people, and places everywhere.
The Holy Spirit wasn’t given so individuals could have a form of “spirituality” just for them. The Spirit wasn’t given to an elite group so that they could practice a religion close to their political opinions, left, right, or center. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church to enable it to be the Church. In its power, the Church is enabled to put things together and to be together.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t guarantee that the decisions we make together are wise or good. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the Church and the Church’s mission will go on and on until kingdom come. It is the truth of kingdom which is, and is to come, into which the Spirit leads us. The Holy Spirit shows us Jesus and brings us to the Father. The Holy Spirit moves in the water; in bread, and wine, and oil; and in our prayers, private and collective. Above all, the Holy Spirit drives us out of the safety and security of our local Upper Rooms, our parishes. The Holy Spirit pushes us beyond ourselves, our abilities, expectations, and safety levels.

Today we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.” Watch out! Your prayer may be answered.

 

— The Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier, who has most recently served in France in the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has returned to the United States and is interim rector of St. Thomas a Becket Episcopal Church in Morgantown, West Virginia.