Sermon - Pentecost
In the Name…
A friend of mine had a church up in Washington State and one year his choir director found an anthem to use on Pentecost. Musically, it was quite good, but the original text had been written in German and part of the English translation was not acceptable to my friend. It went: “And there arose a mighty wind. Alleluia. Alleluia. It came from where they sat. Alleluia. Alleluia.” True story.
But, can you imagine what it must have been like that first Pentecost Day? A morning, like any other morning. Then, without warning, a sound like the roaring of a tornado, but the curtains didn’t move. Flames appeared over everybody’s heads, but the flames didn’t scorch or burn. And everyone began to speak in other languages, even languages they had never spoken before.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be there that day? To have been part of the new thing that God was creating; this new community of faith: The Church? Well, we might not have been there 2,000 years ago, but, we are part of the Church which came into being that day. And, just as the Holy Spirit filled those first Christians, so too the Holy Spirit fills and inspires us today.
You see, Pentecost was never intended to be a once only affair. And, if all we do today is think about it as an event which took place a couple of thousand years ago, then it is no different to the Fourth of July when we remember the signing of a document about two hundred and fifty years ago. No, rather, today we are celebrating the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a daily event in the life of the Christian and of the Church.
And what is it that the Holy Spirit does every day?
First and foremost, the Spirit gives us the power to live as the children of God, the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Through the Spirit working in us and with us, God is not distant and remote. The cross and resurrection become more than historical events. They become part of our being. The Holy Spirit makes us realise that God is intimately connected to my life. The Spirit gives us the gift of faith and that Spirit-given-faith moves us to be God's holy and chosen people in everything we say and do.
For each of us our Pentecost occurred when we were baptised. Through the water and God's Word of promise we were adopted into God's family, our sins were forgiven and our souls received the gift of immortality. At our baptism we received the Spirit’s promise that, throughout the twists and turns of our life’s journey, he is always there. He comforts us. He lifts us up. He encourages and empowers us, daily turning us away from wrong and pointing us to do what is God’s will for our lives. He calls us to live lives filled with love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. As St. Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." And, it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live out that newness.
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco does something very interesting on Pentecost. They release bushels of rose petals from the ceiling to simulate the descent of the Holy Spirit and, lest we think this is just some strange California creation, in fact, it’s a re-creation of what many mediaeval cathedrals would do a thousand years ago.
Some cathedrals would even have doors in the ceilings from where the rose petals would be released. These were called "Holy Ghost holes." Of course, we don’t have any here at St. Paul’s, but I think we need "Holy Ghost holes" more than ever. Not in the ceiling, though, but openings in our society through which God’s Spirit can flow and revitalize people who are caught up and overwhelmed in and by our violent, narcissistic, materialistic culture.
We need to serve as "Holy Ghost – Holy Spirit - holes" – and witness to the power of God’s love in this world. We need to be conduits of God’s grace in a graceless world. And, if we can do that then we will understand what makes Pentecost different to an observance. Observances are for the past. Pentecost is for the living. And the apostles clearly believed it was to reoccur for each new convert and be renewed daily.
On Pentecost, the first response of the disciples was to go out into the market and proclaim the Good News. The gift of the Spirit enabled them to cross over boundaries of ethnicity and race, so that each person could hear it in a language that they could understand.
I can imagine that some of them must have been terrified – especially the one who suddenly found himself speaking in Pamphylian. But, it was a challenge he overcame.
Today we still face that challenge. People still need to hear the Gospel proclaimed in language they understand, and boundaries need to be crossed to do that. We need to proclaim it to those in our community that have not generally been a part of this church. We need to proclaim it in the context of a culture that knows little about any church, let alone the Episcopal Church. We even need to proclaim it to people who have grown up in the church. We need to proclaim it with loving deeds and words that enable people to understand what God is trying to tell them through us.
But, we cannot do it in our own power. It must be with the power and the strength and the might and creativity and love of the Holy Spirit overflowing in us. God needs "Holy Spirit holes," to reach out to the community, and to the world that surrounds our community, with his love and grace.
I know you will all probably go from here thinking this week about "Holy Spirit holes." And I know some of you will hope and pray you don’t see me standing on a ladder. But, I hope all of us will allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and make us a church that is living, renewed, and refreshed. For, the Church is us.
That was the excitement of the first Pentecost.
May you be filled with that same Spirit. Our church, our community, our world needs it, needs you, more than ever.
In the Name…