Each year on this Feast of Pentecost we try to recreate something of the chaos that was the coming of the Spirit to the disciples. Just as, on that day, a cacophony of voices speaking various languages filled the air, we invite people who speak different languages to all speak at once here in the midst of our liturgy.
I love this and look forward to it every year. And it sends an important message: the Spirit breaks into our lives loudly and chaotically. It reminds us that the Spirit is at work in all places and speaks in all tongues. Great. But there’s one really important aspect of this story that our custom doesn’t embody:
During the reading of the story from Acts this morning, Catherine Chao spoke. Catherine, could you stand up and speak your line again. (Catherine speaks in Cantonese). Who can tell me what she said? Nobody! But on that first Pentecost, when the disciples started speaking in various languages, others understood them. “Each one heard them speaking in the native tongue of each.” So a better analogy for us would be to have a group of people who do not speak English come in and begin speaking in English. Or for us, who do not speak Creole, to attend the Haitian Baptist service later today and find ourselves understanding every word.
The Spirit is at work giving voice to love across barriers and boundaries. The Spirit groans within us, moves our feet, raises our hands to shake anothers’ and gives us endurance for reconnecting that which seems disunited. So it has been from the very beginning.
At the start of God’s creating, the Spirit breathes over the waters as God speaks “Let there be Light.” God, unable to contain the love at the core of God’s being, brings forth all that is breathing out the Word. It is the Spirit that brings us into and holds us in being; as the psalmist writes today: when you send forth your spirit, we are created. The Spirit connects us to being itself.
And all through the story of created being, the Spirit connects and reconnects for love’s sake. The Spirit is in the words of the prophets, who transgress unjust laws and risk everything to reconnect people with God and with their calling.
As Isaiah writes: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, To bring good news to the afflicted; to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; To comfort all who mourn,…
The reconnective work of the Spirit enlivens poetry and is what allows people of all ages to be blessed and stirred by the poetry of another time and culture. We know something so true about God through the images, the metaphors of the psalmists: the Lord is my Shepherd; being with God is like being at a table set for us in the presence of our enemies.
It is through the Spirit that Jesus, in his earthly ministry, prophesies, heals, and teaches. He is baptized through the Spirit, connecting in the most powerful and gob-smacking way the life of creator and creation. The Spirit is in that space where his hand touches the leper, where his voice reaches the ear of crowd on the hillside. In Jesus, we see the Spirit of God crossing boundaries of purity, politics, theology, and time itself – as the life of God – which was from the beginning, joins the life of humanity at a particular moment in time.
Which brings us to Pentecost. Here the Spirit is given in a particular and powerful way to the disciples. And the first sign of its presence is that they speak across barriers to people from all nations. The 1st sign of its presence is that a handful of ordinary folks from an ordinary place are vessels of healing and renewal and re-connection. In the moment, we read, they look crazy. People laugh at them and roll their eyes at them and accuse them of drunkenness. Not surprising. We are good at division. As Peter Storey says, “We are addicted to division.” We are suspect of love.
The Spirit of God is groaning within you. It is the force working whenever you long for connection and healing; whenever a small voice inside you hopes.
What might be preventing you from hearing it or drawing on it? Perhaps it is overwork. Perhaps your schedule is so full of “shoulds” that it is hard to see the forest for the trees, and impossible to listen for the Spirit’s voice. Perhaps it is fear of looking silly. When the Spirit speaks it often urges us to change or to move or to challenge; doing that feels vulnerable and disrupts systems. No one likes to be laughed at or eye-rolled-at.
On this Pentecost morning, we are invited to ask God to help us make space to listen and find courage to follow the Spirit.
How is the Spirit groaning with sighs too deep for words in our parish and how are we getting in its way? Are there spoken or unspoken limits to our welcome here? If we were even more curious about our neighbors or bold in our trust of
God, what might the Spirit work through us? On this Pentecost morning, we are invited to ask God to help us make space to listen and find courage to follow, as a parish.
This is a Pentecost moment for the entire Episcopal Church — This summer, deputies from around our church will gather for General Convention to let the Spirit work through them. It is always true that we believe the Spirit does that. But this year there is a particular invitation and openness. The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has issued its report after a three year period of listening and visioning. At General Convention, the TREC report will be discussed and recommendations affirmed or amended or dismissed. There’s a lot in it, but let me share a few phrases particularly relevant to today’s word:
The 21st century represents a profoundly different environment for The Episcopal Church, with new challenges and opportunities. While The Episcopal Church once held a place of cultural privilege in American society, it must now earn a hearing as one small voice among many competing for influence in the public sphere. In some circles, we gained a reputation as the Church of the white, wealthy, and powerful, but this exclusivity is at odds with God’s calling for us today. The institution will need to respond to profound cultural and societal changes, including the end of the cultural Christian era, a time when our membership grew partly because our surrounding culture supported the practice of Christianity and Church attendance….
The renewal of our Church will come only through discerning the shape [God’s Way] and practicing it together in the power of the Spirit. Christianity is an embodied way of life, not just an institution or set of ideas….We are sent to testify to God’s reign as we form and restore community by sharing in God’s peacemaking and healing. This begins with deep listening to neighbors, relying upon their hospitality rather than expecting them to find us on our terms. In today’s increasingly diverse world, we must learn how to bear witness to, and receive from, those of different cultures, faiths, and beliefs, “eating what is set before us.”…We must discern what of our traditions is life-giving and what unduly weighs us down. Traveling lightly means going in vulnerability, risking being changed by God and our neighbors.
Sounds good – and true! But no one here is going to General Convention. So what can we do? Here are a few ideas:
Connect with someone unexpected. Learn their “language” and share yours. Even this morning, take time to meet someone of a different generation, a different culture, someone who’s politics are different from your own. We are a small church, but surprisingly diverse. Cross some boundaries today.
Next, dream dreams, have visions, hope for what is not yet. The prophesy of Joel spoken by Peter on that Pentecost morning in Jerusalem, speaks to us as well. Trust that the Spirit is at work in you and share with us its insights, as together we reveal something of the reign of God here. Pray it, steward it, know that God is in it.
Finally, remember that the Spirit works in time. The drama of Pentecost is great, but the real gift is that we don’t have to have drama or strangely warmed hearts or speak in tongues to know that the Spirit is at work. It was promised at baptism. As Paul told the Romans: If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Have patience – as the Spirit works day by day in your own life.
The final word this morning comes from an Anglican leader who sought to rouse the church from complacency as the storm clouds of war rolled over Europe. William Temple, theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury in the early 1940s wrote these words about the Holy Spirit:
When we pray “Come, Holy Spirit” we had better know what we are about. He will not carry us to easy triumphs and gratifying successes; more probably he will set us to some task for God in the full intention that we shall fail, so that others, learning wisdom by our failure, may carry the good cause forward. He may take us through loneliness, desertion by friends, apparent desertion even by God…. He may drive us into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. …If we invoke him, it must be to help us in doing God’s will not ours…. The soul that is filled with the Spirit must have become purged of pride or love of ease,…. but that soul has found the only real dignity, the only lasting joy. Come then, Great Spirit, come. Convict the world and convict my timid soul.