This sermon involved some props, like “tongues of flame” such as the one in the photo, and was delivered from notes rather than a manuscript. I’ve tried to reconstruct the “bones” of it here. Hope you find it helpful!
Feast of Pentecost 2016
Here is our baptismal font. It’s been up front here since the Easter Vigil. Every week in Easter season, we’ve celebrated by being sprinkled with water that through our baptisms we became part of the body of Christ, the Church.
Here is a pitcher. What goes in the pitcher at a baptism. (Water) Water is the primary sign at a baptism. But there is another sign. I wonder what is in this pitcher today? (Tongues of fire fall from the pitcher into the font). Fire!
John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The risen Christ promises the same thing to his disciples. And on the day of Pentecost, that promise is fulfilled in a dramatic way.
At our baptisms, we are cleansed by water and united by fire. The fire of the Holy Spirit forges us into a beloved community, the Body of Christ — which we call the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed). So today, rather than sprinkle you with water, I’d like to sprinkle you with fire. Here it comes. (flames are distributed, one to each person….).
So now we’ve had water and fire. We are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What does that mean?
We are one: God sees us as one. Jesus prays that we may be one as he and the Father are one. Unity is the truth of our calling. But we don’t always live that truth.
We are very good in the church at disavowing one another and excluding one another from communion. It is easier for me to pray for Grace Episcopal Church in Newton than for a literalist evangelical church that opposes the ordination of women. We may find it hard to work together but he truth that we are one means that we cannot dismiss one another.
Each week, we share this space with a Haitian Baptist Church. Theologically, we don’t see eye to eye with them on everything. But we are united in Christ. And so their suffering is our suffering. Today we assert that we are one with them by addressing their needs and taking up a collection for them. These funds will be given to Pastor Clerveau to help those in the most need in the HBC community – our friends in Christ.
We are one, and we are holy. How does that word – holy – sit with you? This does not mean that we are better than other people, or more loved by God. Holy means set apart for a special work, which is to be the visible, tangible embodiment of Christ in history. Theologian John MacQuarrie explains, “grace is as wide as creation itself. God loves everyone and the Spirit works outside the church, too. But through the Spirit’s power, we have been called to make grace known, to carry on Christ’s work for the life of the world.”
We are one and we are holy. How about catholic? Isn’t the Catholic church down the street? We’re not Catholic, are we? Well, we actually are. Catholic with a small “c” means universal. The church is world-wide, universal, and we are at our best when we support one another and work together.
One, holy, and catholic. And finally, apostolic. Apostolic means sent. Being a Christian is not about having a membership card here or your papers on file at the diocese. It is about letting the Holy Spirit blow you out the door to bless, to heal, to reconcile, to confront power with love. Apostolic is about a small church like this one trusting that their presence at a walk for peace matters, that its contributions to the lives of forty-three children through offering a Vacation Garden School matters, that its prayers for St. Andrew’s, Ramallah matter. It is about all of you going beyond the expectations of our society to bring forth joy, peace, and the reign of God.
This morning, each of you received a tongue of fire. On one side is the name of a specific branch of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Pray for this group every day this week. Give thanks for them. Ask God to bless them. On the other side, write your own name. Pray for yourself. Ask God to help you live into your calling as a member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
For most of us, there are aspects of this that are hard.
Maybe for you the “one” part is hard – Ask God to help you pray for and work with Christians who are very different from you.
Maybe the “holy” part is hard – Ask God to help you pray for the Spirit’s work both in the church and outside of it.
Maybe the “catholic” part is hard – Take time to research the name on your card, find out what they do, who they are, and learn from them.
Maybe the “apostolic” part is hard — Ask God to help you see where and how you can make a difference and to believe that you truly can.
In a world where we are taught to mistrust others, to keep our heads down, to be suspicious of difference, and to doubt that we are wise or strong enough to make a difference, you have been filled with the Holy Spirit to live otherwise. Others may think you are crazy or drunk or just silly. God will be smiling.