SERMON 5/27/12 Pentecost B
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Today is the Day of Pentecost! Pentecost “literally means “fiftieth” and signifies the celebration of the number of days which divides it from the last festival of Passover. The feast of Pentecost has its roots in Jewish tradition because it represented those who awaited the promise of the Spirit’s coming and they did so by being present at the usual appointed Jewish religious festival of that day.”2 In the Christian tradition, the Day of Pentecost is one of seven Principal Feasts of the Church along with Easter Day, Ascension Day, Trinity Sunday, All Saints Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany.
The Day of Pentecost along with the Great Vigil of Easter, The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, All Saints Day, the Sunday after All Saints and at the Bishop’s visitation are all the days especially appropriate for baptism. On this day, the liturgical color red is prominent. The nave is decorated with red banners, the vestments we clergy wear are red, and many of you today have donned your red to help us remember the vision of “tongues of fire” that fell upon the apostles nearly 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost. We commemorate this principal feast as the day the Holy Spirit emerged on the scene and many folks hail this historical day as the birthday of the church.
Now on that particular Pentecost, the disciples were gathered contemplating that Our Lord had been crucified, lay in the tomb three days, was raised, had appeared to the disciples, and had ascended. There they were. This miraculous, life-changing, demonstration of God’s great work of salvation had come to a pivotal point in the ascension and now, the disciples are alone.
Their leader was no longer present and they did not know what to do. I wonder what went through their minds. Maybe they proclaimed, “Well, he’s gone, now what do we do?” “We don’t have enough resources, we are just poor fisher people, there is only a few of us, we can barely keep food on the table, oh, woe is me.” Scripture does not indicate this was what happened, but it would not surprise us. When folks find themselves in difficult, new situations, it is not unusual to begin speaking the language of scarcity.
Then all of a sudden, the Spirit moved and breathed, as she always does. In the midst of uncertainty a forcible, violent wind or breath, filled the house in which they abided. The same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, the same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit was now present and active in this new little community. The Spirit was as she always was, pushing forward the new life brought forth in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then as a sign of the new age, a vision emerged. A world separated by languages, culture, and division was now being restored in the power of the Spirit coming down on this little community. The imagery of “tongues of fire” represents the divine origin of the Spirit, the divine intervention in the speaking and declaring God’s Deeds of Power. “The divine glory (was) received passively and yet (was) experienced directly, in a manner that is apparent to others. This is the primary significance of the tongues of fire.” Wind, breath, and language; these are the works of the Spirit in that historical event, that event which, is still manifested today in and through the Church.
Life in Christian community is expressed in a tension, a paradox. Our common life together moves between the divine glory of God revealed in and through us, and our human struggle to accept that revelation and then, to respond. That tension is lived out in the history, present, and vision of the future, which, the Holy Spirit breathes in and through the church today. Several years ago, the possibility of establishing an Episcopal mission to serve a local village was discussed with the vicar of a nearby church. Later that decade, (seven years to be exact) the first organizational meeting of the group was held and a petition was sent to the bishop requesting approval to establish a mission and yes, it was approved. The Spirit breathed and moved, and the people responded. The very next year, ground was broken for a church building and the first services in that building took place the very year after the groundbreaking. Fourteen years later, the mortgages on that building were burned. They next year, the little mission became a parish. Soon, a planning commission was formed, a new building plan was developed, and a new Church building emerged. Seven years later, that mortgage was burned as well. The Spirit breathed and moved, and the people responded. The little parish received and responded to the Spirit’s call throughout her history. She grew and took on projects. She lived into the story of God’s economy, God’s abundance, God’s amazing, outlandish, out of the box call to go and proclaim the Good News. The Spirit breathed and moved, and the people responded.
The same Spirit is active today. Yes, the Spirit that inspired that little community has not left it. She is still active in that little community. By the way, this story is our history, yes, the little village is ours, and this is our story. The same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, the same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit present and active in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, that same Spirit active in the early 1950’s here in Englewood, is still active today. She is still breathing into us new breath to continue the proclamation of the Gospel here today; however, we need to be bold so that we proclaim the language of the Spirit. When the Spirit rushed in on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles were filled with the Spirit such that all could hear the Works of God. Even so, there were some naysayers that proclaimed a language of scarcity when they said, “They are full of wine.” We too can be bogged down with the language of scarcity. Sometimes churches today can get discouraged and begin living into an old story that wants to proclaim, “We are not enough.” That story is not in St. David’s DNA. That is not our story. We have a history here in which we have proclaimed the economy of God, the economy of possibility, and not the economy of scarcity.
Each of us is confronted in the unmistakable words, the generative language of “I will pour out my Spirit … and they will (fill in the blank).” The Spirit moves and breathes and we will respond. We are not called together to be passive, resistant, unmoving and fearful. God is not the God of the tomb, a symbol of death, which would hinder us, stop us, or keeps us from moving forward. God turns everything upside down! Death is not the end. God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities.
Have you ever heard these words? “We can’t do that ministry. We do not have enough money or giving, our budget is too low, we do not have enough people, the demographics in the area are foreboding, and we are merely a retirement community. We are not enough.” Really? Where are the “tongues of fire,” the violent wind/breath of God, the Great Commission in all that? I do not hear it do you. We need to shift from scarcity and the story of scarcity, to the story of possibilities, abundance, and God’s grace. At a miraculous occasion in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples witnessed the mighty works of God. Five thousand men, plus women and children were out for a day trip with Jesus. There was no food available as the day wore on, and the disciples wanted to send them away to the local town, declaring again, we don’t have enough, we are insufficient, we are incapable. The Spirit on that day, declared an alternative story. Jesus said to the disciples, “You feed them!” Then a young boy’s meager lunch, became the means by which the crowds were fed. Jesus declared that with God, even the smallest of hope (a few fish and two loaves) is sufficient for all.
We have everything we need to do the ministry we have been called to do. That is not an excuse for hoarding and holding back though. It is an acknowledgement of the new story that God has graced us for ministry, for a big vision, for a wild, wooly, “tongues of fire,” violent rush of the Spirit movement. We, like the early disciples, are empowered by the Spirit to go out and proclaim God’s mighty works of salvation, not just for a mere select few, not merely for those who show up at our doors, but to everyone within whom we come in contact. Paul Tillich, my favorite theologian once wrote that on Pentecost “ (a) missionary drive of those who were grasped by the Spiritual Presence (became reality) … because the New Being would not be the New Being were not mankind as a whole and even the universe itself included in it.” P 280 (Paul Tillich: Theologian of the Boundaries” edited by Mark Kline Taylor, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN 1991) We are empowered, equipped, resourced, and driven by God’s Spirit, just as we were over 50 years ago, to go and make disciples. We have everything we need to fulfill this mission.
The Spirit breathes into us life and hope. That same Spirit who on that day breathed new life into that first Christian community, that same Spirit that breathed new life into a group of people with a dream for a mission in this village, is actively breathing into us today. She is calling us into a new vision, a new life, and a new focus. We must live into the new possibilities God has for us, and we must shift the language we use from one of scarcity and insufficiency, to “tongues of fire” through which God breathes, and with God’s help, we will respond … we will respond . . . we will respond. We cannot do this on our own effort as either individuals or select groups, but only when we recognize that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . . and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” The Spirit is calling us, we must respond afresh.