SERMON Day of Pentecost 5/24/15 St. Bede’s St. Petersburg
Today is the Day of Pentecost! In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Most folks understand Pentecost to be “the origin and sending out of the church into the world. “(1) Pentecost emphasizes that the church is “understood as the Body of Christ, which is drawn together and given life by the Holy Spirit.” (1)
The events of that very first Day of Pentecost were both miraculous and intriguing. Imagine for a moment those first followers of Jesus on that particular day. They knew that their Lord, teacher, rabbi was the one upon whom they had staked their lives, and he had been crucified, miraculously raised from the dead, and they saw him ascend into heaven. Those events all seemed so mysterious, unfathomable, and emotionally charged. Now, picture yourself there with them. You and your friends are locked up in a room, hiding from the world around you, afraid to go and face the future. You don’t know what to do next.
Then suddenly and out of the blue, there is a sound of rushing wind being breathed into the world, and imagine that you are there to taking it all in. You cannot believe your eyes but then, there is a vision, with fire descending upon each one of you. Then you not only see the vision, you hear it when suddenly you and your fellow “Jesus followers” begin speaking in the diverse languages of the surrounding cultures, and in languages you could not have spoken before.
After this, did you all just stand around and ask, “What do we do now?” NO! Those early disciples all rushed out of the room, from behind those locked doors, no longer afraid. They went out and proclaimed to the world “Jesus is Lord.” There was no one in that group who said, “We don’t have enough resources, we are just poor fishermen, there is only a few of us, we can barely keep food on the table.” No, they rejected any thought of scarcity, and began focusing on proclaiming resurrection and new life in Christ.
Why? Because, 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 on that day, present and active in that new little community in Jerusalem.
The Spirit, as she always has been, nudges the people of God to the new life following in the footsteps of the Master, following his life, death, and resurrection. That same Spirit is active today, despite the signs of the times. Did you know that the Pew Research Center recently announced that 22+% of the American population, claim no religious affiliation at all? A little over two decades ago, that number was only 8%. Should we be concerned about this statistic? Yes. Should we throw up our hands and give up? No, because the same Spirit that inspired that little community in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago has not left us abandoned in the 21st century. The Holy Spirit is still active in the world through the church today.
Let me tell you another miraculous story of the Spirit at work. Back in the 1950’s, there was a cathedral church in a growing city that was inspired by the same Spirit, to plant a daughter mission church in another growing area, of the same city. This little community celebrated their first Eucharist in March of the same year the Spirit moved, and they met at an elementary school. In July of that same year, this little community received their first Vicar, and continued to meet for worship at the school, until their new parish hall was built a little later. By January of the next year, one hundred and forty-six parishioners were listed as charter members of that congregation.
Does this story sound familiar? It should, it is your story! The same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit that breathed into dry bones and brought new life, the same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, the same Spirit present and active on Pentecost in Jerusalem 2000 years ago; that same Spirit was active in this community in the early 1950’s here in St. Petersburg, and you can bet that she is still active today. She is still breathing new breath into us, nudging and prodding us to continue the proclamation of the Gospel here today.
Your story did not end in the 1950’s, it had only begun, and it begins with each new generation in the church. Today, we must listen with fresh ears, to the Spirit who is calling you forth into this local neighborhood once again. We must not merely accept with trepidation, the issues that have the potential to stand in the way of your proclaiming Christ as Lord; those things that can overshadow the Spirit at work in you. You must remember, not even a little language barrier stopped those first disciples 2000 years ago; the Spirit provided and she provides today.
It’s not easy to go out and proclaim Good News. Jesus never promised it would be easy. We can get bogged down in old thinking that would have us believe that, “we are just not enough.” If we depend merely on ourselves to accomplish God’s mission, and fail to follow the Spirit who rushes in like a violent wind, nudging us, guiding us, and providing for us; then yes, on our own, we ARE not enough. We must remember that in Christ, all things are possible.
Jesus promises, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” What I hear in Our Lord’s words is, “We do nothing in the church alone.” “The witness of the Holy Spirit, and that of the community are not two distinct acts; rather, the community’s witness is the visible sign of the Holy Spirit’s work as witness.” (1) When we depend merely on ourselves, we overlook the possibilities of miracles like rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the breath of God.
Self-reliance in mission is not really in the DNA of this community of St. Bede’s. Just look at your history. You are more than enough to proclaim Good News into a local community that desperately needs it now, just as it did 60 plus years ago. You have a history of doing just that here in this place. You have followed the Spirit, and you have proclaimed the Good News.
Remember, 2000 years ago, this Jesus movement began with only a handful of people and today; there are 2.1 Billion Christians worldwide. Think about what happens when the Spirit leads us. I read this little quote on your website the other day, “At present, St. Bede’s has 75 members with an average attendance of 55. Even though we are small in size, our congregation is active and participates in ministry and mission on several levels.”
I also read, “we are in the midst of a changing population and demographics in the local area. St. Bede’s has entered a phase of exploring options for future mission, such as (who are we?) and when it comes to ministry (how are we called to engage our community and beyond?).” As you continue this journey of exploration, I want to encourage you, never forget your history of mission to your neighbors. Always keep reminding yourselves, “You we connected to, relying on, and following the Spirit of God.”
Have you ever heard these words said around here? “We can’t do that ministry. We do not have enough, our budget is too low, we do not have enough people, the demographics in the area are foreboding, or we are located in a declining community.” If this is what some think then, what is really being said is, “We are not enough.” I want you to remember that you all are not called together to be fearful. God is not the God of the tomb. God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities.
I had a very wise mentor priest tell me this one time, “You have everything you need, to do the ministry you have been called to do, right here, and right now that is, if you are willing to follow where the Spirit is leading you.” My friend’s words encouraged me and reminded me that a new story of the Church is being told over and over again. “God has graced us for ministry, for a big vision, for a wild, wooly, “tongues of fire,” violent rush of the Spirit’s movement right here and right now.
You all, like the early disciples, are empowered by the Spirit to go out and proclaim God’s mighty works of salvation, not merely for those who show up at your doors, but to everyone within whom you come in contact. You are empowered, equipped, resourced, and driven by God’s Spirit, just as you were 60 years ago, and the Spirit is calling you to a new vision, a new life, and a new focus. The Church today must not listen to the naysayers, but we must live into the new possibilities God has for us. We must shift the language we use from one of scarcity and insufficiency, to one of “tongues of fire,” “rushing wind,” and the Spirit being poured out again and again. We must never forget Jesus promises, especially when we become discouraged, or when we feel as if we are not enough. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness . . . and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” The Spirit is calling you; you must be ready and willing to respond.
1Armentrout, Donald S., and Robert Boak Slocum. An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-friendly Reference for Episcopalians. New York: Church Pub., 1999. 396. Print.