SERMON – Pentecost 5/19/18 St. Monica’s Naples FL
Mentor, Teachers, Advocates, and Guides
Have you ever had that teacher, coach, mentor, or friend in your life, the one who saw gifts in you that you did not see in yourself? Have you ever had that someone who looked past the rough and rugged exterior and saw the beauty and potential within? I have had the gift of mentors like that. My first flight instructor, my youth minister, my friend Curt, a priest friend named Becky, my Region Chaplain, and yes, my wife Terri, and so many more have been mentors to me. What would we do without the wisdom, encouragement, empowerment, and drive of those mentors, coaches, and friends?
Many of us would be like the first disciples after their Lord had ascended, and before the first Day of Pentecost. We may have been like them, spending our lives locked in a room, fearful, uncertain and discouraged. Could you imagine what went through those early disciples’ minds in that room for those days? Maybe they pondered, “Well, he’s gone, let’s go back to fishing, or return to our neat, protected, and normal lives.” Maybe they thought, “We are just poor fishermen, and there is only a few of us, and we can barely keep food on the table, oh, woe is me.” Scripture does not say this was what happened, but it would not surprise me.
When folks find themselves in difficult or new situations, it is not unusual to begin speaking the language of despondency, but it is in those times, and in all of life, we must realize that we all have an incredible mentor, teacher, advocate and friend. We Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit reaches into the depths of our struggles and despair and lifts us up, God’s Spirit enlivens our joy and gives hope, and God’s Spirit sets the church on the path of mission in the world then, today, and tomorrow. The Holy Spirit, God’s active presence in the church then, and today, moved that small band of misfits from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, violent wind rushing new life and mission that literally changed and changes the world. That same Spirit is moving in us today.
Today is the Feast 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. We commemorate that day with the church decorated in red, and 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. In a single moment with the sound of rushing wind and the imagery of flaming, divided tongues, the miraculous, life-changing, demonstration of God’s great work of salvation had come to a pivotal point, and while Jesus had left and the disciples were all alone, God’s Spirit rushed in on the scene.
The Spirit of God is always Moving
The Spirit moved and breathed as she always does, like a forcible, violent wind or breath, the Spirit filled the house in which the disciples 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 is, 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. Wind, breath, and language; these are the works of the Spirit in that historical event, that event which, is still manifested in and through the Church today.
Pentecost – 20thCentury
Let me give you an example of how the Spirit works today, or at least, how she moved in one particular instance about twenty-seven years ago. First, a local priest felt nudges to start having conversations with others about establishing a mission church, to serve a nearby emerging village. Three years later, that little band of church planters held their first worship service in their new parish hall. The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”
Eight years later, new classrooms were added to the existing structure, and four years after that a new chapel was constructed. The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.” Four years after that a new space was added and the property expanded for mission. That little community has over its lifetime received and responded to the Spirit’s call, and throughout her history, she has grown and took on new projects. She has lived into the story of God’s abundance, God’s amazing, outlandish, out of the box call to go and proclaim the Good News. The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”
By the way, that history I just shared, if you are not already aware, is the story of St. Monica’s Episcopal Church. The Spirit that inspired that young church has not left her abandoned, but inspires us in fresh ways through expanding local mission projects, and revived ministries supporting the life of the church.
Just think about it, the same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit the prophet Joel mentioned that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, that same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit present and active in Jerusalem 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, is the very same Spirit active in the early 1990’s here in Naples with this church, and she is still active today however, the people must respond. We must regain our rushing fierce wind, tongues of fire bold spirit, so we might move from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, ferocious wind rushing new life and mission that literally will change us, and our neighborhood.
Despite the events of Pentecost, there were some naysayers who would not believe God was acting in this group. They negatively retorted, “They are full of wine,” and like the cynics of old, if we are not careful, we too can get bogged down in disbelief and fear. Trusting God and relying on God is deeply embedded in the history of St. Monica’s. Bold proclamation is in our DNA. We have a history here in which, God’s Spirit has guided us boldly, and so we might proclaim possibility, vision, and dreams. Our DNA rejects scarcity, discouragement, and fear.
Pentecost Now and into the Future
We move boldly in mission because have a guide, mentor, coach, and advocate that sees more in us than we see in ourselves. 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 despondency and complacency upside down, because death is not the end. God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities. The same Spirit who on that first Pentecost breathed new life into that first Christian community, is the same Spirit that breathed new life into a group of people with a dream for a mission in this village, and that same Spirit is breathing new life into us today. The Spirit is calling us to a new vision, a new life, and a new focus.
For you see, the Spirit sees gifts in us that we cannot see in ourselves. The Spirit looks beyond our rough exterior, our former miscalculations and mistakes, and she sees in us, great possibilities. Nonetheless, we cannot become too self-assured, and too self-confident that we try to do this work through our own human effort. We cannot carry this load of mission with only a few select individuals or one or two exclusive groups.
We have to rely on the fact that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . . and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” If we trust God’s Spirit to lead us, we can we achieve that which, God has in store for us. The Spirit may push, nudge and guide us out of the familiar and into the unknown, but never forget that we are never alone. God is with us, guiding us, empowering us, and giving us all we need to do the work we have been called to do.
How do I know? God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” We must pray for a new vision and we must dream a new dream. All along the way, we have the ultimate coach, the gentle mentor, the strong advocate, and an amazing friend. We have God’s Spirit, guiding us all along the way. The Spirit moves and breathes, calling us to continue Jesus mission, and the people respond, “We will with God’s help.”