Mother Ann’s sermon preached on May 28, 2023

Posted by on Sun, May 28, 2023 in Easter, Sermons

The Day of Pentecost

May 28, 2023

Memories that Teach Our Hearts

Our opening prayer this morning guides us toward God who teaches our human hearts. Just imagine God reaching out this way and touching your heart, touching my heart, breathing in with us and breathing out with us… God working with all of us from the inside out, and transforming us into the creatures we’ve been created to be. Imagine God teaching us this way and then releasing us into the world so others can experience what a Spirit-filled person actually looks like, sounds like, and acts like. Back in the Middle Ages St Francis of Assisi put God’s intention for us this way: “Preach the Gospel at all times…if necessary use words.”

You and I weave a spirited chain reaction with each other, and we can see the sparks flying in today’s reading from Acts.  Ever since the Resurrection the disciples have been seeing and hearing Jesus off and on, here and there.  All too soon they’ve watched him say goodbye, and return to heaven. Now they feel left on their own. Confused. Discouraged. Anxious. Abandoned.  Several have already left Jerusalem for their hometowns, and picked up former lives where they left off.  Those still in Jerusalem wonder what to do next, and what to say to scoffers who harass them for their faith. This not-knowing haunts them as they gather for one more nervous Sunday morning, huddling together in a borrowed second story room. All at once a roaring wind starts surging through chinks in mud bricks, and streams of light begin racing across clay windowsills. In the chaos they find themselves unable to remain silent.  What is happening to them? They call out, they cry out. The discord draws a miscellaneous crowd in the streets below, who demand to know what these hayseed Galileans are up to now. Are they already drunk at this early hour?

Peter leans out the window, and hollers into the crowd, “Listen everybody, we’re not drunk! We are just being filled with God’s Spirit as the prophets predicted. You’re just hearing us call on the name of the Lord as we are being saved!”

And that is how it happened, as God’s Holy Spirit came surging into the world like the 800,000 volts racing along a high tension line. As electrical engineers will tell you, it takes this level of energetic force to overcome everyday resistance, so the power can spread and fulfill its mission.  It’s the magnitude of force that propelled the apostles as they preached all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and left the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in their wake.

The experience was unforgettable for them, but what about those who would come after? Sure, the apostles would tell the story to everyone they met, but one day they would be gone, and if Christ had not returned before they died, what would become of the Church?  Thank God they thought of it! They wrote it all down to serve as a memorial to what life with the Spirit is like.  This way believers seeking communion with Christ could find their own way, and show the way to others.

One of my seminary professors had a wonderful way of putting it: our scriptures are the rescued memories of life with God.  Of all the many moments of closeness between heaven and earth, the chapters and verses of the Bible are the precious records saved for posterity, to teach our human hearts and guide us on our own pilgrimage.  Back in the Old Testament Moses rescued a crucial memory as he led the Israelites across the Red Sea, calling out “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” In the New Testament Jesus rescued a crucial memory as he blessed the bread and wine at the last supper, urging his followers “Do this in remembrance of me.” Such sacred memories are the spiritual lamp posts, the guideposts, the beacons that ultimately bring us to our heavenly home. Day by day we grow to realize who we are, by remembering whose we are. 

This Pentecost Sunday we gather at the heart of Memorial Day Weekend, a holiday named for the sacred memories of those who sacrificed their lives for this country.  We honor the soldiers who never made it home.  America had never felt the need for a commemoration like this until after the Civil War. In the spring of 1865, with the smoke barely clearing over the ruined South, the women of Columbus, Georgia made their way to the churchyard to flower the graves of their fathers, their husbands and their sons. But they didn’t stop there, for they moved on to the rows of Yankee graves and simply honored these fallen soldiers in the same way. The whole cemetery burst into bloom.

Word of this gracious commemoration reached newspaper editors in the north, and they published the story. It was read by a retired General who headed a veterans’ fraternity, and his men spread the word from state to state. Poets and songwriters took up the theme, and soon schoolchildren were singing the verses about men and women who gave their lives for their country.  Three years later, in 1868, the North embraced Memorial Day too.

More recently, need arose to commemorate the fallen soldiers from the Viet Nam war. Nerves were raw from the way the fighting ended, and it took nearly a decade before a nationwide call went out for monument designs. The winner, ironically, turned out to be a young Asian girl, named Maya Lin. Her vision was of a deep wound sliced into the turf of the National Mall, mirroring the pain of our whole country; the edges were to be faced in black granite etched with the names of all 58,000 soldiers who never came home.  One gleaming arm of the monument would reach out toward Washington’s memorial, and the other toward Lincoln’s. These two were the Fathers of our country, and here stood the names of their native Sons. With time, Lin believed, this wound would heal.  Yet the names of those who’d sacrificed their lives were forever etched in stone. Today the Viet Nam memorial has become a pilgrimage site for families and friends who come to remember, and leave personal mementos at the wall. It has become one of the most visited sites in our nation’s Capital.

And so God teaches our human hearts. “Remember,” said Moses, as he led the Israelites across the Red Sea to freedom.  “Remember,” said Jesus as he blessed and broke bread and poured out wine for his disciples.  “Remember,” the apostles told Pentecost crowds as they fanned out from that roaring room in Jerusalem.  “Remember said Jewish Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “for without memory there will be no future.” This is God working with us from the inside out, breathing in with us and breathing out with us… God transforming us into the creatures we’ve been created to be, and releasing us into the world so that others can experience what a Spirit-filled person actually looks like, sounds like, and acts like.  This is us preaching the Gospel at all times, with very little need for words.  Amen.

© 2023 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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