Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on May 19, 2024

Posted by on Sun, May 19, 2024 in Easter, Pentecost, Sermons

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
The 50th Day of Easter

May 19, 2024

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.

I want to share a story told by the Rev. Ron Rolheiser, whose teaching I enjoyed at Seattle University when I was studying for my M.Div. He is a Catholic priest and theologian, author and educator, and an Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI). He writes,

I first met Lorenzo at our mother-house … in France years ago. He had just returned from a long missionary stint in Latin America where, among other things, he had lived on the streets of Recife with its poor for several years, without roof or fixed address… I met him [just after his arrival in France]… he was sitting on the steps of the church which is attached to our community residence with a dozen street-people gathered round him. They were sharing food and cigarettes and some kind of conversation. It looked like a picnic in the park. There is nothing exceptional about this except that Lorenzo couldn’t speak a word of French and the people gathered round him couldn’t speak English, Portuguese, or Spanish (his languages). Yet they clearly seemed to be communicating with each other, and deeply.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes the first Pentecost of the church, explaining that after they received the Holy Spirit the disciples began speaking in ways that everyone understood. Everyone. From a wide range of languages each heard them speaking and could understand as if they spoke in their own languages. The ‘language barrier’ was no longer, rather the Spirit transcended it all; language, cultural origin, ethnicity, status, —all of it. 

There is much ‘language’ and understanding beyond words, and many ways of sharing meaning. We know too, that words can be twisted and stories manipulated to make lies sound true and make truth sound suspect. Taken out of context, nuanced, spoken or translated in unintended ways words can fail us. Fortunately we have much ‘language’ beyond words. I am a great lover of words, especially in poetry and liturgy, and we also know our facial expressions, posture, embrace, our gestures, tears or laughter—all the ways our bodies speak—are often more meaningful and true than words can say. Who simply sat with you in your sorrow? Who cradled you when you were born? What made the person you love smile in a way you couldn’t help but return that warmth? These all speak deeply and memorably to us. 

And then there is the Spirit, whose ‘language’ supersedes or enfolds it all. 

From Rolheiser again, “Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the very concrete, conceivable, and tangible insides of charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, fidelity, gentleness… These speak through us more loudly and clearly, either in their presence or their absence, than do all our words and gestures.”

Finishing his story he adds, “Lorenzo spoke only broken Spanish and broken Portuguese. Yet the poor there heard him and perfectly understood what he was saying. He spoke no French at all and still he was able to sit on the steps of a church in France and gather round him the street-people there who spoke only French—and they understood him clearly, as in their mother-tongue. Such is the language of Pentecost.” 

This is the holy gift Jesus promised them, but only after they let go of his earthly presence and he ascended.

So Pentecost is not a stand alone Holy Day, nor is it the one day for honoring the Spirit of God, and recognizing how she enlivens and renews us through fire, water, and wind or breath. Pentecost is part of a larger cycle, and that context has a great deal to offer. If it feels ‘out there’ or inaccessible, even elusive, maybe it’s because we often look at our calendars on small small screens in more secular bites. Pentecost is bigger than that! It’s part of the cycle of the church year and our lives as people of faith. Think of it as a continuation of Holy Week and Easter, that extends and brings us into this season of Pentecost. We walked the Way of the Cross, through the Last Supper, foot-washing, his arrest and trial, his crucifixion and death. Through scripture we joined with his disciples in the joy of his resurrection, and witnessing his appearances afterwards. Jesus’ Ascension is told in the gospel of Luke as occurring on the day of Resurrection, and in Acts it is forty days after the Resurrection. They pray for nine days after that, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, is on the fiftieth day. 

No matter how many or few the days were, we still move through Holy Week, Easter, and the letting go as he ascends, to be ready to receive and embrace the coming of the Spirit, who renews the face of the earth in our lives. We need that cycle that the disciples lived through, to accept the deaths and endings in our lives and receive the new life of resurrection. We have to let go of knowing something or someone only in the way we once held it, recognizing that we can’t live backwards into that time, even though we hold close it’s memory. Then we begin opening more fully to the Spirit’s dance in us. It is the experience of what the love we’ve known — transforms into. And it isn’t a one time thing; it’s a repeating, sometimes overlapping, this cycle of renewal and transformation. Like Mary grasping hold of Jesus at the tomb, much as we don’t want to let go it is the only way we can experience him in ongoing Communion. It is us letting mere bread and wine take on new life in his Body and Blood within us. In our Eucharist we always pray that God’s “Holy Spirit may descend upon us and upon these gifts, sanctifying them and showing them to be holy gifts for your holy people, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ.”  [At 8 am: We pray for God to “hear us, and, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, to bless and sanctify these gifts of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the Body and Blood of thy dearly-beloved Son Jesus Christ.”] And we can only do this as people come together in Christ’s name, not as solo practitioners.

The disciples were not doing so well that day, having been hiding in that upper room, door shut they didn’t know what to make of things. And then comes the “sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,” rested on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit! Never forget that the Spirit first came to the gathered body of the faithful, not to hermits or nomads wandering alone in the desert. They may have been in hiding, but they were together, and together waiting for what Jesus has said would come. And together they were changed. Their focus shifted from their loss and disappointment, into what St. Cyril of Alexandria said, they “become entirely other­worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become people of great courage,” to be evangelists, ready to lay down their lives for the good news of God in Christ.  

By opening ourselves and making room for the Spirit to ignite, flame up, and breathe, we as a community invite her in to enliven and transform, to renew, create and re-create the church in each generation, in unimagined new ways and drawing on our history as Christians. We do so in ways our forebears never conceived of. That day might seem far removed, but it is also us here and now. Gathered together today in person and on line, in this particular morning moment and also in the moment someone gets home from work and can watch and join through the recording—receiving those gifts not all alone but in this concert of their family of disciples embracing as the Spirit does, transcending time and place. 

It’s true we cannot break the bread of Christ’s Communion this way, nor receive the waters of baptism, but we are learning a new language, forming a new community, and opening space for the Spirit to draw people into her embrace who otherwise might hold back. We are a living witness to draw people closer to Christ, and their experience of God teaches and illumines us too. Together we might feel that rush of wind and fire of the Spirit. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “…hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; … that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Yes, we might find ourselves hiding out in that upper room occasionally, fearful, grieving, waiting, —and also wondering what the Spirit will bring. Our wondering is answered as we share hope as disciples. We marvel at what God does in us and through us, even without words, commissioning us to bring holy hope and peace, justice and love into the world, and sharing a faith that celebrates with joy.

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Tue., May. 19, 2026.