Kelly’s sermon preached on May 23, 2021

Posted by on Sun, May 23, 2021 in Easter, Pentecost, Sermons

The Day of Pentecost:
Whitsunday

May 23, 2021

Happy Feast of Pentecost to you!  I have to say, it’s pretty cool to be celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the church as we get ready to reopen this church, and regather together here in this place.  When you return to this building and finally see each other in the flesh, I bet there will be a sweet familiarity.  It might even feel like coming home.  And at the same time, it will be so much more than familiarity, or homecoming, won’t it? It will be a new beginning we’ve been longing and hoping for, and it will transform how we live and move and have our being together in the future, too. 

Pentecost is like that– there are a lot of strands to pull out of this mysterious story- some familiar, some strange, and hard to imagine.  So I’m going to ask you wonder with me why the Holy Spirit came like a wind on that day, and rested on the people.  I’m going to ask you to consider the familiar rituals that help us recognize that God is resting in us.  And, I’m going to invite you  to marvel at the great diversity of ways that the Holy Spirit reveals life and health and blessing now,through each of you.  

Let me start by telling you a story about familiarity in my own life.  I have known Jacob, my husband, since I was conscious of knowing anyone really, outside my family.  We were babes in the church nursery together.  Our parents have pictures of us singing in 3-year-old church choir.  We happened to choose the same first job (lifeguard), and the same college. So, Jacob is very familiar to me, you could say.  His presence is like home to me.  And maybe because of the familiarity, I just never saw the spark between us as we were growing up…I never imagined what was to come in our relationship.  

The first time I realized my feelings for him went beyond casual comfort, I quickly shoved them away.  I was 18, and I was not interested in being tied down to anyone or anything. But I remember pretty distinctly the moment when I decided to stop pushing it all away.  We were on a backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains with three other friends.  On the second day of the trip, it began to pour down rain in sheets, the likes of which I have never seen here in Western Washington.  It was miserable.  We set up camp as best we could, and then Jacob pulled a tarp out of his pack, strung it up high among the trees, and started a fire, in the rain.  

 He was doing a completely practical thing given the circumstance. But it was so generous and extraordinary, and suddenly, so was he.  

Now, I didn’t see a tongue of fire hovering over his head, but there was definitely a spark. And it marked a new beginning for me. Familiarity gave birth to something else among us: something I didn’t want to push away anymore.  

Pentecost is a day marked by fire, too–sparks of the Holy Spirit given to us to pray within us, just as the Spirit had prayed in Jesus when he walked the earth. Those sparks of love and presence transformed the people standing there into living icons of Christ in the world. 

That divine communion is still taking place today among us.  We catch glimpses of it in the  familiar patterns of ordinary life and religious rituals, and those glimpses  fuel a resilient and compelling hope that transforms our reality.  

Originally, Pentecost, called Shavuot, was an ancient Jewish celebration of gratitude for the grain harvest, and for the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. It was and celebrated with flowers and dancing, offerings to God of the “first fruits” of the harvest, and with visits to the Temple. 

Traditions like this supported the people of Israel in living intentionally and abundantly into the seasons of the earth, and the seasons of themselves.  

I was listening to the  podcast Living the Questions with Krista Tippett the other day, and she was speaking with Tiffany Shlain a few weeks ago about the concept of a Tech Shabbat-  a day in which everyone in Tiffany’s family ceases from using computers, tablets, and phones, and lives life in analog for 24 hours.  Tiffany shares how setting apart a day each week to steward her own mind, and to engage more fully in the present moment has been the single most significant and formative decision she has made as a parent and a professional. She says it has been the source of her sanity during the pandemic to have a rhythm of life that is not about reacting to the world.  She says it reframes time in all her other days, as well.  The concept of her tech Shabbat is derived from the 4th of the 10 Commandments to keep the sabbath, and the ancient Jewish practice of celebrating and resting with God on that day….which brings us back to Pentecost.

Every year at Pentecost, the Jewish people gave thanks for the giving of the commandments and the harvest, marking the time and the first fruits.  But on this particular year, we read that the Holy Spirit made a novel appearance in this familiar celebration, just as Jesus had promised it would. 

Recall that while Jesus was still alive, he told his disciples, “unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains a single grain…but if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  Jesus had died, and he had risen…. and so it was in the context of this Pentecostal ritual of celebration that the promised Holy Spirit rushed in with a power and presence that seeded the Church, changed the disciples, and gave birth to something new among them: the life of Christ dwelling among many people at the same time- a diverse body of followers, united across time and space by the Holy Spirit.  

As Christians, we say that this Pentecostal unification to God and one another is one of three great Christian mysteries.  The other two of course, are Christmas and Easter. All three of these mysteries include preparatory seasons with particular rituals, like Advent, Lent, and Eastertide to help us get ready to enter in… to slow down, and take in the holiness. All three expand the celebration beyond one feast day to include a follow-up season for unpacking the mystery. 

Taken together, these three great seasons- incarnation, resurrection, inspiration,  form an integrated structural whole in our year, a rhythm of time that calls us back into the life of God right in the midst of the lives we are living. Our liturgical calendar is a familiar rhythm 

with visual and verbal cues that compel us to stop pushing love and divine revelations away by inattention, or mindless reaction, or fear. And, I can’t think of any other institution or activity that offers  us this opportunity. 

 I was speaking with someone last month who, growing weary of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ designation so frequently claimed in our culture, was determined to reclaim the word religion as a positive term.  And I really think he’s on to something.  Spiritual practice, or rather, sets of spiritual practices called religion, can reveal to us the connections between this world and the deeper world of God’s action. They can reveal our personal blind spots, and our need for one another. And most importantly, they can reveal those around us to be reflections of the image of God- icons of Christ living among us. This is what Pentecost is about. 

Rowan Williams says it this way, “Tied up in the biblical idea that everyone has an unrepeatable gift to give the community of God’s children is a God who is committed to a unique relationship with every being.  This is the God who is a loving and patient witness to the whole history of each one of us—-who is always at home in us, even when we are far away from ourselves and reality.”

I want to say that again, because Rowan Williams is profound here: 

Everyone has an unrepeatable gift to give the community of God’s children.  

God is committed to a unique relationship with every being.  

This is the God who is always at home in us, even when we are 

far away from ourselves and reality.

I think this is the Christian hope, the Gospel truth, the good news we are always longing to recognize and experience again and again through familiar texts and sacramental celebrations in the church: that God makes God’s home in us- claims that we feel like home– even we are far away from ourselves. Even when we are isolated in a pandemic, and unpracticed in social graces. Even when we aren’t sure what to hope for.  

Paul says it this way in Romans: 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now 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; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 

Perhaps you, like me, have pushed away inconvenient realizations of love…divine or human… for fear of being tied down by ritual, or relationship, or some other thing. Perhaps you are weary of the isolation of pandemic life and online living, but also uncertain about how to reconnect and move forward.  

That’s okay.  The good news is that  God is already at home in you.  Living in the fiery light of that hope is not wishful thinking, or idealism, or optimism, or socialism.  It’s just divine reality, 

made known through familiar rituals and relationships in the Church, and in sparks of recognition and grace shared among us.  

Amen.

© 2021 Kelly Moody. All rights reserved.