Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on June 5, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Jun 5, 2022 in Easter, Pentecost, Sermons

The Day of Pentecost

June 5, 2022

There was a fellow, Elliot, who had been skipping church quite a bit lately, and the more he did so the more he began to enjoy his quiet Sunday mornings. This did not escape the notice of his parish priest who wondered what was up. The priest called Elliot, and he stumbled through a few weak reasons like not feeling very energetic, and how many things have changed lately like new people coming and old friends dying, and how busy he was keeping up with his garden and home repairs. The priest remembered Elliot had once been a warden, helped with church yard work, pledge campaigns, food drives, etc., and was concerned. Clearly an in-person visit was called for. The following Sunday after Elliot again missing services the priest parked in front of his house, glad to see smoke coming out of the chimney indicating he was home. Soon the two were sitting in front of the fireplace with mugs of coffee in hand. After some small talk, they both stared into the fire quietly. Then the priest got up and took the fireplace tongs and removed a live coal from the middle of the fire and set it off to the side at the edge of the hearth and sat back down. They continued watching the fire wordlessly, and the coal cooled from glowing red to orange to gray-black, and ceased smoking altogether. Again the priest set down the coffee, stood, and this time used the tongs to place the now lifeless ember back into the blaze, where it quickly caught fire and began to burn, then glow red once again. They continued staring into the fire, and when the priest stood to leave Elliot said, “You know, that might be the best sermon I’ve ever heard you preach!

Pentecost did not come to the disciples until they were all together. Not one of them experienced it alone, and if they had, whom would they have preached to? A single coal or flame alone burns out if there is nothing flammable to pass it on to. Today Pentecost comes to us in this gathering, not simply this room or building but the sacred space of worship we create and share with one another and with those who must faithfully join online from home. Not surprisingly people tell me they prepare for online worship with intention, often with a candle or having a cross nearby. Because, “Luke’s point is not the pyrotechnics of theophany, but spiritual transformation. The real ‘event’ of Pentecost is the empowerment of the disciples by the Holy Spirit.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Liturgical Press, MN 1992).

In the Jewish tradition Pentecost is a time to praise God for the first fruits of the harvest and the lambs, and also a time to celebrate God giving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is a celebration of God’s sustaining and saving gifts, for body and soul, and as such invites a time of spiritual renewal for people to draw closer to God. For us Pentecost celebrates God‘s gifts as well, in particular receiving the sustaining gift of the Spirit. —And I would add, the willing and believing disciples who first received and drew upon that gift. As our Eucharistic prayers say, [at 10:30 am] “…And, that we might live no longer for for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” [at 8 am] In fulfillment of the promise of Jesus Christ our Lord, “the Holy Ghost came down on this day from heaven, lighting upon the disciples, to teach them and to lead them into all truth; uniting peoples of many tongues in the confession of one faith…”

Can we imagine the Spirit coming upon us as it did them? Picture it — does the idea frighten us? And what would people say when they saw us?! It is a gift so immense that we sometimes think of the disciple’s Pentecost experience as something unimaginably ‘other’ from us, occurring once way back when, and not part of our life and times. Yet the world has never needed it more than it does right now! We sorely need the Spirit, the Holy Comforter, to guide us and teach our hearts, to transform our meager offering of belief into that which God needs at work in the world, be it global or local – or both. To speak and be understood, to listen and to understand, to seek truth and find common ground no matter what barrier impedes us.

Fortunately Episcopalians are not literal in our reading and understanding of scripture, or the event the disciples knew could seem irrelevant to our 21st century lives. After all, we have Google Translate for 108 different languages, we can livestream our worship of God around the world in an instant, if a great sound like a wind overwhelms us we have noise-canceling headphones, and since “tongues as of fire” are not universally welcome we have those handy little LED pseudo candles. We are not literal, and coming of the Holy Spirit did not need any of those distinctions, whether one sees them as impossible or miraculous or irrelevant. The Holy Spirit revealed herself in the presence of people from “every nation under heaven”, bringing mutual understanding, so “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” Where do we need that now? The Holy Comforter (as the Spirit is also called) worked through the disciples although just days ago some had betrayed Jesus and most abandoned him. They did not need to be perfect or have all of the gifts themselves, they only had to believe. Jesus said “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” He promised them God would send the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them, and now us, of his words; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” 

Pentecost wasn’t about fire or wind or noise or language, it was the gift understanding to those willing to hear it. Again we know, the Spirit has much work yet to do, from the Ukraine to Uvalde, from Issaquah to Israel, and on both sides of the aisle and ballot box. God used those who believed to speak and be understood that day, now God has us to put to work. There is much to do and it may appear impossible from where we stand, even so as people of faith it does not, must not, leave us in despair. Jesus told them “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Each spoke as the Spirit gave them ability, and having Jesus’ own disciples on the project, the work still wasn’t finished. 

So far God refuses to work on my schedule, so the Spirit’s work may not be finished in our lifetime, and that’s why I say we don’t give in to despair or fear for ‘this sinful and broken world’ (as our marriage liturgy calls it). We know this is not all there is. St. Paul writes of our receiving a spirit of adoption, and “When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”.

We heard Peter quoting from the prophet Joel, explaining, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We continue to love God, love each other as he loves us, to serve where there is need, to work to mend, heal, care, advocate, and welcome all in holy hospitality, and to experience joy. This is our call as followers of Christ. We have good reason for hope as long as we don’t limit our hope to this world and rely on our solo abilities to fix it. Our belief in Christ who overcame death gives us a horizon beyond the earthly scope.

I’m reminded of the strong faith conveyed in a prayer by Quaker, William Penn.* You may recognize this part of it (as bolded);

We give them back to thee, dear Lord, who gavest them to us. 
Yet as thou didst not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. 
What thou gavest thou takest not away, O Lover of souls; 
for what is thine is ours also if we are thine. 

And life is eternal and love is immortal, 
and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. 

Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; 
cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; and draw us closer to thyself 
that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with thee. 
And while thou dost prepare for us, prepare us also for that happy place, 
that where they are and thou art, we too may be for evermore.

May the Pentecost Spirit blaze within us all, that testimony to God’s deeds of power and love may be heard forever more. Amen.

*William Penn, 1644-1718, Quaker, English writer, religious thinker, early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.