Day of Pentecost 24 May 2015
(Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104 Romans 8:22-27 John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)
“A Window and a Door!”
I suspect many of you may have read about the most recent survey on religion in America released two weeks ago by the non-partisan Pew Research Center. This survey shows that the number of Americans who identify as Christians has declined from 78 to 70 percent since 2007. Over the same period, the number who declares themselves as having no affiliation with organized religion has increased from 15 to nearly 23 percent. Using this definition, that means there are now about 56 million adults in the United States unattached to any organized religion.
Some find these results alarming. . . . .discouraging. . . . .the Spirit-question: what are we being invited to?
And then, when we read the story of Pentecost from the Acts of the Apostles, (we heard the beginning of the story today), but fifteen verses later we are told that 3000 persons were baptized by Peter.
So what do we do with the Pew Research report on Pentecost Sunday, on this day when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church?
The answers to Spirit-questions can often be found in stories!
I’ll share a story! How many of you know Jacob the Baker?1 He is a good friend of mine. Jacob is a wise simple man. Sometimes, his words of wisdom are the final words I hear before I fall asleep at night!
Jacob worked in a bakery. He often wrote his thoughts on small pieces of paper. One day one of these pieces of paper found its way into an unbaked loaf of bread right before it went into the oven. So when the loaf was baked and eventually sold later in the day and sliced at the dining room table that evening, the tiny paper with words of wisdom was discovered, and from that day on everyone wanted Jacob to share his thoughts of wisdom. I have one story I’d like to share this morning. It is a Pentecost story.
A man who appeared to be a mason because of the crusts of dried cement on his shirt waited patiently one day for a chance to speak with Jacob. The man’s voice was gruff—but not his manner.
“Jacob, all my life I have made homes for others. Now I am preparing to build a home for myself. Do you have any suggestions?”
Jacob laughed. “Who is Jacob the baker to mix mortar and make bricks?”
But then, Jacob raise his finger, as if touching an old memory, and waved it in the air, suggesting there was maybe one thought he could offer.
“It says in our books: In order for a house to be a house, it must have a window and a door.”
A smile climbed the man’s face. “Jacob, this much even I know.” Those behind the man chuckled as well.
“But,” Jacob continued, as if he did not hear their laughter, “do you know why I think a house must have a window and a door?”
Suddenly, it became very quiet again. Humility held over the crowd. People craned their necks to hear. And Jacob began again.
“My house must have a door so I can enter myself, and a window so I can see beyond myself!”
That is one of the best definitions of Pentecost I’ve ever heard!
Fifty days ago we celebrated Easter. The Gospel story for Easter Day ended with the verse: “…terror and amazement seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” [Mk. 16:8].
More than anything else, fear keeps us locked in on ourselves, unwilling and unable to look beyond ourselves.
Since Easter we have heard stories of Jesus breaking into the fears of the disciples. The Sunday after Easter we heard the story of the apostles huddled in a locked upper room—and Jesus comes right through the wall to them.
Then we heard the very ending of the story of the men walking on the road to Emmaus, away from Jerusalem because they are sad and afraid—and Jesus shows up and walks with them; and then Jesus appears again to the disciples still locked in an upper room.
Then we heard the Good Shepherd story—how the shepherd will go so far as to lay down his life so that the wolf cannot snatch and scatter the sheep. “Don’t be afraid, the Shepherd is watching over you!”
For those first three weeks after Easter, we heard what I call the “window” stories of the Jacob the Baker story. Jesus is telling them (and us) not to get stuck in our fears, to move beyond our fears; to see beyond ourselves, in order to embrace “mission” and the needs of the world!
And then the next four weeks, including today we’ve heard parts of that beautiful prayer Jesus is praying, trying to address the sadness and fear that is threatening to overwhelm the disciples as Jesus prepares to leave them.
I see these stories as the “door” part of Jacob the Baker, entering into oneself, connecting to that deeper part of God.
Richard Rohr, in his book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Parts of Life,” defines the Holy Spirit like this. “The Holy Spirit is that aspect of God that works largely from within at the deepest level of our desiring. Maybe that is why the story of Pentecost resorts to metaphors like rush of violent wind, and fire, and descending doves to describe the Holy Spirit.2
It’s really difficult to describe the Holy Spirit within us. That’s why everyone, including Luther, has such a hard time, even in the Small Catechism, describing the Holy Spirit.
This Mystery has been called the conspiracy, literally, the “co-breathing” of God, still one of the most profound ways to understand what is happening between us and the deepest part of our beings. That’s what Paul is struggling to say in Romans when he speaks of the Spirit “interceding with sighs too deep for words…..and God, searching the hearts and knowing the mind of the spirit…..” [Rom. 8:26-27].
The way I would say it today is this: it is the Spirit that keeps us connected to God and to that part of us that “looks beyond” our own little house.
Jacob the Baker would say, a house must have a door to enter into ourselves, but always a window to look beyond ourselves. That is Pentecost!
I pray for a heavy dose of the Holy Spirit today into your lives. Amen.
1 Jacob the Baker: Gentle Wisdom for a Complicated World. Noah benShea.
2 Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Parts of Life. Richard Rohr.