Pentecost Sunday 4 June 2017
(Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 John 20:19-23)
“Community Enlivened by the Breath of the Spirit!”
If we believe that the church is a live organism—St. Paul says we are a living body; therefore, I also believe we are alive in feeling emotions. Both individually and as a congregation, we feel joy; we feel sadness. There are times we feel anger together, sometime anticipation, other times, unrest, and concern.
This past week, I know, has been over-laden, both individually and as a faith congregation with emotions of grief and helplessness. Many of you have been in contact with me or members of our staff in support of Pastor Andrew. I know many have been in touch directly with him. The funeral service for Olivia on Friday evening provided, at least for me, deep comfort and consolation in the midst of ongoing sadness.
And as you all know, our lives continue, so I know that just like me, you have had to rearrange emotions depending on where you were, who you were with and what you were doing. That happened to me as I was with the graduating class of Biglerville High School on Tuesday evening , wanting to give them a message of both challenge and comfort as they move into a new phase of their lives. Only to sit for several days with one of our longtime members, Janet Woodward, who was actively dying on Tuesday and Wednesday; and attending Olivia’s funeral service Friday evening and being close to Pastor Andrew and Gabby. All this, in the midst of Synod Assembly on Friday and Saturday. So I spent the week trying to be aware of my emotions, as I know many of you have had to do, also.
Let’s not forget the emotional turmoil that accompanied the disciples on that first Pentecost. They were in the midst of grief, confusion and simply not knowing where they were headed, when all of Pentecost broke loose!
On this Pentecost Sunday, we hear both stories of the coming of the Holy Spirit recorded in the New Testament, the first from Acts of the Apostles, and the second in John’s Gospel.
John’s description is short and to the point, only four verses. Takes place on Easter evening. Jesus confers his Spirit on the community; in fact, on the community gathered in fear, trying to protect itself from the outside world! Guess what? The Spirit is getting ready to blow that all to smithereens!
Luke’s description in Acts is filled with bedlam and excitement. In Luke, it happens in fifty days; a final 40-day tutorial during which the risen Lord appeared with the disciples until the day of Ascension. Following a 10-day retreat, the Spirit invades the gathered community, and there is wind and fire, the apostles speaking in all different languages, everyone understanding what they were saying. They cannot help but share the Gospel.
Regardless of the differences between the two descriptions of the coming of the Holy Spirit, both accounts agree that the coming of the Holy Spirit is about equipping the church for mission. . . . .God on the loose in the world bringing about the Kingdom of God.
On this Pentecost Sunday I want to remind you how the Holy Spirit stirred up the apostles, getting them so excited so they went out and preached about Jesus, even enduring great risks in the process. I want to remind you how the work of the Holy Spirit is always the work of transformation; first within us, but never to stop there. I want to remind you how this transformation is for a renewed passion and deeper insight into the radical nature of the work of Jesus. Jesus was not about fine-tuning the world to get the bugs out. Rather, Jesus was about the fundamental marks of the Kingdom—marked by peace, love, justice and the things of God.
So Evan, Sydney, Noah and Alex. I didn’t forget about you. In fact, I’ve been talking to you this entire time. Today you will affirm your Baptism as adult members of the Body of Christ, specifically this congregation of St James. Today, your parents are not going to speak for you, as they did on the day of your Baptism. Today you speak for yourselves, first you will speak with words, and as you go out, we trust you will speak with your lives. You will be sent, but never alone. You are sent with the Holy Spirit, as we will also walk with you!
There are many words used to describe the Holy Spirit. One of them is Comforter, so today this might be the word being spoken to us. I want you to believe that the Holy Spirit is many things, maybe today believe the Spirit to be the Comforter, not simply to make feel good, but to restore strength and hope—strength and hope in yourselves, in the church, and in the world, most especially in the form of the peace and forgiveness Jesus bestowed upon the disciples on that Easter night.
I have one more story. Actually I used it on Tuesday evening but I want to share it today, because There is a story about a unique form of logging that is practiced by some villagers of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. What the natives do if a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, is they cut down the tree by yelling at it. Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree at dawn and suddenly scream at the tree at the top of their lungs. They continue to do this for 30 days. At that point the tree dies and falls over. The theory behind this process is that yelling and screaming kill the spirit of the tree. And according to the villagers, it always works.
Sounds like such a quaint and charming habit of the jungle. Screaming at trees! Sounds very primitive and naive! But we who are sophisticated do our own share of yelling! Maybe not at trees to make them die…but we yell at our cell phones. We yell at our lawn mower. We yell coaches. We yell at our children. We yell at our politicians, maybe even our pastors. We yell at those who look different than we look, those who talk a different language. We yell at Muslims and Latinos and African Americans.
We do a lot of yelling, either out loud or from within ourselves. And we most often do it out of impatience or ignorance or fear. It’s a pretty easy way to kill another person’s spirit!
I think about that a lot in today’s world. I know that cars are being stopped by Immigration right here in Adams County. I also know there are Apps for iPhones that have become outlets for racism and sexism and other threats to people who are different. I know we all do things sometimes that separate us from people who are different from us.
I know that yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our spirits and our hearts.1
So, Sydney, Alex, Evan and Noah, on this your Confirmation day, my prayer for you is that you believe that the Holy Spirit is alive in your lives, in this church and in the world.
And certainly, you already have the power to destroy another person’s spirit; but on this day of Pentecost, I want you to know that you have an even greater power: the power to heal broken spirits and broken hearts and broken communities, to bring peace and forgiveness into places where people are terrified and scared. We pray that what transformed the apostles may transform you and us, and with us the world. Amen.
1 All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. 1988. Robert Fulghum. p. 19