The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge
Sunday, June 8, 2014
The Day of Pentecost
Listen to this…Sermon 2014.06.08 EHB
Pentecost 2014 Preached by Elaine H. Breckenridge on June 8th 2014
“Suddenly from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…and divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.” I’m seeing red, it’s Pentecost all right.
Something of a momentous nature happened to the followers of Jesus on the first Pentecost. Our reading from Acts gives us many images to describe it–a mighty wind, fire, people praying in the Spirit. In fact, there was so much excitement in the air that bystanders accused them all of being drunk. They were not drunk but they were Holy Spirit filled.
For years I have thought of the Spirit in terms of wind and fire. And with those metaphors I have thought as the wind of God as being powerful– blowing through the church–sent to disturb a few cobwebs here and there in some of its darker corners.
And I have thought about fire as a source of energy–the Spirit coming upon us in a passionate way, lightening and enlightening individuals for service.
I have thought of The Feast of Pentecost as a day to rekindle fire,
the fire of exuberant devotion and primitive joy, both in our own hearts and in the heart of the church.
So we begin with the church. It has been said that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, but what happened was the church. // Surely you have heard that some celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church. Recently, I saw a little cartoon of a toddler dressed in a man’s suit that read, “If I go to church on Pentecost Sunday and someone tells me that it is the church’s birthday—there better be cake.”
I don’t know if we will have cake today. And that’s o.k. because I am beginning to think that celebrating Pentecost as the birthday of the church is too limit the scope of what really happened that day. It puts the Spirit in a box. And the one thing that can be said about the Holy Spirit is that she doesn’t like to be confined. She will not stay put.
Pentecost may have been a defining moment for the church. But the Spirit’s mode of operation is always through her members. The Spirit gave its earliest believers both passion and power. The passion to bear witness to the earliest creed of the church that Jesus is Lord. The Spirit gave the church’s members power to heal for God. The passion to love like God. The power to forgive and unbind like God. Why should we today have any less exuberant devotion? Today is a day to be re-minded– given new minds, new minds to understand that the Holy Spirit has been given to each of us.
Today, we can claim that we are born again. You know charismatic Christians are not the only ones who get to be born again. But you have to be willing to pray, “Come Holy Spirit. Set us on fire, with the fire of your love.” But be warned –pray to the Spirit and watch out, because your life may very well change.
There is story of a young man and woman standing under the porch light of the young woman’s family home, at the conclusion of their first date. The young man timidly asked, “Can I kiss you?” The young woman smiled but said nothing. After a few moments, the young man tried again, this time saying, “I mean, may I kiss you?” Again the young woman smiled, but said nothing. “Are you deaf?” the fellow cried out. To which the young woman replied, “Are you paralyzed?”
Pentecost is about our lives becoming unparalyzed. We need to become unparalyzed , open to the Spirit, whom Jesus told Nicodemus is like the wind. We don’t know where it goes and where it could take us. With the Spirit’s visitation, scary things happen like the re-birth of joy and love, freedom, flexibility, tolerance, and spontaneity. Spirit filled people have the gift of understanding.
So imagine again what that first Pentecost was like. We tried our own simple re-enactment this morning. Imagine hearing a multitude of languages and being able to understand them all! A few years ago, on my way to Scotland, I was routed through Amsterdam. Walking through the airport terminal was such a wonderful experience hearing so many languages swirling around me. Dutch, German, French, Italian. Those were the ones I could pick out, but there were others. While washing my hands in a restroom, a woman approached me and started speaking to me in German. “Ich niche sprecke Deutch”, was all I could say, and probably said it poorly at that.
I did not understand what she was saying to me. I wished for the gift of understanding, one of the gifts of Pentecost. At that first Pentecost, the Spirit gave the assembled people a common message. But what was the message? In my mind, it would have been the words of Jesus right out of this morning’s Gospel. Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you.
On Easter Day, Jesus came to his disciples bring a word of peace. But on Pentecost Day, the Spirit came, bringing a message of peace for everyone. The Spirit came to tell us that we are one.
The Spirit came for everyone. Let me be clear, everyone means, all nations, all races, all genders, all ages. The Spirit enabled everyone to hear the Gospel preached in their own language.
Now language is messy and intricate. Language is rooted in a wider and complex culture and way of thinking and living. Even when we speak the same language, don’t we still have a hard time understanding one another?
Sometimes life feels like the game of telephone. Do you remember that game? You make a line of people, a word is whispered by the first person in line and quietly repeated by the second, passed to the third and so on until at the end of the line. At the end of the line, often the original word has been changed into a completely new word.
Sometimes we play, what seems like the game of telephone both at home with our families and here within the context of this community. We say one thing and it is often translated into something completely different. The result- a miscommunication leading to confusion and sometimes hurt feelings–a lack of understanding.
Yes, living in community means there will always be misunderstandings between people and groups. That’s why we need to re-live the Pentecost moment. We need to throw ourselves open to the Holy Spirit whose will for us is understanding–understanding the ways of God and the ways of one another.
The Good News of Pentecost, as we saw in the Acts reading, is that God meets us in the messiness of different languages. We are not asked to speak God’s language. Instead, God chooses to speak our many languages. God speaks all of our languages and that is what makes us one.
All are one. Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century mystic put it this way, “Human beings are made of God.” We are one, she says because we are in God and God is in us. That means that our vision of the Spirit of God is far too small if we think that the Spirit descended upon Jerusalem and made the Episcopal Church. Our vision of God is too small if we think that the Spirit descended upon Jerusalem and made the Christian Church as the only expression of the Spirit of Truth. No, the reading from Acts is clear, the Spirit was given for all people, all nations, tribes and peoples.
All of the world’s great spiritual traditions, say we come from the same One and that we will be well to the extent that we reconnect with the One. Many spiritual teachers make the following point. We are now living in the midst of an emerging awareness of life’s interrelatedness. And what we do with that information has consequences.
We have learned and rather painfully so, that what we do the Earth, we do to ourselves. The larger our carbon footprint, the more damage we do, not just to the planet but to others who live in this world with us. Our global village gets smaller every day as we learn just how our life style choices have an impact on others. As for the future, I truly believe that our continued existence is dependant upon our ability to understand one another and acknowledge that we are all of the same God.
At Pentecost, God made God’s choice clear. God joined humanity in the midst of the messiness and the difficulties of speaking different languages. God joins us in the messiness of marriage and family life, in the messiness of church politics and simple misunderstandings. That is both frightening and wonderful at the same time and it good news.
This Pentecost let us remember that we celebrate much more that the birthday of the church and the re-kindling of fire in the hearts of the believer. Today we celebrate the oneness of our world, birthed by the Spirit in Creation and re-birthed in the Pentecost moment. Let us pray and hope for a New Pentecost, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit that will draw all nations, races, languages, tribes and people into an awareness that we are One.
Let us pray. O God, earth-maker, pain bearer, life giver; warmed winged Spirit brooding over creation, rushing wind and Pentecostal fire, we proclaim that One God created all that is, that it is one Earth all people share. It is One holy ground of love which unites all people everywhere. God we commit ourselves to work with you to renew our world. And so we boldly pray, “Come holy Spirit come.” Amen.