May 20, 2018
All Saints’ Church
Feast of Pentecost
Welcome to the Feast of Pentecost at All Saints’ Church. If you’re not familiar with this particular holiday, it’s a great one. In fact, in the early church it was one of the two most important, right next to Easter. And as we celebrate here, we also want to wish a very blessed Shavuot to our Jewish brothers and sisters.
It was the celebration of Shavuot that brought faithful Jews from every corner of the world to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. In the Book of Acts, we hear what happened that day, how the Holy Spirit was given to each of them and brought about a miracle: the miracle of mutual understanding. As each person began to speak in his own native language about God’s great deeds, they found that they understood one another. Of all the gifts God could have bestowed on them that day, the one they apparently needed the most was the gift of understanding one another.
We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe in Her power to let us hear, each in our own native language, to understand one another. Like the faithful gathered from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost, She will place us face to face, and then open our ears to hear—really and truly to hear—what Good News is being proclaimed in our midst.
Pentecost is the festival of understanding, when we proclaim boldly that the same God who created us all also gives us the power to see, hear and love one another. Without reservation. Without condition. On the Day of Pentecost, the crowd was filled with the Spirit of holiness, and there was no hatred, no bitterness, no discord between them. They were set free to be God’s people, for and with one another. They were set free to love.
And, friends, that same Spirit is here with us this morning.
Now it may not always seem that way. And that’s why we have to keep the faith, believing in the power of the Holy Spirit even when her power seems far away.
This was a big week in religious news, and it offered us two very different spiritual visions.
First, the bleak vision. On Monday, the U.S. officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem. If you haven’t been following the news, it was one of the president’s big campaign promises to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We are now one of a handful of countries to have done so.
What was so depressing for me wasn’t so much the fact of the embassy moving, although that is very controversial. It was the unholy spirit that was revealed to be the driving force behind this decision, and that spirit was on full display Monday. The opening ceremony was basically a religious service, but a profoundly disturbing one. Two American pastors offered prayers. One pastor recently said the Bible gives the president the authority to wage a preemptive nuclear war on North Korea. The other has said that Hitler was sent by God to move forward the course of human history. Every politician and official on hand quoted the Bible in ways that confounded me—as much for their strange interpretation of scripture as to see a warped and confused theology dictating American foreign policy. While this was happening, 60 protestors were killed and almost 2,000 more injured in Gaza. It was one of the most violent days in the Holy Land in recent memory.
I can’t imagine a sadder example of mutual mis-understanding. This was not the Spirit Jesus promised to send to us. That day, there was a spirit present. But it wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
So it’s a good thing I got up at 5am yesterday morning to watch the royal wedding. Did you see it too? Jesse and I watched with Julia Offinger, our deacon and program minister, who served her guests tea and scones at an hour I’ll admit I haven’t been awake for in a long time.
Of course it was a relief to have something nice to concentrate on. But you may know that the preacher yesterday was someone very special to us—Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. If you’ve ever wondered who that Michael is we pray for every Sunday, well, that was him.
Now I’m obviously biased, but let me just say it: Bishop Curry stole the show. And he did it by standing up at St. George’s Chapel in that poignant moment, with the eyes of the world fixed on him, and giving us all the gift of the Holy Spirit we needed most: love. There was a Spirit in that church yesterday, that’s for sure. And that Spirit cut like a knife right through the pomp and circumstance, through the media hype and inflated expectations. The power of that Spirit blew right over the tiaras and the fascinators and the 15-foot train of Meghan’s gown. The Spirit in God’s house yesterday morning was a call to sanity and holiness, and as She was beamed up into space and through cables deep under the ocean, that Spirit was delivered right to you. She will rest on you as long as you let Her.
In case you missed it, Bishop Curry reminded us that God is love, as it says in First John, and since God is love, there is no end to the power of that love. He said,
Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
If you don't believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.
When love is the way - unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.
We know what Bishop Curry is talking about, don’t we? We believe in a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, and a new human family. We have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit to shape and form us, individually and as a community. And She’s not done yet.
You know, in addition to loving Pentecost as a feast, it has special meaning to me personally. My first Sunday here at All Saints’ Church was on Pentecost—in fact, this is our eighth Pentecost together. I remember that Sunday as if it were yesterday. I remember the sense that something was about to happen to us all. I remember being nervous…until I remembered that the Holy Spirit, whom we celebrate today, is more powerful than any human failure. I remembered that God wants us to know each other, to understand each other, and to love each other just as God loves us. And that when we even just try to do the same, we have the great wind of the Holy Spirit at our backs.
Seven years later, I think it’s fair to say: that Holy Spirit hangs as thickly in this place as ever. We have all come to understand and love God and one another more deeply. We do the same whether you have been coming to this church your whole life or if this is your first time here. The love that the Spirit has placed within these walls spills down the stairs and out into the city, and the sweet fragrance of the love here perfumes our community and beckons in those who want to be a part of it. That Spirit has brought to us this morning three beautiful children who will be baptized with water and sealed as Christ’s own. We confess our faith that the Holy Spirit will be their comfort and strength for their entire lives.
So, friends, let us rejoice! By the Spirit’s power, we have heard one another, and we have understood one another. We have seen one another and we have loved one another. This love is eternal, because it is of God, and may the Spirit rest on you now and always. Amen.