Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost 2014

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
June 8, 2014

Are you okay?

Earlier this week I had lunch downtown with a new friend.
After lunch we said goodbye to one another and she headed one direction
down the sidewalk 
and I headed the other.

Now I was in a hurry.
I had a meeting back at the church
and as I walked I was searching through my purse,
looking for my phone to check my messages.
I was definitely not paying attention.

Then the toe of my shoe hit the edge of uneven pavement on the sidewalk
and I went flying.

I knew sooner or later gravity would have its way with me
and down I would go.
down I went,
as if I was sliding into home plate in the eleventh inning--
only home plate was the rather unforgiving cement of the sidewalk.

As I went down,
I heard the booming voice of a man, sitting at the bar
that has the window that opens right onto the street,
and he’s shouting,
as I went flying by!

As I crashed into the sidewalk,
I could only imagine the headline
in the Burlington Free Press:
New Cathedral Dean seen facedown on sidewalk outside of bar.

Or perhaps
Dean filled with new wine.

Just as the apostles were accused when the Holy Spirit filled them
that day of Pentecost.

For me, it was neither alcohol 
nor the Holy Spirit that took me down,
but that fall this past week
certainly helped me empathize with those disciples
who were accused of something that never happened.
Accused because people did not understand
what WAS happening.

They weren’t drunk.
It was 9 o’clock in the morning
as Peter reminds everyone.

Yet something mysterious happened.
The disciples seem to have new abilities--
they are speaking in every language known to man.
The Word is being spread to everyone’s ears.

There was that rush of wind,
those dancing flames of fire.
What on earth just happened?

Remember Easter?
Remember 40 days after Easter,
scripture tells us that Jesus ascended.
He went UP.
Up to heaven.

And now, Pentecost--
50 days after Easter--
the Greek word pentecoste--
simply translates as the word “fiftieth”.
Fifty days after Easter, on Pentecost ,
the Holy Spirit descends.
Scripture tells us the Spirit comes DOWN 
from heaven.

Jesus goes UP.
The spirit comes DOWN.
Just as Jesus promised.

Jesus promised his disciples--and us--
that he would always be present with us.

Jesus promised his disciples--and us--
that he would send an advocate to be with us.

That advocate has arrived.
The Holy Spirit blows in to set our hearts on fire
with the love of God.
To remind us that we are loved beyond reason or measure.
To let us know that no matter what happens,
we are not alone.

Today we will baptize Julien
and the Spirit --often symbolized as a descneding dove--
will come down and kiss this baby.
You may not see it
but Julien will be 
embraced as Christ’s own forever today. the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Even experiences we may not be able to rationally understand
transform us.

Before that rushing wind and those flames of fire
and the speaking in tongues happened,
the apostles were much like any other group of semi-organized followers.
From what we know,
they had been together less than three years.
They hung out with Jesus, they did what he told them
(most of the time) 
and they helped when people came to Jesus
for healing and blessing.  
When crowds gathered to hear Jesus speak,
the disciples helped out,
they passed around baskets of fish and loaves of bread

But now they are without Jesus.
There is no physical presence to give them direction or confidence.
The left-behind apostles are scared, confused and rather aimless.

What now? must have been the question that rested on their hearts.

The day of Pentecost changes this.
It is the beginning of their formation--and ours--
into the body of Christ.
The questions that rest on their hearts are replaced by flames of fire.

St. Ignatius always said to those leaving to go out as missioners,
Go, and set the world on fire!

The disciples are now ready to do just that.
And they know they can.
Because they know that Jesus kept his promise.
They are not alone.

We are never abandoned by God.
This does not mean we will never suffer or doubt.
What it does mean 
is that we are never outside the realm of God’s love.
No one is.
No one.

I have thought often about that flying fall I took earlier this week.
We tend to turn moments like that over and over in our minds.

Some of a different theological tradition might have me pondering
where I went wrong to have Satan make me fall.
Someone without any faith tradition might question me
and ask,
“Well, if God is so great,
why didn’t the Holy Spirit jump in and stop you from falling?”

But I think the Holy Spirit was right there with me.
The Spirit was there in the voice of the man 
who shouted out from the bar,

Sometimes we are intensely aware of God’s presence in silence.
But the Holy Spirit can also blow in like a rushing wind,
or light up a room with a blaze,
or be heard in the shout of a man sitting on a bar stool.

We are never outside the realm of God’s love and care.
God is always concerned about us.
Always wanting us to check in.
Are you okay?

Really. Are you okay?

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