Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost (May 31)

Holy Spirit, still me. Let my mind be inquiring, searching. Save me from mental rust. Deliver me from spiritual decay. Keep me alive and alert. Open me to your truth. O Lord, teach me so that I may live in your Spirit. Amen. (adapted from The Sacrament of the Word by D. Coggan)

It was a Billboard on I-84 outside of Waterbury…

It asked, Are you going to heaven (which had a nice picture of clouds and a blue sky) or hell (picture of dark flames)? It had a scripture verse, of course, from the Gospel of John, and also a phone number… I presume that the phone number was to make reservations?

I always find such billboards odd because fear is the worst motivator for faith. Jesus never employed it nor did his disciples. At that 1st Pentecost we heard in the Acts of the Apostles this morning, when the Spirit came down upon the disciples, it gave them the ability to speak so all could hear the Good News in their own language. There was no threat of hell…

Some thought the disciples drunk, are they speaking gibberish? No, God gave the Spirit to the disciples to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth and on that day in a symphony of voices, they spoke in many languages so that could all hear it in their own mother language, the Good News of Jesus and that salvation has come to all the peoples for all who believe because the Spirit of God has been poured out. No threats. No damnation. But truth and love…

It is Truth that is embodied in the life and witness of Jesus. And the truth did not end with Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit poured out on those disciples who now bear the Truth to us, and the Spirit of Truth that rests upon us and is with us forever. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

In a world that sees Church as optional that takes little commitment in community, I see the Spirit of Truth leading two of our young men to their confirmation yesterday, another parishioner to reaffirm his baptismal vows and a family to seek baptism for their child. Today John Carleton Marcoux will be baptized and the Holy Spirit will rest upon John and the Spirit of Truth will be with him. He will join the ranks of the household of God, the community of believers that are witnesses to the Spirit of Truth that still guides us in our lives today. We are to embody that Spirit of Truth today, by following the example of Jesus.

For our witness and example is not a passive life but one involved in living out the truth in our world today. I think of Desmond Tutu who lived under Apartheid in South Africa. A priest than bishop during that time, he worked for the elimination of that terrible racial discrimination.

He said, “[In the land of my birth I cannot vote, whereas a young person of eighteen can vote. And why? Because he or she possesses that wonderful biological attribute - a white skin.] I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

Apartheid did fall, and the years of oppression and violence would come to an end in S. Africa. But the work did not end, for Desmond Tutu then worked toward repairing the whole community both black and white so all could live in that true freedom.

He said, “Forgiveness gives us the capacity to make a new start. It is to say, "I have fallen but I am not going to remain there. Please forgive me." And forgiveness is the grace by which you enable the other person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. Not to forgive leads to bitterness and hatred, which, just like self-hatred and self-contempt, gnaw away at the vitals of one's being.” The Spirit of Truth led Desmond Tutu to speak against the unjust system of apartheid and then lead in the work of truth and reconciliation after that system fell.

I think of Iqbal Masih a Pakistani Christian child sold into slave work at age four. At ten he escaped from his horrible work as a rug-knotter. He told his story to the world, offering his voice and experience to support the freeing of thousands of child-slaves like him and teaching rug buyers around the world to ask who was making their hand-tied rugs, how the workers were being treated and whether they were being paid fairly.

In 1995, when Iqbal Masih was twelve, he testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. At Easter he went home to his village to go to church, and that afternoon was shot dead. Masih spoke in the Spirit of Truth to the injustice of child labor and was martyred in the street for helping other children find freedom. It is the Spirit of Truth that leads us to fight against injustice, to speak out for victims and to work towards the healing of our societies. It is that same Spirit also called the Advocate and Comforter that guides us in helping those in need around us.

In a recent story on NBC News, it focused on a supermarket in Minnesota…

A woman was in line waiting to check out when she was passed an envelope from the person in front of her. Someone had written on the envelope, “there is $50 in this envelope for your groceries. Take it if you need it or pass it on.”

The woman passed the envelope on to the person behind her. She then watched it go through the line and then over to the next line and the next and so on. What struck her most was not that people passed the envelope on but that several people actually added money to it.

“The Spirit of God moved through that line of shoppers in an envelope. Any time, any place, where compassion and generosity, selflessness and humility, compel people to do what is right and just, the Spirit of God moves among them.” (Jay Cormier)

Today, we celebrate Pentecost, of that Spirit dwelling within us - within us as the church, within us as the baptized. It is the Spirit of Truth that brings two people together as spouses, that forges strong and lasting friendships, that transforms a group of individuals into a community of faith and that same Spirit sends us out to do good in our world today. The Spirit of Truth enables us to be God’s witnesses of truth and love by what we do today. Amen.

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