Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pentecost Sermon

Enter our hearts, O Holy Spirit, come in blessed mercy and set us free. Throw open, O Lord, the locked doors of our minds; cleanse the chambers of our thoughts for thy dwelling: Light there the fires of thine own holy brightness in new understandings of truth, O Holy Spirit, very God, whose presence is liberty, grant us the perfect freedom to be thy servants today, tomorrow and evermore. Amen.
Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu has observed that “God is continually breathing into our nostrils.” In a wonderful way, Tutu reminds us of the fact that not only is our life the creation of God, but that every moment of our life is also sustained by God. And on this day of Pentecost, we are reminded that the same Holy Spirit that blew at the beginning of creation, where God breathed life into all living beings, into creation, is the same breath God gave to each of us.

Today we celebrate with those who were confirmed yesterday that the Holy Spirit continues to move in their lives as the bishop laid hands on each of them, asking that the Holy Spirit strengthen and empower them for their lives in Christ. It is that same Spirit that will come upon Emmerson, Edward, Caroline and David when they are baptized this morning. In these actions, both at baptism and confirmation, we remind ourselves that God is continually breathing into us, that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.

Last week, I spoke about the ascension of Jesus. That after his resurrection appearances to the disciples, Jesus ascended to heaven, he was no longer with them, and he let them go, so they could do their work, for it became their ministry and they were entrusted with it. How they were able to do that ministry is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that breathed over creation at its birth, is the same rushing wind that is poured upon the disciples in the first reading from Acts of the Apostles:
“Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The Spirit rested on each one, like fire, empowering them to proclaim the Good News in the languages of those who were present in Jerusalem. The people hear about Jesus in their own language and about God’s deeds of power, and they are amazed. The Church continues to bear witness to the world by the Holy Spirit which guides it, strengthens it, reforms it, equips it for the ministry that Jesus has shown us and for which God intends us to live.

In Baptism, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. In Baptism, we become part of the body of Christ, for there is one Body and One Spirit. At confirmation, we recognize those baptismal vows and once again the Spirit is recognized as force in our lives. It is that Spirit that is given to each of us at our baptism and remembered in our confirmation, the Spirit of God that guides us for the common good.

But what does it mean to be led by the Spirit today?

One way to think of the Spirit is like that wind on that first Pentecost. The Hebrew word for Spirit can mean wind or breath. The early Christian community experienced God's spirit as a "wind" propelling the ship, the Church; for they perceived the Spirit in their midst as the very breath of God filling their community with his life and love and animating them to do the work of the Gospel, which Jesus has called them to do.

Today, I think of a young lady who is sailing around the world. Her name is Abby Sunderland and she is attempting to become the world's youngest solo circumnavigator in a sailboat at age 16. The wind is a big deal for her.
In sailing, the best condition is to have the wind at your back; the worst is no wind at all because you don’t move. But the most common situation is a headwind coming at your craft from varying angles. So skilled sailors learn how to reach their destination in a headwind by "tacking" into the wind: setting their sails so they can move forward, indirectly, toward their destination in a zigzag fashion. Progress can be slow, but it is steady, and the best sailors are those who have learned to "read" the wind: who know how to make the best forward progress against the wind's resistance, when to "come about" to make a turn and reset their sails.
The challenge of Pentecost is to sense God's Spirit in our midst. Sometimes the Spirit of God requires us to "come about" and move more slowly, more intentionally, than we'd like; often the Spirit forces us to "tack" in directions that cause us to pause and reconsider our decisions to move forward. It is the Spirit that moves us forward that animates us to do the work of the Gospel, that makes God's will our will, the Spirit of God living in us and transforming us so that we might bring his life and love into our broken world.

But we must do our part, be open to the Spirit blowing into our lives, God breathing into us, to have a sense of God guidance. Let me end with a poem I found a few years ago about the Winds of God:

Oh, the winds of God are blowing,
So keep your sails unfurled.
And the winds of God will take you,
To safe harbors of the world.

Forever they’re in motion,
to take you where you will.
Forever full of power,
if there are sails to fill.

But they cannot do their duty,
If you should reef your sail,
The winds would still be blowing,
But they blow to no avail.

So, if upon your voyage,
Becalmed your ship or slow,
Oh, blame it not to winds of God,
He doth not wish it so.

So take the helm, be master.
Unfurling sails your part.
And the winds of God will take you,
to the Harbor of your heart.

[“The Winds of God” By Nellie Olmsted Lincoln]

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