Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost Sermon (May 15)

O Holy Spirit, giver of light and life; Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts and prayers better than our own prayers and powers better than our own powers, that we may spend and be spent in the ways of goodness and love, after the perfect image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (Eric Milner-White 1884– 1963)

Traveling to the ECW Luncheon, I saw 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 always find such billboards unhelpful because fear is the worst motivator for faith. Jesus came so that we might have abundant life, not so we worry about some heavenly checklist or test to see if we can get in to heaven and avoid hell.

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… It was all about sharing the Good News, not threatening people with 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 all those gathered in Jerusalem could 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 and hope…

This is Pentecost, the day we celebrate that the Holy Spirit came and rested upon the disciples so they could go and proclaim the Good News and live out their ministry that they were called to do and do even greater things as Jesus said, for the Spirit will be with them and they will know it.

Pentecost is the opposite of what happened at the Tower of Babel, a story from Genesis. The Tower of Babel is a symbol of the confusion of languages, of people being unable to communicate with one another. In Pentecost, the Good News is communicated, to all those present so that everyone could understand in their own language.

God who created us all, wanted everyone to hear the Good News in Jesus. And the Spirit came down, and the disciples proclaimed and many who heard it, were baptized.

It is that Spirit that Paul in his letter to the Romans talks about, a spirit of adoption.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”

Reflecting on this passage, Abbot Andrew of St Gregory’s Abbey, understands it this way,

“What the image of adoption tells us about God is that God chooses us. God chooses that we should be and then God chooses us to inherit the kingdom prepared for us. God adopts us and makes us heirs of God’s full inheritance. The emphasis is on intentionality. God’s love for us is not some vague instinct that happens automatically the way the human heart beats automatically. Rather, God invites each and every one of us individually to become God’s chosen child. God’s intentional love for us is most clearly stated in that oft-quoted verse in John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)

God chooses us. Invites us. Gives the Spirit to us. And God does it out of love. It is grace and not something we have earned. And in that Spirit is the 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 all those who now bear the Spirit of Truth for the common good.

Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

Max is an eighth-grader at St. Louis Priory School in St. Louis, Missouri. Shortly after the tensions in nearby Ferguson last year, Max asked his mom if he and his brother could drive down to Ferguson to help with the cleanup. She decided not to send them into an active riot zone.

Still, Max and his brother felt they needed to do something, so they went online and looked up a list of the businesses that had been damaged. They found the name of one of the owners and called her. She hung up on them. So they drove to her house. For three and a half hours, they sat in her living room and listened to her anger. The bottom line: Unless they had $20,000, there wasn't much they could do. So Max went home and started an online petition, and eight days later, they had raised $20,608. And Maria Flores rebuilt her business.

When Max and his brother saw injustice, they didn't lash out in anger. They didn't choose a side. They listened - they listened carefully. They reached out with their hearts, they created a partnership - and the answer spoke [for] itself. [From "Listening in Ferguson: It's not all black and white" by J. Augustine Wetta, O.S.B., America, March 9, 2015.]

The real miracle of Pentecost is that people were able to hear without confusion: the Spirit of God overcame the barriers of language and perception, opening not only people's minds but their hearts to hear the Gospel of the Risen Christ. That same Spirit of God enables us to listen to the voice of God in the context of God's love and compassion, enabling us to hear what God actually speaks and not what we want or hope or wish to hear.

As on Pentecost, God's Spirit continues to speak in the love of the Beatitudes, in the forgiveness of the prodigal's father, in the generosity of the Good Samaritan, in the hope of the resurrection, and the joy of the apostles. The gift of Pentecost faith enables us, as it enabled Max and his brother, to hear the voice of God speaking in the midst of the anger and fear, the pain and despair and busyness of one another's lives, and invites us to embrace the life and love of God in the Spirit & share it with others. Amen.

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