Day of Pentecost May 23, 2021
Year B: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
I know it’s not Easter today, but what better day to make this proclamation than the day we are able once again regather in our church building.
Certainly, the last year-and-a-half has been very difficult. COVID-19 swept through the world, through our nation, through our community and impacted us in dramatic ways. The nation was, and to a large extent continues to be, divided on the appropriate response to vaccine and treatments, even the deadliness of the virus. We were asked to shelter at home for weeks and then months. Even church, which is usually the one place that we can usually depend upon for stability, was changed.
I do not believe that God was trying to say to the world “slow down” as some pastors have suggested. I do think we had the opportunity to slow down and listen for the voice of God amidst all the cacophonous voices that compete for our attention. And that voice of God is still telling us to exercise care and concern for all.
Today, we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, and many of us are gathering IN-PERSON for this joyful festival. Yet as we ease back into our “in-person” life together, there will still be safety precautions. I will continue to wear a mask in public places indoors when I cannot be assured that all people are vaccinated and protected from the ravages of COVID-19.
These precautions will lighten up more and more as we progress, but know that our return is going to be a work in progress for a time and a season as we continue to monitor and evaluate health trends in our local area. My goal, the goal of the Bishop, the goal of the Vestry, is always for your health and safety.
I am so thankful to God that we here today are safe – I mourn with those of you who have lost family and friends as I have during this pandemic and for times lost.
For those who join us from a distance and for those who are not yet comfortable joining us in person yet, please know that you are all very much part of our heart and soul at both Saint Andrew’s and Emmanuel. We will continue to provide worship opportunities online, and we are striving to improve our offerings as we move forward in faith. However, you join us – whether on Facebook Live or in person…please come!
Today our focus is the Day of Pentecost.
There’s no better time to celebrate the diversity of the Kingdom of God than on the Day of Pentecost. We are the church universal – spread throughout the world.
Sadly, we see people and nations torn apart by racism, religious and cultural bigotry and man-made borders. Think of how these borders divide us, divide families.
One of my hobbies is genealogy. I have some very good, solid genealogical information on many parts of my family, but my maternal grandmother’s family has always been somewhat difficult to trace since her father as I’ve said before was killed in a railroad accident before my grandmother was even born.
I did have the names of his parents, but that was it.
Earlier this week I was stunned. I was scrolling through a website called the Carpathian Connection and a beautiful portrait in front of me. My heart jumped when I saw the name. I recognized that town and the name. It turned out that this colorized photograph was my great-great grandmother. She was alive in Slovakia until 1938. This was my grandmother’s grandmother; my mother’s great-grandmother. My mother was born in 1932. She had a great-grandmother she never knew existed. I think of the missed opportunities because of borders that separated them.
How sad is it that we seem to have become a culture of us-versus-them, where the “other” is to be feared and never trusted. This is not a new occurrence, but one would have hoped that humanity would have learned from its past mistakes; however, here we are in the 21st century, repeating history and mistakes again.
Pentecost is a reminder that God’s Holy Spirit is given freely to all people with no respect for race, culture, socioeconomic standing, gender or any other distinguishing mark we use to differentiate one person from another. In God we are one.
On the Day of Pentecost, reported in the Book of Acts, people gathered in Jerusalem from all corners of the Roman Empire. They represented competing economic interests, diverse cultures, a myriad of languages and different religious traditions. Nevertheless, God’s grace was given freely to all who heard the message preached by Saint Peter, and thousands converted to Christ. Two thousand years later the love of Jesus Christ continues to be spread. The Holy Spirit came and started a movement that has changed the history of the world forever.
The message of Christ hasn’t changed, but those who claim to be his followers have sometimes, maybe even often, failed to remember that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.
The Holy Spirit works as a transformative agent in the lives of believers. Just as Jesus glorified humanity when he ascended to the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit restores our relationship with God.
In order for this transformation to take place, we must be willing to die to ourselves and surrender ourselves to Christ and God’s will for our lives.
When we find ourselves amidst that transforming love, we are much more likely to extend that love to others, including strangers, our neighbors, and especially those who do not look like us. Whenever it becomes difficult to share the love of Christ with others, go back to the basics, the parables, and review the lessons that Jesus shared with us. Think of the Good Samaritan who showed such compassion for the injured stranger in the road. Think of the woman at the well, who went to get a jug of water for cooking and feeding the animals and instead received the gift of grace.
Think of the Jesus who promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit whose fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control.
Just as the disciples’ bold and fearless witness at Pentecost led to the conversion of more than 3,000 people, so too are we called to bear witness of God’s love for the world today.
The Holy Spirit compels us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating God’s love for who are called by the baptismal vows we will renew.
Lest you think this impossible.
It’s been planting season in Virginia. It hard to imagine that the tiny seeds we fleck onto potting soil like crumbs will turn into anything useful. But that is the essence of hope, isn’t it. That’s the essence of Pentecost. Imagining that beauty will appear out of nowhere. Trusting that seeds would flower soon enough, even though we see nothing but dirt.
At this time of year, many of us find blind faith in the planted dirt.
The spirit of Easter, the resurrection, the Ascension and the spirit of Pentecost have sustained me over the last 441 days and I hope they have sustained you. The spirit of Pentecost is never an impossibility for those who allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to work in us.
May the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost renew us today and stir up within us those spiritual gifts which God has so richly and freely given to us when we were baptized into Christ’s holy church.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.