Day of Pentecost
Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b - 13; John 20: 19-23
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
A few days ago, I was running down Heights Boulevard, and I couldn’t help but notice the art installation close to 1-10 that features what appears to me to be a church building literally sinking into the ground. You all know which one I am talking about? I’ve driven by it many times before, and often have tried to understand its meaning. Is this installation of the “sinking church,” as I like to call it a commentary on declining or “sinking” attendance in church? Or is it a metaphor for the decline of the church in the midst of an unprecedented number of people who label themselves “none” (N-O-N-E) referring to their religious affiliation?
Or, perhaps, is the sinking church a representation of what a church building looks like after my three children run all around it? I don’t know. But I like the sinking church. To me it serves as a reminder, that nothing is permanent, even the church. One day in the future, this building will no longer exist. The final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, describes heaven without any single mention of a church. Why is this? Because in heaven, when we are in the immediate presence of God – there’s simply no need for church. Think about that – in heaven, no committee meetings, no diocesan council! Perhaps the only thing that could make heaven better is if they served those breakfast tacos from Chiloso’s down the street with the Chapel Hill sausage. But I digress.
The sinking church reminds us that anything we build, no matter how grand, simply will not last. The Bible reminds us of this from the very beginning with the story of that ill-fated construction project involving the building of a tower.
Long ago on the dusty slopes outside of Babylon, people built a tower with the hope that this tower would be tall enough to reach heaven. But God had other plans, and the tower was never finished, because God confused the language of its builders, so that they all spoke differently, in languages no one could understand. Their communication was garbled, much like our experience of hearing the reading from Acts moments ago. The name of this tower, Babel, is similar to the ancient Hebrew word “balal,” which means to be “confused.” Balal, or Babel both suitably describe the chaos that ensued once everyone started speaking different languages at the
Fast forward centuries later, to the city of Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost, a Greek word that simply means “fifty days”, the disciples gathered in a single room. In that room they heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind. And something like fire appeared and rested upon each person gathered. It was a bizarre moment, a moment that even scripture cannot adequately describe, so we are left with mere analogies. It was like a great wind. It was like tongues of fire. It was the Holy Spirit.
In that strange moment, these men from Galilee, a place not known for well-spoken individuals, began to speak in different languages from all over the known world. But it was not like Babel, where no one could understand each other. Even though the disciples were speaking different languages, somehow they could understand each other. It is in this wild and supernatural moment scripture tells us the church was born. And that is what we celebrate today.
We celebrate the birth of the church through the Holy Spirit with fire and rushing wind. Through the Holy Spirit, through that rush of wind and tongues of fire all of creation is turned toward its redemption. Churches that appear to be sinking are really rising. Languages which once seemed strange, are now familiar. And death, which appears to have the last word, becomes a supreme festival on the road to freedom. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is here today.
The Holy Spirit is an abundant Spirit, offering life in abundance to all. And so it is fitting that we celebrate this abundant Spirit through recognizing our own abundance as we will do in a few moments. It is also fitting that today that we baptize four young children (Vera, Contessa, Caroline, and William) in which they will be marked by the Holy Spirit forever. Nothing will take that away. Towers will fall, churches may sink. But the Spirit of God which we call Holy, is forever. AMEN.