May 24, 2015

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 25-35, 37b; Romans 8: 22-27; John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b - 15


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Good morning. Thank you for being here on such a rainy Sunday morning. In the church calendar we are celebrating Pentecost, but on our national calendar, we are honoring the fallen who have given their lives for our country. I want to pause now and offer a prayer for Memorial Day. Let us pray.  

God, we remember the women and men who are currently serving in the armed forces of our country and we pray for their safe return. We also acknowledge that there are women and men who will not return, and we grieve their death in our prayers. We pause to honor their service and their sacrifice. Those of us who have not served in the armed forces cannot fully imagine the experience of war, but we do know war’s aftermath and the toll it can take on the human heart. This day we remember and acknowledge that loss as we remember those whom we have loved and lost. We hold their names and faces in our mind’s eye.  We recall the gifts they gave to us through the strength of their being, the depth of their love, the courage of their dying, and the fullness of their living. AMEN.

Okay, onto Pentecost. That word, Pentecost simply means “fifty days.” During the time of Jesus, some of the first crops were harvested fifty days after they were planted. So this day has some origin in agriculture and farming. During the time of Jesus, the festival we call Pentecost was more than just a Jewish agricultural festival. It also was an observation  of a very important moment in the history of Israel.  

Fifty days passed between the event of the Passover in Egypt and the arrival of the Jewish people to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the ten commandments.  

The reason why I say all this is to give us some context for understanding what exactly is going on here this morning. The book of Acts says that on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus, the spirit of God filled the house of the disciples in unique way. The Bible says it was like a “violent wind,” a phrase certainly appropriate for today where in parts of Harris County, storm gusts could get to 45 mph. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

The wind is accompanied by divided tongues of fire that come to rest on each of the disciples. This fire is the reason for why we wear red today – it is to commemorate the “fire” of the Holy Spirit. But, we are also Clutch City, are we not, and red is appropriate for the Rockets, and we all know they need our prayers.

For us today, Pentecost marks the dramatic conclusion to the Easter Season as we give thanks to God for the new life of the church that is given through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today in church we are doing this – we are thanking God by celebrating the abundance we have received in this place and in our lives.  We are encouraging each person to write out on this sheet of paper (show) the blessings for which you would like to thank God. The ushers will collect them at the offering and place them in a basket and we will offer them to God at the altar.  

As Easter closes, it does so in a multiplicity of languages, which we heard a few moments ago during the reading from Acts. We heard Latin, Spanish, Assamese, and others. The reason why we hear those languages is because they foreshadow the universal global church. The church grows from Jerusalem reaching every continent, state, city and village.  

The impetus for Pentecost is not that the church grew because of people’s hard work, though that’s part of the story. The church grew because of the Spirit of God that blows where it chooses.  

Today we celebrate the birth of the church through the Holy Spirit, through that rush of wind and tongues of flame all of creation is turned toward its redemption. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of life, and so it is fitting today that we celebrate the gift of life freely given to us today through the Holy Spirit. And we do so with baptism, that sacred recognition that we are drawn into God’s family through water, prayer, and fire - in which they will be marked by the Holy Spirit forever.  Nothing will take that away, because the Spirit of God which we call Holy is forever. AMEN.

June 8, 2014

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b - 13; John 20: 19-23


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.