St. James Episcopal Church
Year B - Pentecost - May 20, 2018
It is such a joy to be here at St. James in Greeneville... the long-awaited time has come for us to be together as we begin, what I hope will be for us a long and fruitful partnership in ministry.
We are gathered on this day that we celebrate the Great Feast Day of Pentecost… The day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Holy Spirit – that the 3rd person of the God Head, the Paraclete or comforter, the Ruach Elohim, or the mighty breath of God.
The mighty Wind that initially moved over the waters of the deep in the beginning of creation, that moved over the masses, those gathered there, in the city of Jerusalem, and that same wind still moves among God’s gathered people here today…
The followers of Jesus where all gathered there in one place and at once the Holy Spirit came upon them, divided tongues as of fire appeared on each of them and they begin to speak in different languages... Different Languages to the gathered assembly, and the whole crowd heard the word of God; each in their own native language.
I hope you enjoyed our little exercise this morning with reading a couple of the phrases from the 2nd Chapter in Acts in another language. Having been in Greeneville a week, I’m not sure how many native Hungarian speakers we have. But you eached seemed to find a language, even if it was in East Tennessean, you all did real well. I know that your search committee chair, Phil Thwing, spent some time in the service in Germany and was able to pull off a pretty good German.
We do this sort of Liturgical Drama to give us the feeling of how crazy things must have been for the folks gathered together there in Jerusalem. The only problem with this creative idea is that the net effect is sometimes more a mishmash of murmuring that you can’t understand at all.
It gives us more of a feeling of Babel than of Pentecost. You remember the story of the Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis… the story of how human pride made folks think that they could actually reach the heavens on their own power and then God’s response was to scatter them speaking different languages. This left entire world tongue-tied.
Ever since then people have struggled to understand each other. Their lack of ability to communicate over the years has lead to frustration and confusion…frustration and confusion that has led to violence and wars... and, unfortunately, that frustration and confusion still exists.
Our world today is still tongue-tied… What CAN be misunderstood WILL BE and usually IS misunderstood. But Babel, the story of the first clash of cultures and failure to communicate, is more than just a mythic explanation of the differences among nations and languages. It is an accurate description of the human condition itself…
We often do not understand one another even when we speak in the same language. We all remain bogged down by our inability to accept the differences among us in how we live and in what we think and even of how and what we believe.
But at Pentecost, the Spirit of God came down upon the disciples, resting on each of them and thereby bringing them, and us, the ability to come together once again.
The disciples got a crash course that morning in the language of God. It should probably be fair to say that after Pentecost, our days of Babel should be over. But maybe our Babel today is perhaps the result of how humanity forgot the grammar of grace and the language of God?
The great differences among us… Differences in communication and speech, in culture and race, in wealth and poverty, these differences should have all been scattered in “the rush of a violent wind.” As Acts tells us, these differences should have been burned away by tongues of fire.
On the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down and ignited the apostolic flame and it spread like a wildfire – out of control… so out of control that the people were able to understand the words that the apostles were speaking about the power of God… And they understood the message, each in their own language. What an incredible and confusing site that must have been.
So confusing that some were even accusing them of having too much to drink. Peter perks up (not one of his most brightest moments) and comes to their defense, telling them that it is only 9 o’clock in the morning and that the prophecy of Joel has been fulfilled… That the Spirit of the Living God had been poured out on all flesh and was alive right there in that place and was witnessed by all of Jerusalem.
The church is gathered here now, 2000 years later, here in Greeneville, TN and the Spirit of God continues to pour out upon us... bestowing upon us and all flesh the gifts of wisdom and reason, judgment and strength, knowledge and reverence and a wonder filled with awe.
And what I ask is, why don’t we recognize it? Do we recognize when the spirit is working, blowing, and speaking to us? And when we do think we recognize it, what are we doing with it?? Brothers and Sisters, God is alive right here, right now, today, present with us and the spirit is being poured out upon us... how are we to respond?
We respond by being open and ready to receive the Holy Spirit so that same Spirit can work in our life, and empower us with courage, wonder, wisdom and reverence to restore the world. The disciples were still in Jerusalem, and they were starting to come out of hiding. After all, it had been 50 days since Jesus’ first appearance of being alive after a horrible death… And it was 7 days after the disciples saw Jesus raised into the heavens.
They remembered Jesus’ promise… his promise that they would not be alone, that He would send them a comforter and protector. And when the disciples were there that day, they experienced it – and it gave them the wisdom and power to communicate the power of God to everyone there in Jerusalem.
I know some of you enjoyed the royal wedding yesterday, and our Presiding Bishops rousing message of love and witness lived out through the restoration of the world. He talked about love as a a raging fire... and equated the power fire to the power of love.
I want to throw you what I call a fun fact to know and tell: you may know that tall funny looking hat that the bishop wears… it’s called a miter? It is made to look that way on purpose – made to look like a big tongue. A great tongue of fire sitting on his or her head, like the tongues of fire that landed on the heads of the first apostles on Pentecost.
The miter is a symbol of that apostolic flame the flame that continues to burn throughout the church. See, every bishop in the Episcopal Church is ordained in what we call apostolic succession (that's one you want to write that down in your notebook of churchy words) where you can trace the lineage of ordination (even the bishop that ordained me) back to the original apostles.
To ensure this sacred legacy, Bishops gather together to ordain other bishops… This is done by 3 apostolic bishops (or more) laying hands on the newly selected bishop… thus conveying orders all the way back to the original followers of Jesus… kind of like a 2000 year old game of apostolic tag…
At a bishop’s ordination, the bishop accepts a responsibility to bear the apostolic witness to the faith and guard the unity of the church... At Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes down upon the apostles, resting on each of them and thereby bringing them, and us, all together once again. The disciples got a crash course that day in the language of God.
As the Spirit used the speech of the disciples on Pentecost to reshape and redirect the lives of those who listened to their words, so that same Spirit on this Day speaks to us in order to reshape, remold, and move us… Move us and empower us with passion and boldness, with that raging Pentecostal fire within us that will help us unite in faith and restore the world…
But ONLY if we are willing to listen, and be open… and love one another.