The Feast of Pentecost, May 20, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost
May 20, 2018
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

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

From Psalm 104:29b “…you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Like many of you, I arose early yesterday morning to watch the television broadcast of the marriage ceremony of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that took place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. Truth be told, while I was very much looking forward to the ceremony with all its royal pomp and circumstance, (I am, after all, an Anglophile at heart), what I was reallylooking forward to was the sermon to be given by our own Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry. I had hoped that Michael would speak with the passion and fervor with which he has invigorated The Episcopal Church. And I was not disappointed.

One of the marvelous points that Bishop Michael raised in that sermon recalled a moment in world history. It was the moment when fire was harnessed by humankind. And that harnessing, that controlling of fire, led to breakthrough after breakthrough. It led to light in the midst of darkness and the development of steam engines and so on. Fire had enabled empires and peoples to spread across the globe. It was one of the greatest and most transforming moments in all of human history. Fire was something to no longer outright fear, but respect and utilize it for the common good.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost: what for many is the official birthday of the Christian Church. Whether or not it truly was our birth, our beginning, is not really important. What is important is that on this day a small and often struggling and fearful community of faith was suddenly transformed into an absolute powerhouse. The Church, empowered by the very Spirit of the Living God, the HolySpirit, went forth to proclaim the gospel – proclaim it boldly in word, and proclaim boldly in how they treated one another, how they lived the two greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Our scripture readings today re-tell that Pentecost story. The 50thday after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the 10thday after his Ascension into heaven, this particular feast of Pentecost, our reading from Acts proclaims, was marked by flames of fire dancing upon the heads of Jesus’ followers at Jerusalem. That day was the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy; an ancient promise of God to pour out God’s Spirit upon allflesh: male andfemale, slave and free, Jew and Gentile – for in Christ we are allequal created in the same image of God. This Pentecost was themoment, Paul says in his letter to the Romans, when God’s people were empowered to truly livethose two greatest commandments, live allthat Jesus taught us, live our faith with confidence and even pray without words. Indeed, it was quite the spectacle: Suddenly, the good news of God in Christ, the good news of the gospel, the good news of forgiveness and changed lives, was heard in the native language of all those present on that occasion. It was so spectacular that some, Acts tells us, thought these disciples were drunk. Such is the power of God: it changes us to our core. It changes us so deeply that those we encounter wonder if we are the same people. “Is that so and so? Gosh she used to be so shy. Listen to her preach. And look at this guy. I have never ever seen him stop to take care of someone in need before.” That’s the power of God. The power of God that bursts forth when people experience true forgiveness; bursts forth when justice flows like a river; bursts forth when people realize that they are loved; that they matter.

Returning to Bishop Michael’s wedding sermon, as I said, he spoke of how the world changed when fire was harnessed. And he went on to challenge all present, all of us, to realize just how much the world could change again if we were to commit ourselves to love, to harness love – love for God and neighbor – so that love becomes our sole motivation in life. Imagine what our world – our politics, our racial divisions, our economic inequities, our treatment of neighbors, and our interactions with one another if and when God’s love, that divine love embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, became our focus. Imagine a world where loving God and neighbor, and even our own selves, became our sole purpose in life. Oh, what a world that would be.

Thatis the vision, the joy, the promise of the Feast of Pentecost. All we need do to experience it and live it, is to welcome that Holy Spirit into our lives and commit ourselves to truly practice, truly live, what God, in holy Scripture and in Christ, has taught and shown us. What is needed is a sincere commitment: to say “I WILL!” and with God’s help it will happen if I love as God in Christ has loved me, loved you.

That is why the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vowsis always included in our observances of the Feast of Pentecost. For on this day, just as on the occasion of our baptism, we promised to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be the people God has called us to be.

One of the greatest revisions to, and accomplishments in, our current Prayer Book was and is found in our Baptismal liturgy, in those Baptismal Vows or Promises. See, for centuries, Episcopalians proudly proclaimed the classic three Renunciations (I renounce Satan and all his works, and everything that rebels against God. I renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy all that God has created. And I renounce all sinful desires – I renounce them because they draw me from the love of God.) And, Episcopalians also proclaimed the classic three Affirmations(I turnto Jesus Christ and accept him as my Savior. I putmy wholetrust in his grace and love. And I promiseto follow and obey him as my Lord.) Those statements are as clear as can be. And yet, we all know that folks tend to interpret promises so that they fit with what we want. This was particularly true when it came to that affirmation to followand obeyJesus as Lord: to do everythinghe said. Christian Church history is filled with examples of where we turned a deaf ear to what Jesus taught us. And so, enter the gift of Prayer Book revision!

Gifted women and men prayed earnestly for the Holy Spirit’s direction and committed to work together to discern what it reallymeans to trulyfollow and obey Jesus. What emerged were five succinct and powerful statements: five brief promises. Those committed to follow and obey Jesus “continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers; they perseverein resisting evil, and, whenever they fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; they proclaimby word andexample the Good News of God in Christ; they seekand serve Christ in allpersons, loving their neighbor as their own selves; and they strivefor justice and peace among all people, and respectthe dignity of every human being. Do you want to know what it means to truly follow and obey Jesus? That’s it, but it takes our personal and intentional commitment andGod’s help to make it happen. The truth is, we cannot live consistently into our baptismal promises. It takes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a willingness on our part to letthat Spirit transform our hearts and minds, and shape how we think and how we chooseto live.  

The Psalmist says, “… you open your hand and they, your people, are filled with good things.” Beloved, the Feast Day of Pentecost was, and is, God’s giftto the Church. And that gift empowered a ragtag group of believers in Jerusalem long ago and sent them forth with boldness to proclaim the transforming and redemptive power of God’s unconditional love. That same Holy Spirit offers to empower us to do the same still today. In a week where high school students were traumatized and lives were shattered by yet another senseless act of gun violence, God’s call to declare by word andexample, to demonstrate our Baptismal Promises, to be livingproof of the transforming power of God’s love, has never been more urgent.

“…you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.”  God has opened God’s hands to us and invited us to be filled - be filled with good things. To be filled with the Holy Spirit; filled with that fire of Pentecost, and go forth to love and serve the Lord; go forth to change the world. That is our giftand that is our call. And Pentecost reminds us, friends, that with God’s help, wewill! Amen.