May 27, 2012
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Good morning. Happy Pentecost. Its good to see all of you this morning. I must confess to still being in recovery from our massive party of an Ascension Sunday last week and send-off for our Rector Fr. Earl Kooperkamp and Dr. Elizabeth Kooperkamp. Its feeling a bit more like low Sunday than Pentecost—which can only be a testimony to the extraordinary work and moving celebration we had for Earl and Elizabeth last Sunday. It was a testimony as much to the creativity and caring of this parish as to the extraordinary leadership of our Rector over the last decade—a tour de force and service I’ll remember always.
We are back again today, however, you, me, all of us together. Not one of us has been spirited up to heaven in a cloud thus far. And this morning we’ve shown up—which is of course, half of life. So that’s a start. We’ve done some singing, seen the Sunday School’s dramatic depiction of the first Pentecost, and now have the opportunity to get our minds and hearts around one of the great feasts of the church year (and the way-over-the-top reading from Acts that goes with it.) So lets go.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire appeared among them and a tongue of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the spirit gave them ability.
As we have just seen in an excellent dramatic interpretation, this scene from the Book of Acts is just, well, such a spectacle—tongues of fire, a rushing wind, speaking in different languages, the birthday part of the church and what not–you name it. Its such a splashy, shocking and awesome event, one wonders what it has to say us everyday Christians who live the in the here and now and for whom a Baptism of the Spirit with all the bells and whistles that the original Pentecost day is—lets just say—not always part of our daily experience (Again, I’m making an exception for last Sunday).
It’s worth taking a look at the context of the first Pentecost. I think from our vantage point today more than 2,000 years later we get about half of what is truly surprising in this passage. We, like the original disciple, understand that the Pentecost event is the fulfillment of promise that Jesus makes—and is reported in John’s Gospel—that he will not leave the disciples comfortless. Jesus says he will send them an Advocate. We understand this part—the promise of God made good.
There are other significant parts of this event that are not so clear to us. We have to recreate the historical context and remind ourselves that the disciples’ worldview was pre-Christian—shaped entirely by the prophetic and other writings of the Hebrew Bible. When we do that, we get a fresh look at what is NOT surprising in this passage. For one thing, the idea of God’s Spirit descending is NOT a new idea in the Hebrew Bible. That God’s Spirit fell from heaven on someone would not have been that shocking to the disciples.
Throughout the story of the Israelite, God was consistently pouring out God’s spirit on prophets and leaders. In Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant God says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” Likewise, remember the story of the 70 elders? When Moses is leading the Israelites through the desert he finds the challenges of leadership too great. He gathers the elders around him and God says to Moses, “I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you . . . Then the Lord came down in a cloud and spoke to him and put it on the seventy elders and when the Spirit rested upon them they prophesied.” Indeed the falling of God’s Spirit on someone is the very definition of what makes a leader in the tradition of ancient Israel.
Thus, the really surprising part of the story of the Spirit’s descent in Acts, then is not THAT God’s Spirit falls, but rather WHO it falls upon. The really remarkable thing about the Pentecost event—something too often lost on us today—is the radically indiscriminate—democratic, if you will—way God’s Spirit descends. The Holy Spirit does not anoint Jesus’ prophetic successor as one might have thought. Instead, as Peter says, the Spirit does that thing that the Hebrew Prophets like Joel thought would only possibly happen at the end times: God’s Spirit falls on all.
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Sprit and they shall prophesy”
Something surprising has happened at St. Mary’s in the last week. Its almost as if the roof has been taken off the top of the congregation and our true architectural structure has been revealed for the strength and beauty it has retained all along. We’ve known that the lay leadership at this church is strong, but the way people have in just the last couple of days stepped forward, stepped up, communicated with one another, prayed together and worked together to reach out to others and take care of one another has been something to see. Like that awesome line that wrapped around the church last Sunday as people stood to say their farewells and receive a final laying on of hands from Fr. Earl during the healing part of the service, one couldn’t have predicted it, but it made (and makes) total sense nonetheless.
The grass has not grown under our feet. In addition to having The Rev. Deacon Christine Lee on board with us for transitional summer clergy, steps are in place for getting additional sexton assistance, and raising up additional Urban Farm help. Outreach has continued and we’ve been down to support the nuns on the steps of St. Patrick’s, attended prison-re-entry trainings, and are thinking ahead exploring the future of the of the St. Mary’s homeless shelter. In just the past week, people at St. Mary’s have been praying together, working together, attending choir practice, visiting one another, emailing photos and plotting together for the Kingdom of God in a way that we’ve always done but is also different than its been before. Suddenly, I’m asking myself the question, was the roof been taken off or did we inadvertently blast it off?
It turns out that at St. Mary’s today we are not waiting around for any descending tongues of fire or holy infusions from above. On this Day of Pentecost May 27th, 2012 it appears the Holy Spirit is already at work among us, between us, around us in the most extraordinary ways. She is filling us with God’s love and power, representing Christ among us, creating new life within us, liberating us to love God and others, and uniting us to Christ and one another.
In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
Let us go forth in the name of God, Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
The Rev. Chloe Breyer